April 2007

Blood, Boobs Beast

Poster for Blood, Boobs & Beast Between 1976 and 1988, Don Dohler wrote, directed and produced five science fiction and horror films - using a cast and crew drawn from friends, family and a few semi-professionals - all from the base of his suburban Maryland home. Then he decided he’d had enough and didn’t make another film for eleven years.

He returned in 1999 with Alien Factor 2: The Alien Rampage, and during the shooting, he met part-time actor Joe Ripple and the two men began to collaborate allowing Dohler to concentrate on cinematography and editing while Ripple took on the directing. Under the banner of Time Warp films, the two have gone on to make another four films.

However, things have changed since Dohler first started making films. In the 1970s, many of these films were sold for TV syndication but now, with direct to video films coming to dominate the low budget landscape, Dohler has now found himself having to include more exploitative elements – blood, boobs and beast – in order get the distribution deals he needs to keep going. This is something he is clearly uncomfortable with and, increasingly, a point of contention with Ripple – so much so that Dohler is, once again, saying that he’s had enough of making films.

Blood, Boobs Beast follows the production of Dead Hunt, the fifth film to be made by Dohler and Ripple, and looks at the highs and lows of low budget filmmaking in general and the career and character of Dohler in particular.

Don Dohler, it emerges, has been a very influential character over the years, although much of his influence goes back to the time before he became a filmmaker.

When he was 16, Dohler created and published a Mad style fanzine called Wild which turned out to be rather successful, to say the least. At its peak, the magazine’s conributors included people such people as Jay Lynch, Art Spiegelman, and Skip Williamson, who later went on to be famous in the underground comix movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s.

ProJunior
Cinemagic

Where Mad had Alfred E. Neuman as a mascot, Wild had ProJunior and in the early 70’s Jay Lynch and Art Spiegelman returned to this character, drawing together 22 underground comix artists – including Robert Crumb – to create a comic with their own interpretations of this character.

The resulting magazine was published in 1971 and, encouraged by the underground comix movement, Dohler returned to self-publishing in his early 20s with Cinemagic magazine which featured step-by-step articles for amateur special-effects filmmakers. Cinemagic inspired a number of filmmakers – including Tom Savini, J.J. Abrams and Tom Sullivan, all of whom have much to say about Don Dohler in this film – who went on to gain a great deal of recognition in their respective fields.

After his success with Cinemagic, Dohler gained the confidence to start making films and, in 1976, released The Alien Factor, a low budget monster movie which enjoyed a long run on syndicated TV throughout the 1980s.

Blood, Boobs Beast maintains a gentle pace that reflects the character of Dohler and manages to draw together some remarkably open and very revealing interviews with the man himself, as well as with his family, friends, colleagues, fans and industry professionals.

All this makes for a fascinating and very honest view of what it takes to make an independent film and manages, superbly, to get across not just the character of Dohler but also the affection felt for him and his films by both his fans and his friends.

Blood, Boobs Beast is a film that’s well worth checking out for anyone interested in independent films, horror films or both. It’s also a film that, once it finished, had me not only looking for more information on Don Dohler, but also trying to track down some of his films which – for a documentary such as this – is probably the highest praise possible.

Long Pigs

Long Pigs DVD At what point does a documentary filmmaker cease to be a neutral observer and become complicit in the crimes on which he is reporting?

Long Pigs is the story of Anthony McAlistar (Anthony Alviano), an articulate and easy-going character who also happens to be a serial killing cannibal. It is also the story of a pair of young filmmakers (played by Nathan Hynes and Chris Power) who set out to make a documentary about the – as yet uncaught – McAlistar.

Initially nervous around McAlistar the two filmmakers are put increasingly at ease by his friendly and open manner and even start to buy into some of his justifications. And, as the filmmakers relax, McAlistar starts to draw them into his world and involve them in his activities so that they increasingly become accessories rather than mere witnesses.

This is underlined by a couple of interviews that are intercut with the footage of McAlistar. Superficially, these interviews provide a clinical view of McAlistar’s behaviour and a counterpoint to his claims, but over the course of them the extent to which the documentary makers are covering up for their subject becomes increasingly apparent.

Although there are a couple of quite graphic scenes, Long Pigs is not an overly gory film. The horror derives largely from the sheer banality of McAlistar’s life. He’s no Hannibal Lecter, just some slightly overweight guy who parks cars for a living and eats people for pleasure.

The writer/director team of Nathan Hynes and Chris Power do a great job here of constantly but unobtrusively bringing McAlistar’s worldview to the fore. In the same way that McAlistar draws the filmmakers into his world in order to gain acceptance, Hynes and Power draw the audience into his world to – very effectively – horrify us.

As the film progresses and the filmmakers begin challenging McAlistar on his constantly changing justifications, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable as he realises the extent to which he has incriminated himself. The film’s ending is hinted at in the opening titles but Hynes and Power do manage to incorporate a very effective twist into the grimly inevitable climax.

At the start of this review I asked about the point at which a documentary filmmaker ceases to be a neutral observer, and this is the main question that is explored in this film. But it is not the only one, as a short coda serves to amplify.

It’s not just young and inexperienced reporters that end up exploiting real horrors for their own ends. If anything, the mainstream and mass media can be far worse because they should know better. But still, every time something happens, they leap onto the bandwagon, wallowing in the depravity of it all while affecting an air of – entirely hypocritical – moral superiority.

Well written, well acted and packed with frighteningly believable characters, Long Pigs is one of the most intelligent and genuinely disturbing horror films that I’ve seen in a long time. It is also a film that very effectively asks the audience to think seriously about the way in which the media blurs the line between reportage and exploitation.