Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Don Dohler & Friends
Directed by John Kinhart
My personal introduction to Don Dohler came as a wee lad back in the Eighties when I caught The Alien Factor on a Sunday morning creature feature. I forget how young I was or what year it was at the time, but I can vividly recall that the alien creature revealed at the end of the movie seriously creeping me out as a kid. Now as an adult I can’t sit here and say I’m a big fan of Dohler’s films (poor pacing often crippled his movies, in my opinion) yet I still have affection for movies of his like The Alien Factor, Night Beast, and Galaxy Invader. Unlike a lot of the B-movies churned out these days, you really can watch an early Don Dohler film and regardless of whether you come away loving it, hating it, or being relatively indifferent to it, there’s no denying they had a homespun charm to them.
When his last true directorial effort, 2001’s Alien Rampage, was released to DVD several years ago under the title Alien Factor 2: Alien Rampage, I was quick to snatch up a copy. I personally found the film to be a crushing bore that felt more like a regression on Dohler’s part, even lacking that hokey B-movie charm I just spoke about. But you won’t find a scathing review of the film from yours truly because, frankly, I just couldn’t bring myself to rip on the guy’s film. Why? I don’t know; I just couldn’t. I guess somewhere in my mind, despite being acutely aware of the flaws of his earlier works and that one especially, I wanted Dohler to succeed even when he stumbled.
Blood, Boobs, & Beast opens with Dohler telling the story of how he was held at gunpoint during a robbery and had a life-changing epiphany that led to the beginning of his filmmaking career. I knew just a few minutes in that mild-mannered introvert Dohler had a good head on his shoulders when he spoke of not having any delusions about the quality of his films. He was happy to entertain people, regardless of whether they loved his movies outright or sought them out because they’d heard how bad the films were. It’s a good attitude that a lot of modern B-filmmakers would be wise to adopt. In fact, Dohler seems genuinely taken aback, somewhat in disbelief, almost a bit uncomfortable, when shown speaking with any true fans of his work.
Now I’m sure there are some that might be wondering why does a filmmaker whose directing credits consist of a half dozen movies of arguably dubious quality warrant a documentary when there are many infinitely better filmmakers out there deserving of such treatment. To be honest, I was somewhat of the same mindset at first, but then I wasn’t aware just how far Dohler’s influence extended. I knew of Dohler the B-moviemaker, but I had no idea he also had his hand in underground comics and the publishing of a magazine that would prove highly influential in the world of special effects. The documentary chronicles Dohler’s career from underground publisher to homegrown Baltimore filmmaker, inter-cutting interviews with Dohler himself, his family, friends, fans (such as Mission Impossible 3 director J.J. Abrams), underground comic artists, special effects wizards, actors from his films over the years, and so on, all the while jumping back and forth between career retrospectives and behind-the-scenes work on the trouble-filled film shoot he was working at the time with collaborator Joe Ripple, an ex-cop that auditioned for a role in Dohler’s last directorial effort who would then become a director himself and co-found Timewarp Films with him.
But as the documentary shows, Dohler had already made his mark before ever sitting in the director’s chair. It would start with the creation of an underground comic and a character named “Pro Junior” in the 1960’s that would catch the attention of many famed underground comic artists, including R. Crumb. He then went on to publish CineMagic from 1972-1979, the first movie special effects how-to magazine of its kind. We’ll hear from a few noted effects artists, such as Tom Savini, talking of how the nuts & bolts information provided in that magazine played a key role in them launching their own successful special effects/make-up careers.
The most fascinating aspect of Blood, Boobs, & Beast is seeing what a man of contradictions Don Dohler was. He clearly didn’t like having to load his later films up with nudity and gore but did so anyway because that’s what the market demanded. He often didn’t look or sound like someone who was even enjoying himself working on some of these movies and yet he seems be driven to keep doing so. He freely admits that he was never comfortable in the director’s chair, which was why he turned over primary directing duties on his later films to Ripple, who himself is something of an odd duck. Not entirely reliable and sometimes coming across as more than a little clueless, I don’t think I’d be completely out of line to describe Ripple as your quintessential hack filmmaker. Dohler talks of a 2004 Timewarp production called Vampire Sisters, more softcore sex flick that horror, as being the film he’s least proud of and later we’ll hear Ripple describe it as his favorite – even contemplating a sequel. Ripple is a staunch proponent of the blood, boobs, and beast formula that Dohler goes along with even as he grows increasingly fed up with the exploitation aspects of the films he’s helped Ripple to make.
Dohler would take a 12-year hiatus from filmmaking after getting ripped off by the producers of his film Blood Massacre (a wild story unto itself), but over a decade later he’d be back making movies that he didn’t seem to have any real passion for; movies that seemed to contradict his own core values, movies that he didn’t feel either proud of or ashamed of, yet still helping Ripple to make them.
The documentary takes it title Blood, Boobs, & Beast from something a film distributor told Dohler back in the early 80’s about the three things that his movie were going to need from then on if he ever expected to get his films distributed: blood, boobs & beast. Audiences wanted gore, nudity, and some sort of fiend in their horror flicks; a fact that didn’t sit entirely well with conservative family man Dohler who seemed only comfortable with the beast part – and even then. This is a man whose favorite movie we learn was West Side Story, an obsession of his that’s recounted in the documentary. It gets even weirder when you hear Joe Ripple speak of not liking or watching horror movies himself even though that’s all he makes. It again harkens back to that level of contradiction lurking below the surface that makes this documentary all the more fascinating.
Blood, Boobs, & Beast also gives us a glimpse into Dohler’s private life via home movies and interviews with his family and closest friends. We hear of how he made his family a major part of his filmmaking, even killing off his daughter in one film. Like anyone’s life, Dohler’s had its ups and downs: his wife dying of cancer, a mentally handicapped sister in need of constant care, becoming a grandfather, and, ultimately, even his own battle with cancer. Given that Don Dohler lost his own bout with cancer this past December I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to tell you the documentary ends on a bittersweet note.
If there’s any knock against the doc it would be that my personal favorite Dohler film, Galaxy Invader, got glossed over with nary a mention. The 1985 sci-fi flick that I’ve often jokingly described as “white trash Predator” was essentially a PG-rated version of his prior 1982 cult hit Night Beast. Given the film’s theme of Dohler having to include sex and violence in his movies to get distribution, an explanation of how this tame remake that I do believe he was commissioned to make – read about it in a magazine so many years ago I don’t recall the details – would have been an interesting sidebar. Also, for as much talk there is about the need to include the three B’s, never do we get any real discussion as to why that’s the case. Why do distributors insist on gore and nudity? Why does the market supposedly demand this? At only 75-minutes in length, I think director John Paul Kinhart could have squeezed in a few extra minutes devoted to those two topics.
Still, a minor quibble with what is otherwise perhaps the best documentary I’ve ever seen about a B-moviemaker. Whether you’re a fan of Don Dohler or have never heard of him, I still highly recommend checking out this worthwhile documentary.
As is the case with Ed Wood, Don Dohler is now a filmmaker who has been immortalized in a movie that is ironically superior to any film he himself ever made. Blood, Boobs, & Beast serves as a loving tribute to Dohler’s life and career.
4 out of 5
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