Jul 14, 2008

It Came From Baltimore

Last week, in preparation for an article I'm writing for "Micro Film" magazine, based out of Illinois, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. John Paul Kinhart, for his wonderful, recently released documentary Blood Boobs and Beast, which chronicles the life and work of Baltimore filmmaker Don Dohler. Before his first film, the micro-budget cult classic, The Alien Factor (1978), Mr. Dohler had already established himself as a "do-it-yourself" inspiration, with his self-published underground comics in the 1960's, and his well-remembered "Cinemagic" magazine in the 1970's, whose coverage on how to do special effects was an influence on contemporary Hollywood players.

I have long been a fan of Don Dohler's work as a director, as his precocious no-budget wonders are infectious in their adulation of the "oh golly gee" mindset of 50's sci-fi and horror flicks, while adding modern staples of gore and flesh. Many of his early works belie their costs with the inclusion of some geniunely nifty special effects. Admittedly, I have only seen Dohler's first four films, before his hiatus until he appeared back in the 1990's direct-to-video horror market in partnership with Joe Ripple. Yet his early work (The Alien Factor, the brilliant suburban black comedy Fiend, the gonzo effects-laden Nightbeast, and the hilarious rednecks-in-peril spoof Galaxy Invader) demonstrate that, despite the obvious liabilties of working with limited actors and resources, this guy clearly "had something", and won high marks alone for being a low-budget regional filmmaker whose heart is in the right place.

In late 2006, I had made a new year's resolution to try and track down Mr. Dohler for an interview in 2007, however I had no idea at the time that he was sick, and was therefore shocked to learn that he passed away from cancer in December of that year. Dohler's work strikes me with the same giddy enthusiasm that befits many of the 50's sci-fi films that influenced him, but also, with all of his independent pursuits (in not just filmmaking, but also in publishing) he continued to be a positive role model for movers and shakers like myself who continue to toil in the trenches. When Don Dohler made the unprecedented feat of selling his $3000 wonder The Alien Factor for broadcast in cable television packages, I was among the many in the 1980's who caught it during its constant runs on the late late show, usually at 4 AM, and was ingratiated that such a film could be seen by many: "Hey, I can do this too!"

Thank God for Mr. Kinhart's documentary, which had been shot for over two years, and wrapped just before Mr. Dohler's passing. While Don Dohler is surely not a household name, I was delighted to hear that a documentary was being made to honour his work. As such, I would have been content just to see a work with the typical framework where Dohler talks about his films, intercut with bountious clips from his little wonders. But much to my delight and surprise, Blood Boobs and Beast (whose title refers to the three requisites to sell a direct-to-video horror flick), goes much further than that. Within a few minutes of this layered documentary, I was hooked. Its 75 minutes is a compulsively fascinating look at Dohler's work (generously featuring his publishing in tandem with his filmmaking), and is surprisingly candid in his personal life off-camera. It is fitting that you come away knowing even more of Don Dohler as a person. The films are secondary, much as they were in Dohler's own life. There is also a darkly amusing meta-narrative, with behind-the-scenes footage from (what would be his final work) Dead Hunt that, intentionally or not, shows us that even doing a little movie like this is also beset with problems. As such, I did something in one week I seldom do with a movie: I watched it twice. After the initial viewing of garnering my notes, I just had to see it again to visit Dohler's world some more, and was equally rewarded.

In an age where there are so many "behind the scenes" documentaries made about filmmakers (often for DVD extras), it is gratifying to find one so thorough, aptly portraying a deeply complex man. Blood Boobs and Beast is still being screened sporadically, and will hopefully be released on DVD for all to see. To learn more about this film, and other works by John Paul Kinhart, please visit the filmmaker's website here.

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