Why am I reviewing a Don Dohler movie?
There was a hole in the B&S About Movies schedule at 12 noon on Friday, March 13. And I can’t think of another film more fitting than Dohler’s third film, Nightbeast, to slide into the VHS shelf between Crown International’s Terror in the Jungle*—the worst jungle flick of all time—and Ed Hunt’s The Brain (coming up at 3 pm)—the most wacked-out horror flick of all time (yes, even more wacked-out than Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator!).
I have to admit: When Dohler came back from his decade long, self-imposed celluloid exile after The Galaxy Invader, I never went back to his oeuvre. So, for me, I’ll always remember Donnie for his “Big Four,” 16-to-35mm drive-era, SOV ’80s precursors (which I lump into my SOV lamenting and pontificating at the site, for it’s all about the “vibe” of it all): The Alien Factor (1978), Fiend (1980), Nightbeast (1982), and The Galaxy Invader (1985), each of which end up on some variation of an ‘80s video fringe critic’s “Ed Wood’s School of Filmmaking” worst-of lists.
Me? Dohler is the Tommy Wiseau of sci-fi and horror. His films may be incompetent, but he, like Ed Wood before him, had a lot of heart. You can call him an awful filmmaker. For me, Don Dohler is an inspired one.
In our March 2019 review of The Galaxy Invader, in promotion of the new Rifftrax version of the film, we briefly explored Dohler’s backstory, so we’ll dispense with the history lesson and pop-in his VHS ‘80s classic and get to reviewin’.
As with The Galaxy Invader, we have ourselves another Earth-stranded alien chasing rednecks though the woods. And as with John Carpenter and Don Coscarelli not taking any chances with their sequels to Escape from New York and Phantasm, Dohler crafted Nightbeast as a sequel-remake of his debut film, The Alien Factor—which also a has an alien loose in the Americana backwoods. And even for a Dohler film, Nightbeast shows a vast improvement in quality. As it should: The Alien Factor was shot for, get this, $3,500; he upped his game for Nightbeast to $14,000. And it’s so good that it made the U.K Section 3 “Video Nasties” list, which we touched on in our “Exploring: Video Nasties Section 3” overview.
What the hell? “Music by Jeffrey Abrams” in the opening credits? Not the J.J Abrams from the Star Trek and Star Wars reboots? Yep. Everyone has to start somewhere, and a teenaged Double-J started with a Don Dohler film.
And that film starts out really good—considering its budget—with decent matte, modeling, and camera-plate work that rivals any of Alfonso Brescia Star Wars knockoffs (watch Star Odyssey and compare), and reminds of Charles Band’s Laserblast (1978; only Nightbeast is the better film), as an alien ship comes out of a space-warp over Jupiter and a subsequent meteor collision causes it to crash on Earth—in the hick town of Perry Hall. (Did you ever notice how these alien spawns always land/crash in a “hick town” in these flicks, e.g., Alienator, anyone?)
So, you say you can only afford the (honestly, for a Dohler film, they’re very impressive) head and hands for your Gigeresque alien? Not a problem, pop that bad boy into a silver lamé jumpsuit and get to the killin’.
And we get our first kill (again, for a Dohler film, it’s impressive) with a ray gun that dispenses a redneck-dufus in a colorful lightshow-animation. And when it’s not gunslingin’, our xenomorph lets loose with some pretty decent on-a-budget eye-pops and gut rips. And bonus: this movie isn’t afraid to disintegrate two kids.
And that’s pretty much the whole film in a nutshell. The local sheriff’s department is dispatched and he gathers a redneck posse that, as with William Malone’s Creature (1985), uses the old The Thing from Another World “trick” of setting a trap-by-electricity.
How loved is this movie? Director Panos Cosmatos runs the film on a TV in a scene from his 2018 film, Mandy. And that impressive alien costume and model work? Those were designed by John Dods. He would come to work on the Poltergeist, Ghostbusters, and Alien franchises. You can also see his early work in the video fringe nasty, The Deadly Spawn (1983).
You have two choices to watch Nightbeast for free: You Tube has it commercial free, and it’s also on TubiTV. While on TubiTV you can also queue a copy of John Kinhart’s Don Dohler documentary Blood, Boobs & Beast. If you’d like to own both, they were packaged as a 2009 Troma DVD double feature. Vinegar Syndrome’s reissue doesn’t include the documentary, but it’s loaded with behind-the-scenes extras.
Be sure to click that SOV ’80s tag, below, to open yourself up to a world of 16mm and camcorder-shot films that populated our video store shelves.