Baltimore filmmaker and sci-fi fan Don Dohler has passed away at the age of 60. He had cancer. If you aren't into low-budget horror and science fiction movies, you probably haven't heard of Dohler, nor should you have. But when he wasn't editing genre-related magazines or writing about films, he was making them in his own backyard.
His most famous/notorious feature is THE ALIEN FACTOR, which I happened to watch again earlier this year on Retromedia's Special Edition DVD. I think most SF fans of a certain age have seen this 16mm wonder. Somehow, despite its obvious amateur pedigree, it managed to sell to television stations across the United States, where it played at odd times for many years. I saw it more than once on WCIA-TV’s EARLY SHOW and LATE SHOW. I remember it because, even though I was just a kid, say 11 or 12 years old, I was intrigued that something no better than a glorified home movie could get on TV. It just looked different than everything else Channel 3 aired in the movie slot in the afternoon. Even the junky Japanese monster movies looked better than this. THE ALIEN FACTOR represents probably the first time in my life that I realized American movies were made someplace else besides Hollywood.
For some reason, writer/producer/director/actor Dohler’s debut feature clicked with some audiences. The acting, photography, sound and music are terrible, but some of the special effects and creature effects are imaginative and better than expected. A spaceship crashes near a small Maryland town. A trio of alien monsters—all of different species—rampage the area, killing many townspeople. The ineffectual sheriff battles with the greedy mayor, who doesn’t want to bring in the state police because bad publicity might scotch his deal to build an amusement park. The town is at the mercy of an obnoxious astronomer who appears to have his own mysterious monster-killing abilities. Ernest Farino did the good opening titles and the okay stop-motion battle at the climax. The most outstanding effect is probably the 7-foot fur monster suit that works even on snow and ice.
Although Dohler is primarily known for 1978's THE ALIEN FACTOR, he made many other features, including NIGHTBEAST. I have a copy of NIGHTBEAST, but have never gotten around to watching it. Maybe I should.