Producers: Don Dohler, Ted A. Bohus
Cinematographers: Don Dohler, Richard Geiwitz
Music: Paul Woznicki
Special Effects: David W. Renwick
Cinema Enterprises; 90 min; color
Don Leifert (Eric Longfellow), Richard Nelson (Gary Kender), Elaine White (Marsha Kender), George Stover (Dennis Frye), Greg Dohler (Scotty), Del Winans (Jimmy Barnes), Kim Dohler (Kristy Michaels), Debbie Vogel (Helen Weiss), Richard Geiwitz (Fred)
|Don Dohler's Amazing Cinema magazine,|
which often plugged his own films.
Don Dohler would produce or direct another ten features in his native Maryland during the next three decades, until his untimely death in 2006. His first four early features (before his late 1980's hiatus) are gems- full of the same wide-eyed "golly gee" innocence as the 50's sci-fi/horror films that no doubt influenced him, and whose small budgets are contrary to the impressive special effects. For my money, his second feature, Fiend (1980), remains his greatest achievement.
All of Don Dohler’s films are ensemble pieces, in which a mosaic of characters is thrown into a fantastic situation. However, by comparison, Fiend only has a handful of key characters. Don Leifert was always given colourful characters to play in Dohler’s work, but with his lead role, this picture rests comfortably on his shoulders.
The charming opening features a red cartoonish, ectoplasmic demonic looking entity that travels through the night sky and then disappears into a gravesite. Then the corpse digs its way out of the earth and strangles a girl in the cemetery. The corpse touches its face, delighted at the notion of being alive again. That shot is perhaps the crux of this brilliant satire from writer-director Don Dohler. The monster simply wants to live a normal –human- existence in suburban Maryland. And so several months later we see the fiend, under the name of Eric Longfellow, moving into the quaint neighbourhood of Kingsville, opening a lucrative music publishing business and even offering lessons from his bungalow. However, there’s one problem. The fiend needs to survive by killing others and absorbing their lifeforce (as seen with the red glow emanating from its body upon doing so), otherwise the host body it controls begins to decompose (as seen a couple of times with convincing makeup).
Most importantly, Fiend works as a horror film as it sustains a creepy mood. The old-fashioned special effects do not date the work, but rather compliment the low-key tone of the narrative. Although it slowly builds to its climax, it is exciting to watch for its plethora of ideas, inventive visual touches, and another brooding electronic score, this time by Paul Woznicki. Kudos to Don Leifert for his commanding performance as the fiend (his delivery reminds me a lot of Orson Welles’), and we would also be remiss to forget Dohler's regular actor George Stover’s appearance as Dennis Frye (likely named after the immortal horror movie lab assistant Dwight Frye), who plays Longfellow’s cloying employee (a modern variation on Renfield, perhaps?). This film is also a family affair as Dohler’s son Greg has a supporting role as Scotty who confides in Kender about some strange encounter, and daughter Kim was hired to play the poor little girl whose death advances the plot! It is too bad that Fiend only played for the small screen (in the golden days of VHS, it became a mini-favourite among genre fans). Here was a film deserving to be seen in the drive-ins, thereby begetting revivals on the late late show.