Monday, October 5, 2020

spex factor.



Was sorting thru the cupboard t'other day looking for anything new I could review for the whole 31 Days of Horror thing when I came across my collection of Starburst magazines from the 70s/80s and seeing an excuse to stop tidying/tinkering and relive my wasted youth I dived into the pile with glee.




Between copious pictures of Caroline Munro and scathing comments from the late, great John Brosnan I spotted a full colour picture of a brightly besuited guy in cherry red spectacles featured in an article about the upcoming horror opus he was starring in entitled Fiend.

Reading back thru' the article I was not only amazed at how brilliant he'd made the film sound but also by the fact that I'd never gotten around to watching it.

Well I had to put that to rights.

Plus in a bizarre quirk of fate I realised that only 2 nights before I'd actually watched one of the directors other movies.

And if that wasn't a sign I'm not sure what is.....

But what was the other film I hear you cry.

Well, dear reader it was.....



The Alien Factor (1978).

Dir: Donald M. Dohler.

Cast: Don Leifert, Mary Mertens, Richard Dyszel, Tom Griffith, Anne Frith, George Stover, Richard Geiwitz and Eleanor Herman.


So when I knelt over the creature, my mind went momentarily blank, and then I was aware of a bright blue light, then thoughts began to enter my mind...

Opening with a fantastic children's BBC style animated space sequence that would shame the producers of Captain Zep - and with a plinky plonk synth score to boot - we're soon on planet earth where what looks like your mum and your Uncle Peter, after a drunken (and incredibly uncomfortable) fumble in a car are attacked by a gimp suited, shaved monkey.

Which is nice.

The frenzied - well I say frenzied - attack leaves Peter dead, your mum in a state of damp-knickered shock and the audience scratching their respective heads as we cut to so seriously out of focus driving footage as trusty small town sheriff and Dickie Davis alike Jack 'The Hat' Cinder (Griffith, who will reappear as this character in Nightbeast as well as essaying the role of Man with Beard in Fiend) arrives at the scene to investigate. 


Tunnel or funnel?


Bunging the remains in the boot of his car and the still shocked lady into the passenger seat Cinder Cinder heads over to the coroners office (cunningly played by the directors house where local coroner Dr Ruth (Dohler regular and family friend Frith) and her nephew Steve (Baltimore's most famous son Stover) chalk up the tragic death to a particularly vicious wild animal such as an angry bear or a goose with a flick knife.

And with that sorted Cinder heads back to town to debrief (but not in that way obviously) the town's Lego haired mayor 'Big' Al Wicker (Horror host Count Gore de Vol himself, Dyszel channeling How! star Fred Dinenage) who has spent the day panicking that the killing may have an adverse effect on a recent business deal to build a cheese themed amusement park just outside town. 



"It was a bad boy what done it....or maybe rats!"


Later that night at the local duck pond a pair of love-struck teens are enjoying some alone time in the romantic moonlight.

Well under a day for night filter.

And by alone time I mean the guy is desperately pawing at the girl as he vainly tries to touch her bra.

Ah, young love.

Annoyed by the constant feel of sweaty sausage fingers against her smooth lily white skin she soon stomps off into the woods where she soon stumbles across a pile of silver painted cardboard boxes hastily sellotaped together whilst a bobbled headed binman scrabbles about in the bushes.

Oh hang on, my mistake it's actually a spaceship and the binman is actually an alien astronaut.

Phew, glad that's sorted.


"Are you looking at my bra?"


Being a girl tho' she reacts by running away screaming only to be run over by a passing motorcyclist who, on discovering he's hit a pedestrian gets back on his bike and fucks off leaving her mud spattered and bleeding in a ditch.

But let's be honest we've all been there.

Luckily for her tho' the alien turns up and heals her wife his laser space eyes.

Seems legit.

Meanwhile back at the morgue, Ruth and Steve are working tirelessly to find out what kind of animal could have caused the injuries to Uncle Peter as the damage to his rectum alone would take a creature of unimaginable size and strength. 

Steve is still sure it was a goose (or very angry mallard) but the still traumatized girlfriend is adamant it was a monster. 

The shouts of "Monster!" "No goose!" are soon cut short by a call from ace reporter Edie Martin (Mertens in her only film role - surprise) in the hope of getting any information regarding what the fuck is going on.

Which would be nice for the audience too if I'm honest.

Not having a clue themselves Steve mumbles something about 'terrifying things' before hanging up.


"Put it in me!"


Whilst all this time wasting is going on the local bad boys have decided to take matters into their own hands and go into the woods to kill whatever is attacking the townsfolk, so with the gang leaders girlfriend in tow they grab their weapons and head out for a wee bit of hunting.

Unfortunately the beast has learned the useful skill of hiding in plain sight and jumps the gang as they wander passed an upturned tree, killing them all.

To death. 

Tired of missing cat stories and with the bodies piling up Edie decides to chase the story herself so she too heads off into the woods for a fairly embarrassing 20 minute scene of poor Mary Mertens attempting to walk across a snow covered hill in stack heels.

But let's be honest they've got to fill the running time somehow.


"Spice Girls number one for Christmas.....MONSTA!"

But for those of you expecting another top quality monster attack you'll be totally disappointed as rather than a lumbering beast Edie finds what looks for all the world like a pre-rehab Russ Tamblin out for a leisurely stroll after coming first in a pork pie eating contest.

But alas it is not he but eminent doctor of space type stuff Benjamin Zachary (actor, teacher, Vietnam vet, one time film historian and husband of Mertens, Leifert) who has been monitoring local UFO-based shenanigans from the nearby observatory and has arrived in town armed with the latest (home-made) alien killing technology in order to help the hunt.

You see, according to Zachary, an alien big game hunter on his way home with a cargo of wild (alien) animals has crashed landed in the woods and the cargo - which he refers to as Tony Inferbryce, Brian Zagatile and Alan Leemoid - have broken free.

So the scene is set for a dangerous game of cat and mouse between our human heroes and a trio of terrifying extra-terrestrial terrors.

But first there's just enough time to head back to the bar to watch Atlantis perform their hit single Maybe Someday.

No, really.

From Baltimore's very own Steven Spielberg - the late, great Don Dohler - comes his first, and best, bargain bucket blockbuster that kickstarted a career that took in everything from marauding aliens to undead fiends, sinister slashers and back to aliens over seven ever more ludicrous movies.

Saying that tho' you have to admire the sheer bravado of a director who, when working with a budget just under 80 quid decides to feature not one, not two, not three and not even four alien creatures but five in all - from the leather clad, rubber nippled space ant to a stilt wearing ape/arachnid hybrid to the bollock-faced stop motion marvel that is the Zagatile (let's not forget the wounded alien pilot) each one is a triumph of childlike creativity over  cold hard cash and when one of our heroes (I'll not say which) reveals himself to be a friendly alien sent to aid humanity, his true googly-eyed, Spam sculptured skeleton form topped off with a Brillo pad wig is a joy to behold.

Laugh now.

And the (human) cast?

Well most of them can walk and talk fairly convincingly - some even at the same time - and let's be honest, they're doing their best and seem to be having fun so it'd be churlish not to join in too plus they must have done something right seeing as they all appear in Dohler's next movie.

And the one after that.....

But the true heroes here are soon to be Dohler stalwarts George Stover and Don Leifert.

By this point already a semi-John Waters regular, Stover had begun his film based career as the creator/editor/tea boy of the fanzines Black Oracle and Cinemacabre and as the acting bug bit, split his time (tho' not his lip) 'tween his job in local government and appearing in more and more Baltimore-based bargain bin barnstormers notching up an impressive 114 plus big screen appearances in the lost 40-odd years.

Which lets be honest is 113 more than me.

He even finds the time to indulge in his love of collecting G and Z scale trains too.

And building miniature stations and the like.

Frankly the man's a legend and should feature here much more often.

Tho' I'm not sure if that would be a good thing.

Look at the dog!

But what of Leifert?

Usually referred to as "Big, beefy, and often mustached" (well on IMDB at least), he actually studied 'proper' acting at the Douglas-Webber Academy of Dramatic Art in London but gave up the chance of a glittering career in Brit sitcoms and appearances in Crossroads for the bright(ish) lights of Maryland and unlimited access to Don Dohler's cookie cupboard.

And so impressed was the director with Leifert's uncanny - some would say ungodly - portrayal of ace academic cum monster hunter Benjamin Zachary in The Alien Factor that the pair went on to work together another five times - with Leifert portraying the unforgettable undead ghoul Eric Longfellow in Fiend, beer-bellied badboy 'Billy' Drago in Nightbeast (and reuniting with Tom Griffith back as Sheriff Jack Cinder), the amusing racist Frank Custer in The Galaxy Invader, the popcorn popping video clerk in Blood Massacre before finally returning to the role that made him famous in the Dohler scripted Crawler.

All of them modern(ish) classics.

As an aside it's interesting to note that out of these six movies four of them feature aliens crash-landing in Baltimore.

Well, if it ain't broken.

"Is it giro day?"


Whilst it's true that The Alien Factor (like much of Dohler's work) is terrifyingly cheap and plagued with nonsensical plotting, pound shop special effects, bad sound editing - and just bad editing in general as well as a myriad of amateurish performances, you can't help but be won over by its almost naive and innocent charm.

Especially after a bottle of wine.

Or two.

Plus the barmaid at the local pub played to scoop necked perfection by Ann Hanks has probably the greatest ginger beehive ever committed to celluloid.

And if that's not reason enough to watch I don't know what is.

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