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. Joining him is Mr. Nick Consol – a very talented New York musician and a fellow member of the NYC Dohlerite group.
Robert: So to start with you Jon, I was listening to your podcast where you and Nick and a bunch of others 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 favorites, 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: Nick, was it you or Phil Rowan that introduced Jon and the group to all things Dohler? How exactly did it all come about?
Nick: I can happily take credit for that. I was bored one night looking for something to watch on Hulu and I happened on BLOOD, BOOBS & BEAST. Just on the basis of the title I put it on without very high expectations. By the end I was dying to watch the original movies and NIGHTBEAST was available to watch online. I put that on and I was hooked right from the awesome synth-laser-outer-space title sequence. Shortly after that Jon invited me on his podcast for the first time so I suggested we watch NIGHTBEAST knowing it would be right up his alley.
We wound up watching and reviewing MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE, McBAIN, NIGHTBEAST, and ICEBREAKER in what has to be the strangest quadruple-feature in B-Movie-Review-Podcasting History! Jon, of course, wasn’t all that fond of NIGHTBEAST at first…. because, you know, he’s not that bright. But John Kinhart contacted him afterwards and offered to be interviewed on the podcast and it took off from there. So, yes, Jon owes his status as a Celebrity Baltimore Independent Film Podcaster to me. (Actually he owes it to John Kinhart for titling his film wisely.)
Robert: Jon, 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.
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-evaluate 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.
Robert: Nick, can I get your thoughts on BLOOD, BOOBS & BEAST – which detailed Don’s movie and publishing career, as well as gave the viewer insights to his final film and days?
Nick: I thought it was fantastic. I went into it without ever having heard of Don Dohler so I had no idea what to expect. The film starts with Don telling the story of how he decided to finally start making movies and I was immediately drawn in. He comes off as so likeable in the sections about his family and in the testimonials by his friends and colleagues… it really added depth to Don’s movies when I actually started watching them. Like I said, as soon as it was over I immediately tried to seek out as many Dohler classics as I could, so it was very successful on that front. I can’t imagine anyone with an affinity for independent B-movies seeing B,B&B and not wanting to delve further into Dohler’s movies.
Independent of that, I think it stands up on its own as a documentary incredibly well. I recently re-watched it after having not seen it since my first viewing and I think I appreciated it even more. The pacing and the editing are both great and I love the way it cuts back and forth between various aspects of Don’s past and his present-day filming of Dead Hunt. I also love Christian Brown’s soundtrack… especially the theme behind the main titles and the guitar piece he uses at the end.
One of the main themes of the movie is the conflict Don felt about adding gratuitous sex and nudity in his films to get better distribution. It’s fitting then, that the only reason I watched this movie in the first place was the title. I went in thinking it would be a sleazy and exploitative movie about other sleazy movies and instead I got a well-crafted and thoughtful look at a fascinating person. That perfectly parallels the way many of Don’s movies reached his audience. They get distributed and marketed because of the sex and gore but actually have much more depth and heart than other films of the genre. That’s why the relationship between Don and Joe Ripple worked so well and I think that comes off in the film. I really can’t recommend it highly enough both to Dohler fans and to the uninitiated.
Robert: Jon, 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: The reason that The Alien Factor is one of my favorites (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: Nick, can you tell us your thoughts about Don’s 1st film, and how you would rate it out of a 5 star indie review?
Nick: Well, I’ll start by giving it a full fledged 5-star rating. Alien Factor has just about everything in it that I love about Dohler’s movies and low-budget independent movies in general. The production value is really incredible given what he had to work with. The special effects are tremendous (especially the final fight with the Lemoid) and you can’t beat 3 separate great-looking alien costumes. Obviously now, as a devout Dohlerite, my favorite aspect of the movie is getting introduced to the incredible ensemble cast that shows up in all future Dohler movies. Griffith, Frith, Dyszel, Leifert, and the legend himself, Mr. George Stover are all in top form.
I also can’t emphasize enough how much I love the soundtrack. I know absolutely nothing about Ken Walker but the bizarre synth sounds he comes up with add so much to the movie. The opening theme is, of course, a classic, but I also love the high-pitched synth music that accompanies the sheriff driving to Steven and Aunt Ruth’s early in the movie. Other musical highlights are the theme that accompanies the children playing out in a field and the low-pitched synth brass theme that follows the final showdown in the woods and the…. anyways… I could list about 30 other great musical cues. Every scene transition, every dramatic line, and every long walk through the frigid woods of Maryland is accompanied by a fantastically weird and melodic score. To me, that’s cinematic heaven. And, of course, Atlantis will rock on in eternity. (I genuinely love that song, especially when the drums start going crazy behind the second verse!)
Robert: Gentlemen, NIGHTBEAST was to be the next movie – but as seen in the documentary, the production fell apart. Don mounted what would be his most personal movie – FIEND. The story involves an evil spirit that infests a corpse in a cemetery – bringing it back to life. This zombie feeds on the life forces of others to appear “normal” and thus moves into a neighborhood to feast on new victims. However, the fiend’s next door neighbor starts to get suspicious. Not much was said about Don’s 2nd movie on the podcast. What are your thoughts and rating for the film?
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 neighborhood 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.
Nick: I’ve gone back and watched FIEND a few times since our initial viewing and it keeps getting better for me. The pacing is obviously much slower than ALIEN FACTOR and it’s a much darker film but that allows Dohler to showcase some new aspects of his filmmaking. He’s able to really build suspense and delve further into the main characters. The most important aspect of the movie is the understated and super-creepy performance by Don Leifert, complimented by some fantastic make-up effects.
As usual, the music is also a highlight for me. Paul Woznicki, another guy I know absolutely nothing about, comes up with a haunting main theme played on electric piano which he often improvises over. One of my favorite sequences in the movie is early on when Longfellow menacingly prepares cat food and then pours himself a glass of wine, accompanied by an improvisational rendition of the main theme. The scene goes on for at least 5 minutes before Longfellow slowly builds himself into a frenzy and destroys a picture with a knife while screaming.
That type of super-slowly developing scene is atypical for low-budget horror films and it’s part of what makes FIEND so distinctive. I have to give it another big 5 stars. (Special recognition, of course, must go to Pepper for his portrayal of Dorian the cat.)
Robert: Nick, this brings us to NIGHTBEAST – the revised version, and all of Don’s regular cast is back – along with the 1st appearance of Richard Ruxton. We have heard from Jon that he has done a 180 and now loves the film. How about you? It is another alien crashing outside a small town story. What makes this different is this one is in full on drive in movie mode; nudity, graphic violence, tons of visual effects, lots of flannel, and a musical score by none other than J.J. Abrams. This is one of Dohler’s best known films and a fan favorite. Can you give us your thoughts and rating for NIGHTBEAST?
Nick: NIGHTBEAST was my first Dohler film and so it will probably always be my favorite. I watched it 3 times before I had seen any of his other movies and I love everything about it. The special effects are brought to a new level with all the laser-gun battles and the sparkly-laser-gun-disintegrations thereafter. And the gore is terrific…especially the scene where poor Glenn gets disemboweled by the Nightbeast. (A very effective and suspenseful scene, I might add.)
The soundtrack is also great, composed partly by yet another guy I’ve never heard of…some dude named Jeffrey Abrams. (I hope everything worked out for him.) It’s much more orchestral than synth-based which gives NIGHTBEAST a more polished feel than ALIEN FACTOR. (I’m assuming the orchestral parts are library music but if so they’re perfectly selected.) Musical highlights for me are the emotional piano pieces that accompany any nudity, the driving string piece which sounds like a cross between Psycho and Jaws that backs up a few chase scenes, and the washy-synth backgrounds during the opening sequence in the woods with the hunters which reappears in the basement later on.
The performances are also better than ever as Stover and Anne Frith have some great scenes together. I love the Steven/Aunt Ruth dynamic. They should have had their own medical forensics show. And Stover finally gets to have a slightly heroic moment in the basement! Don Leifert is once again menacing as Drago and I can’t get enough of Dick Dyszel’s over-the-top perfomances as Mayor Bert Wicker. Tom Griffith is at his understated best, as always… new hair and all. I also think Jamie Zemarel was actually really good in his one and only Dohler film. There are so many memorable scenes in this one…the shootout with Bill Perkins (The Crack Shot)…Jamie’s big showdown with Drago…too many to list.
The thing I keep coming back to with Nightbeast is how technically good it is. The suspenseful scenes are creepy and tense, the action sequences are well-choreographed and entertaining, and the sex scenes are scintillating and erotic. … Okay, maybe not the last one. Although if you’re giving point for originality, there has certainly never been a sex scene like that in film history. All joking aside I think it’s an incredibly well-made film and it’s the one I would recommend any Dohler-newbie start with. See if you can guess what my rating is for NIGHTBEAST. (Hint: It’s not 1 or 2 or 3 or 4.)
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. Gentlemen, 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 favorites. 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.
Nick: We had an absolute blast watching GALAXY INVADER. I think this was mainly because it was the last of the early Dohlers we covered so we were already huge fans and knew all the usual cast. Every time a Dohler regular would show up it was like seeing an old friend. And what amazing roles! Dick Dyszel finally gets to shed his bombastic mayoral persona and play a more sympathetic character; Greg and Kim Dohler get their chances to really flex their acting chops; George Stover, as J.J., plays one of his most bumbling and inept roles…until of course he unleashes…THE PUNCH!! One of the most vicious left crosses in film history.
And three Dohler regulars deliver what are, for me, their most memorable performances: Don Leifert’s amazingly hammy portrayal of the dastardly Frank Custor, Richard Ruxton as the abusive father is like an evil Jimmy Stewart (great performance by his t-shirt as well,) and Anne Frith playing his battered wife is very effective. Her character’s final act had the Dohlerites out of their seats!
As for the soundtrack, it’s yet another incredible job by an unknown composer. I don’t know where Dohler found these guys or why they only seemed to score one movie but the mysterious Mr. Noplock absolutely nailed this one. The opening theme is probably my favorite piece from a Dohler soundtrack and I also love the theme he uses behind the chase sequences. Such great synth sounds. The melancholia piano theme which we dubbed “Lament for Dr. Tracy,” comes back at the end and is another one of my favorite Dohler tunes.
Other than that, it’s yet another interesting plot from Don and when you factor in how quickly he had to put everything together the whole production is pretty remarkable. Giving this one a rating is tough because I can’t quite decide whether to use the number “5” or to actually write out the word “Five.” It’s a toss-up. I’ll give it a 5ive.
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 (Robin London) 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 both place this very high on your list of favorite Dohler films, 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.
Nick: It’s been said before by many people that this is the movie that could have brought Dohler more mainstream success and I think that’s unquestionably true. If Don had been given the chance to really make the movie he wanted and with the right kind of distribution there’s no doubt this would be a well-known cult classic. The amazing thing is that the idea is so good and the performances are so unique that the movie is still an incredible success.
Of course, any review of BLOOD MASSACRE has to start and end with the career-defining performance by George Stover. I think he really pulls off the role of Rizzo, the criminally disturbed Vietnam vet, with gusto. Because we’re so used to him as a good-natured often-inept supporting character it’s all the more disturbing to see him in a role like this. Also, I think it was Don Leifert who said in the documentary that Robin London’s performance in this movie might be the best in any Dohler film and I tend to agree with him. I think she could have easily become a B-Movie scream-queen if BLOOD MASSACRE had gotten more exposure. Truly unsettling. And Frith and Ruxton are at their creepy best as the heads of the Parker family.
I also love the soundtrack to this one. Surprisingly, it’s by an unknown composer who’s barely done anything else, Daniel Linck. I don’t know at what stage in the process the music was added but some of the synth pieces are really amazing. One highlight for me is the scene right after the gang arrives at the Parker house and Stover goes to check out the grounds. It’s one of the only slow-paced scenes in the movie and the ominous soundtrack is tremendous. It really helps to build up the suspense and lets you know that there’s something not quite right here. Very reminiscent of the cat-food preparation scene in FIEND. And “Danger” is second only to “Maybe Someday,” in the Dohler rock song pantheon. Someone needs to release these songs as singles.
I’ve heard that some people think Dohler’s ending to BLOOD MASSACRE went too far but I couldn’t disagree more. Very few things in horror movies genuinely surprise me anymore but when that happened I was beside myself. Other favorite scenes of mine are the opening sequence with Stover in the bar and the long section of Stover in the woods. Also Stover reminiscing about the old days in ‘Nam and Stover peeking into the bathroom. Also Stover doing just about anything. I’m going to switch things up and give this film a roman numeral ranking: (whichever roman numeral means 5.)
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.
Gentlemen, there is a lot going on here. 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.
Nick: I just re-watched it this week and I have to say that I enjoyed it even more the second time. The first thing that stands out to me is how great the movie looks. The camera work is fantastic and Dohler really tries out a lot of new techniques. There are also a ton of great special effects… the energy-field-time-warp-wall-thing is very effective and I love all the scenes involving the spaceship interior and exterior. There are some great performances too… the cameos from Ruxton and Frith are amazing. Stover is tremendous as usual: “Take me or leave me. What you see is what you get.”
Jamie Kalman, Jonas Grey, and Donna Sherman are all great in their first Dohler films and Steven King effectively plays possibly the worst cop in small-town alien invasion history. It’s also great to see Joe Ripple for the first time, although why he decides to run face-first into a shimmering pulsing energy field is beyond me. (His burned carcass is a nice effect, though.) I think Joe is a legitimately good actor and this is a great start for him.
Some favorite scenes of mine are the car/foot chase that lasts through the entire first 20 minutes of the movie, the classic long treks through the woods that are a hallmark of any Dohler film, and the great local flavor you get at the Perry Inn. Musically, I’m assuming it’s all library music but it’s used very effectively…the main title theme is especially good. On the whole, I think it’s a great return to filmmaking for Don. It’s tough to rate it when comparing it to the original run of 5 films but if I were looking at it on its own as if from a new director I’d think it was a fantastic start. I’ll give it a solid 4 but only because it doesn’t quite have the plot development of the early films and also doesn’t have the original synth soundtrack.
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 (Donna Sherman) 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.
Gentlemen, this is the first one shot on video and directed by Joe Ripple. There are veteran cast members present, but also newer 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 both 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 therefore 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.
Nick: I think Don really starts to hit his comeback stride with HARVESTERS, and a lot of that obviously has to do with the partnership with Joe Ripple. There is a lot of creativity displayed in the camera work and in the violence and gore. Many of the deaths are completely original and the blood bath scene is a great way to add nudity in a creepy mood-setting way.
I love having the original synth soundtrack back…some of the little quiet motifs in the slower suspenseful scenes are especially good. And the “Harvesters” song by Voodoo Highway joins “Danger” and “Maybe Someday,” on the ultimate Dohler playlist.
Another film, another fantastic role for George Stover as he gets to tap into his demented unsettling side again. It’s a completely different kind of villain than Rizzo in BLOOD MASSACRE but he nails it. The versatility of Stover knows no bounds. Everyone returning from ALIEN RAMPAGE is also great… the standouts for me are Donna Sherman and Steven King. Joe Ripple has another great part as the marshal and, of course, Leanna Chamish is a tremendous addition to the ensemble cast as the disturbing house-wife, Betty. Of all the movies I’ve seen her in so far this is my favorite role.
The climactic chase through the woods (as is required in all Dohler films) is terrific and the twist at the very end really works for me. Obviously, you can’t compare this movie to BLOOD MASSACRE but on its own I think it’s a great addition to the modern Dohler/Ripple catalog. 4.5 stars.
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.
Jon and Nick, this has become a favorite for you. Admittedly it has a more epic feel, a bigger cast, lots of fights and locations and creative camera work. It has George Stover in an action hero role and even a cameo appearance by Dick Dyszel. Gents, 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!”
Nick: STAKES, for me, is the full return to form for Don Dohler. Joe Ripple’s direction and Dohler’s camera work are obviously clicking on all cylinders and there are so many great moments and performances. The key is the plot development which returns to the crazy twists and turns we’re used to from ALIEN FACTOR and BLOOD MASSACRE. It’s a completely original idea combining vampire-lore with some sci-fi wackiness for a brand new type of film.
Have I mentioned George Stover yet in this interview? Because if not let me just say that he’s fantastic in this movie as Father O’Grady. Stover the heroic action hero…. yet another character type he pulls off with aplomb. Leanna Chamish is great as the vampire queen and Jamie Bell (who had a small part in ALIEN RAMPAGE) really does a terrific job as the lead. This is also Steven King’s finest hour…his character transformation had the Dohlerites cheering! And it was a delight seeing Count Gore De Vol show up, however briefly. The soundtrack was again stock library music but it’s well-chosen as usual. This is definitely the best late-period Dohler of the ones I’ve seen and as such, I give it a big 5-star rating.
Robert: Gentlemen, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to talk about Don and his films. Low budget films often do not get the attention they deserve. When I came across Jon’s podcast – the AFTER MOVIE DINER – I was overjoyed that all or you present truly appreciated all the hard work and heart that Don and Joe and others had put into these indie gems. I can guarantee you that you have a large audience of filmmakers – especially those of us from the Baltimore area. We can’t wait to hear what you have to say about VAMPIRE SISTERS, DEAD HUNT and CRAWLER – not to mention the works of other fine independent filmmakers. Do you have any closing words before we wrap this up?
Jon: I would like to add 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, grade A 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 cine-literate/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!
Nick: It was a pleasure, Robert. The best part for me was sitting down and re-watching all 8 Dohler movies I’ve seen before plus BLOOD, BOOBS & BEAST. I can’t wait to reconvene with my fellow Dohlerites to watch the remaining two films. Lastly I’d just like to thank you for having me on your site and for continuing the spread the good word about Don’s movies and Baltimore indie films in general.
It’s been a joy to get to know the films of Dohler and Ripple and it’s led to so many other great independent filmmakers. Keep up the good work, sir, and I can’t wait to check out CRAWLER!