Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion: The Alien Factor (1978)

You know how we root for the self-made filmmaker at B&S About Movies, with backyard guys like Andy Milligan and Don Dohler. (Without their 16-to-35mm drive-in romps, there’d be no SOV ’80s*, so I always lump them into that brick and mortar store era, especially when the first time most seen Dohler’s work — or Milligan’s for that matter — was on home video.) So while stuffy Leonard Maltin-styled critics catalog their filmpedia scoffs at Dohler’s “gripping sci-fi terror from beyond,” we, the staff of B&S About Movies appreciate Dohler’s debut film for what it is: a fun retro-romp from the ’50s “Golden Age of Horror.”

Considering Dohler began as an underground magazine publisher in the early ’60s at the age of 15 with the Mad Magazine-inspired WILD and the mid-60s filmmaking magazine Cinemagic (that was bought out by Starlog in 1979), his transitioning into producing his own films was a logical, natural progression.

Upon first watching the opening scene of two people in car in a remote, rural area being attacked by an alien creature, it’s obvious George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is a sign post in Dohler’s creation. However, with only $3,500 to spend, Dohler couldn’t afford to shoot in graveyards and create zombie hoards: so he gave us a tale inspired by ’50s sci-fi films, such as The Thing from Another World.

If you’ve seen — or read our previous reviews for Dohler’s third and fourth films (the zombie-slasher hybrid Fiend from 1980 was his second) — Nightbeast and The Galaxy Invader, you know that an insect-esque monster is on the loose in “Perry Hill” (natch). The mayhem is triggered when a (character expositional) spaceship containing specimens for an intergalactic zoo crashes on Earth and lets loose its galactic menagerie: an Inferbyce (the aforementioned insect alien), a Zagatile (a giant furry beast with funky legs) and a Lemmoid (a ghostly like lizard that sucks energy from other creatures).

Baltimore’s’ favorite alien is back in the 2001 sequel.

And I ask you: Did Speilberg watch this? I wonder, because we have a local sheriff besieged by the backwood (in lieu of sandy Amity Island) town mayor to find what’s causing the killings (not a shark) and to “keep a lid on it” because it’ll jeopardize the nearby construction of a multimillion-dollar amusement park that’ll boost the local economy.

The reference to Romero’s zombie classic — and our calling out a minor influence of Jack H. Harris’s Equinox — isn’t a critical misnomer (especially when you watch the ending and recall Duane Jones’s sad fate in Romero’s tale). While this Dohler debut received a widespread theatrical released in the post-Alien/Star Wars/Close Encounters of the Third Kind marketplace in May 1978, The Alien Factor was completed in 1972 — and had a slight, regional drive-in release around the Baltimore area in 1976.

For a film shot for under $4,000 bucks with local talent, a limited crew, backyard without-permit locales, and admittedly pretty decent process shots and practical in-camera effect, this — as with any Dohler flick — is worth the watch. You can watch The Alien Factor on You Tube and enjoy it as part of the Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion Box Set.

And did you know there’s a rock ‘n’ roll connection to this Dohler bit o’ nostalgia? Yep! Be sure to check out Sam’s take as he reviewed the film for the 24th “At the Gig” day of the 2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge.

* Click through to our SOV tag to populate our ever-growing list of shot-on-video movies.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.