This is the website that pays tribute to DIY filmmaker Don Dohler. Someone who became a Dohler convert in recent times is Jon Cross of the podcasts THE AFTER MOVIE DINER, B-MOVIE BARGAIN BIN and DR. ACTION AND THE KICK ASS KID. Excellent podcasts – go check them out. But we at Smash or Trash are here to nail down what it is he likes about Baltimore’s horror movie Golden Child.
Robert: So Jon, I was listening to your podcast where you and a bunch of friends talked about an action movie, a mafia movie, and Don’s NIGHTBEAST. I delighted in hearing how dumbfounded you were that everyone else present thought NIGHTBEAST was the best movie of the night. You were not a big fan of the movie, but have come around to enjoy it. Can you expand on what happened that initial evening that eventually swayed you into being one of Dohler’s biggest supporters. And I want to ask – what do you think of NIGHTBEAST now?
Jon: I can’t rightly tell you except to say that I am a creature of my moods and since starting the show a year and a half ago and coming under a barrage of new influences, my tastes have changed and evolved rapidly. I also feel like I have found myself again in a weird way. I think that night in question I was far more excited and enamored to see Massacre Mafia Style because, as a fan of Duke Mitchell‘s recently released Gone With The Pope, I was anxious to see the only film he shot, acted in, wrote, edited, produced and distributed in his life time. The other film that night was McBain which was a curiosity for me because it’s Christopher Walken in a role you wouldn’t associate with him today from the ludicrous but fun director James Glickenhaus. NightBeast after that odd double bill just seemed, well, alien to me I guess, at the time.
I think it had been a long while since I’d been exposed to that sort of independent film making and, for me, at the time, I had to click my brain into a certain gear to get it.
I have listened back to that episode and watched the film again several times and I, honestly, don’t know what it was that night other than the explanation I just gave, I even remember the watching of it being fun and enjoyable so I have no idea why I was sour to it when it came to the review on the show.
As for how I feel about the film now, well I love it. I am a big fan of that original cast line up, repeated as it is from one of my favourites, The Alien Factor. In fact, I think it’s the cast and the performances in NightBeast that I love most about it. To Dohler fans it’s an iconic line up from The Griffith Home-Perm to George Stover’s lab coat via the incomparable Mayor Burt Wicker. You just can’t beat it! I also love the alien suit, the soundtrack, of course, and I love the look of the film.
I think all the films that Don made in the early part of his career have a special quality, individually and together. I, in turn, think the films he and Joe Ripple made have another special quality and are equally interesting and entertaining but different, definitely different.
NightBeast, while it tends to be a stand out and one that’s often mentioned because of, I imagine, it’s availability through Troma, I still put The Alien Factor and Blood Massacre at the top of my list.
Robert: I have heard that you feel the documentary on Don’s life – John Kinhart’s BLOOD, BOOBS, & BEAST is an excellent gateway drug to the world of Dohler. After watching this – you have gone on record of completely embracing Don’s first movie – THE ALIEN FACTOR – as your favorite movie by him. Can you tell us why that is?
Jon: What Blood, Boobs and Beast did for me was to show me Don, his family and his wonderful extended family of friends, actors, crew etc. It was able to put me in a time and place where these films were made and show me how they were made. It also showed me clips from the variety of films he worked on throughout his career. All this was a fantastic way to make me re-evealuate my opinion on NightBeast and Don Dohler the filmmaker, while also whetting my appetite and making me determined to see more.
I have subsequently watched the documentary again a few times but now, as a hardcore Dohlerite, I find the two “fans” involvement in the film insulting and disrespectful. There are things to have fun with in Dohler films, as there are with almost any film, a lot of the time that is part of the entertainment with film in general, but it’s not why you love them, it’s not why you champion them and if it is then, I personally think that’s a shame and people should look closer.
Which brings me to the reason that The Alien Factor is one of my favourites (although I think that if there’s one film that could’ve got Don much more attention on a national level, if it had better distribution, it’s Blood Massacre). The Alien Factor is so good as a first independent feature because it shares the traits that so many great first time features have. It’s ambitious, it’s packed full of heart and inventiveness, the alien costumes are superb, you’ve got that great original Dohler cast and above all, where Don could’ve chosen to just make your standard alien as an invading monster movie, he chooses to create an actual story behind it all, one you haven’t heard before. His script has depth and twists, motives and set-ups and the characters all have their own back stories and parts to play. It’s an attention to detail and crafting a world of people around the story, so that it’s set in a world you can relate to, that sets it apart from the myriad of independent films that don’t seem to remember a film needs a plot and character development. I agree you may have to watch the film with certain eyes to see all that but it’s there and, like a magic eye poster or something, once you can focus on Dohler’s films like that, you will get so much more out of them.
Robert: FIEND is Don’s personal favorite as far as his films are concerned. Admittedly it is more thoughtful, serious, and slower paced than his other movies. What are your feelings and thoughts on this movie?
Jon: It’s one I definitely need to revisit again but I loved Fiend when I saw it. There is so much going on in that film. I honestly felt it was talking about a lot of different things that go on internally with all of us. It’s about creativity, anger, a sort of haunting loneliness and almost empathy with a monster that dates back to Jekyll and Hyde or the great Frankenstein movies of the 30s. It’s also about the neighbourhood and community, fear of others, secrets and suspicions. It’s very layered. Don Liefert’s performance is fantastic and the make up effects wonderfully grotesque. Yes it’s slower in pace and a little weird, eerie and surreal in tone but I personally like that. I would recommend it. I would recommend all his films.
Robert: Now Don’s next film after NIGHTBEAST was GALAXY INVADER. According to the biography book about Don – titled B-Movie Horrors – the reason GALAXY INVADER came about is because NIGHTBEAST was supposed to be part of a video package deal for distribution. However, Don’s partners on NIGHTBEAST felt the movie was too good for that deal and wanted it pulled from that package. This meant that Don had to come up with another movie very quickly; thus GALAXY INVADER was born. This brought together a lot of Dohler’s core cast, plus gave starring roles to Greg Dohler and Richard Ruxton. Now this movie seems to have a lot of affection from both you and the other Dohlerites on the podcast. Can you tell us what you think about the film, and why this one seems to be so gripping to your group.
Jon: Oh yes we loved Galaxy Invader. In fact I find it hard to choose out of Don’s films because just as you start thinking “well Alien Factor’s the best because it’s got the multiple aliens, the great cast etc.” you then start thinking “yeah but look at the performances in Galaxy Invader, that great score, the fantastic ending etc.”
I think the main reason I loved Galaxy Invader is, again, that wonderful way Don has of, on the surface, making a rednecks vs alien film but then layering it with wonderful characters, sub plots and ideas. That and, apart from maybe George as Rizzo in Blood Massacre and Dick Dyszel in Nightbeast, Galaxy Invader features the most fantastic performances given in a Dohler film. Don Liefert and Richard Ruxton are just tremendously enjoyable, ably supported by the wonderful Anne Frith, the dependable Dick Dyszel and the legendary George Stover. Norman Noplock’s score is also one of our personal favourites. Not a lot is made of B Movie or independent scores but films can live or die based on their music and Don’s films always had a great drive and atmosphere to them and that, very often, comes from the score. It’s an all round entertaining, funny, exciting and well acted film, often overlooked by fans of Dohler I think but incredible when you know that this was a script and a story he gathered together at the last minute! incredible and very cool.
Robert: We now come to a major departure for Don Dohler. His next movie is a gritty crime drama named BLOOD MASSACRE. However with most of Don’s movies there are several things going on besides the main story, and the film takes more twists and turns than a wine bottle cork screw. But let me not get ahead of myself. The core story is a Vietnam vet by the name of Rizzo (played by George Stover) is part of a gang that pulls small heists. After a particular job goes bad on them, the gang kidnaps a female motorist and forces her to take them to her family’s home. It is at this point where literally all Hell breaks loose. Now, there is a TON going on in this movie. I know you place this very high on your list of favorite Dohler films (along with Alien Factor and Stakes) so please tell us what about BLOOD MASSACRE makes it such an incredible film for you.
Jon: The thing about Blood Massacre versus the other of Don’s films is that it feels like you could watch this without knowing about Don’s world, who the actors are, where it was filmed or, indeed, the budget. That it isn’t better known and wasn’t better distributed is an absolute crying shame because it deserves to be sat on the video shelf of every 80s horror movie geek in the world along side their copies of Intruder, Slumber Party Massacre and even a bigger title like an Evil Dead 2.
It’s a great, tight, simple story that unravels and twists and turns brilliantly as the film builds to its wonderfully gory and nutty finale. It doesn’t look like any other of Don’s films, George is fantastic in a complete role reversal for him and it blends, mashes together and messes with genres in a way Tarantino or Rodriguez could only dream of. I can’t under sell this film, everyone who asks me about Dohler I urge them, that if they watch none of Don’s other films, that they watch Blood Massacre.
The thing it has in common with Dohler’s other work is that it just has a near perfect idea at its core: What if you’re a villain and the people you take hostage turn out to be more mental than you. In Hollywood they want you to pitch your idea in a sentence, Don’s strength was being able to do exactly that but then taking that premise and pushing it into every possible, entertaining direction.
Robert: Unfortunately – due to serious distribution problems with the movie BLOOD MASSACRE (these are documented in the movie Blood, Boobs, & Beast) Don Dohler quit movie making for around a decade. Then in 1999, Producer Joel Denning teamed up with Dohler to do ALIEN RAMPAGE. Don wrote, directed and edited that production, and it was also the last movie he did which was shot on 16mm film. This was a new era for Dohler films. It had some of his regular favorites in the cast, but it introduced several new actors as well as new techniques to the fold. This is also the first appearance of his future film partner Joe Ripple.
The story is of yet another space craft that has landed on Earth, this time in search of fuel. An alien steals radioactive material and is pursued by the FBI. The being gets gunned down in the woods and is taken to a small town for treatment. When the alien got wounded, a signal was sent to its ship – triggering (1) a force field around the entire community and (2) sending a cyborg out to retrieve the alien – killing anyone that may get in the way.
There is a lot going on here, Jon. Have you had a chance to revisit this “transition stage” film, and overall what are your thoughts on everything that transpires?
Jon: I haven’t revisited it but remember it pretty well. For the most part the thing I liked about it was it had a fresh look to it, Don’s directing and camera movements are ambitious and exciting, it introduced Joe Ripple and I loved Stover and Ruxton’s performances. Apart from that I have to say it is probably the least satisfactory Dohler film for me. He is getting back on the saddle and there’s still interesting things going on but he’s not hit his stride yet. It’s still enjoyable and if you were in a house where this was the only Don Dohler film available then I would suggest watching this in a heart beat but really I don’t think it will be a film I’ll revisit as often as the others. I am not sure exactly what has changed here but maybe it’s because there isn’t that multi-layered story aspect to it or twist in the tale that I had become used to previously.
Robert: The next film would in turn be the very first Timewarp Films title – HARVESTERS. This is the first partnership pairing between Dohler and Joe Ripple. The story is similar to that of BLOOD MASSACRE. A gang of thugs led by a Marine vet knock over a convenience store. One of the gang gets shot and the getaway car conks out. This forces them to carjack and kidnap a young woman – making her take them to her family’s house. This mild mannered family is held at gunpoint until two Federal Marshals show up, looking for the criminals. From this point on it is a cat-and-mouse chase, and not everything is as it initially seems to be.
Jon, this is the first one shot on video and directed by Joe Ripple. There are veteran cast members present, but also new additions including Leanna Chamish, Donna Sherman and Steven King. There are a lot of visual effects on display; some work, some are surreal, and some do not work. There is a strip club, a blood bath, vicious kills, stalking in the woods, Federal agents, eerie basements and a synth soundtrack. Can you separate this as its own movie (knowing its roots are in BLOOD MASSACRE) and will you please give us your thoughts on everything discussed here?
Jon: For Joe’s directorial debut this is a fantastically assured piece of work and you can immediately see where Don focusing on the camera and Joe focusing on the performance has improved things and pushed everything up a notch. The new additions to the Dohlerites, especially Leanna Chamish are already making their positive presence felt, I definitely preferred Donna Sherman in this versus her turn in Alien Rampage and reliable George Stover turns in a wonderfully duplicitous evil father role that, at one particular stage, goes full blown Hannibal Lecter. Spectacularly creepy.
I think the echos of Blood Massacre for me, while I understand them because of previous distribution frustration and because it’s too good a story not to tell, does make the second half of the film, for me, not feel as atmospheric or as weird and wonderful as its predecessor. I think with Blood Massacre you connect with George and therefor his ‘last stand’ seems more heroic and brilliant. It’s also a more pleasingly frantic and crazy finale than Harvesters which is definitely more mainstream, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
The production values, camerawork and acting are definitely an interesting improvement. Also the step towards a more exploitation/horror style of film making (the blood bath, the pitch fork, the cleaver etc.) shows Don and Joe to be as inventive in this genre as Don had previously been in the alien/monster movie pictures.
Robert: We now get to Timewarp Films first vampire movie STAKES. Now the audience is luckily spared the usual Vampire lore as this movie is basically the movie THE TERMINATOR with blood-suckers. From a parallel Earth a group of Vampire hunters (lead by George Stover) jump through a portal to pursue three pure blood Vampires (lead by Leanna Chamish) that have come to our Earth and are looking to breed and feed.
This has become a favorite for you. Admittedly this has a more epic feel, a bigger cast, lots of fights and locations and epic camera work. It has George Stover in an action hero role and even a cameo appearance by Dick Dyszel. Jon, please tell us – the reading audience about your thoughts on the production, everything that is transpiring that works for you, and why this ranks very high for you in the post solo Dohler era.
Jon: Stakes is tremendous. It’s in my top 3 of Don and Joe’s films next to Alien Factor and Blood Massacre and definitely in my top 10 of vampire films. I am not sure where to start because it gets so many things right that I feel people should stop reading this and just go and see it.
It’s inventive, you haven’t seen a vampire story told like this before, it’s on a bigger scale, the acting has taken yet another leap forward, it’s pleasingly ambitious, Leanna is wickedly delightful and desirable in the head villainess role, George is a kick ass adversary for her, complete with tight hero roll neck, action man beret and a collection of suitable, clergy appropriate, vampire hunting weapons, Steven King really comes into his own as the nerdy comedy sidekick turned bad ass, the directing is fantastic, the camera work assured, the pace is exciting and finally they get out of the woods and into the nut factory!
Also, just recently on the Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman hosted Hollywood Babylon podcast they were talking about frozen holy water weapons and saying why hadn’t it been done and the whole time I was listening I was thinking “it HAS been done! Stakes!! Don and Joe made it happen!”
Lastly, I would like to say that, as the internet continues to expose people to a variety of film making, with both low and high budgets, that there is a worrying trend of sneering, laughing or downright smuggly and superiorly attacking films like this. Don acknowledges some of this in Blood, Boobs and Beast, which is why, on re-watch, it bothers me that there were ‘fans’ included who do, quite simply, that. These films while, of course, there are aspects of the production that might not be perfect, polished, A grade or, more importantly, what you’re used to, if you step back a moment and look again you will see the heart, the passion, the great storytelling, the invention and all the other stuff I have talked about in this article. Anyone who watches these and can’t see that they creatively rise above your average shot on a shoe-string movie and present something interesting and valuable need to stop their sneering and adolescent jibes and show me that they can do better with just their friends and family in a back garden with not a lot of cash. I bet you can’t.
Since the availability of HD cameras, computers to edit on and relatively affordable sound equipment, not to mention the rise of a more savvy and cineliterate/pop culture exposed audience I rarely see films that come close to the spirit, intelligence, fun and invention of Don and Joe’s stuff.
Thank you Robert for giving me this great opportunity to share my enthusiasm for these films and a big thank you to all at Timewarp films and Don’s family, his work was fantastic and lives on!