If they've done anything - and there's many a warped fright flick fan's mind to suggest otherwise - Troma has definitely done a great deal to trumpet new, unknown and untested talent. Over the years, they've given creative avenue to such now known quantities as Trey Parker and Matt Stone (Cannibal!: The Musical), James Gunn (Tromeo and Juliet), and Giuseppe Andrews (Trailer Town). All have since gone on to take their time with Uncle Lloyd and his denizens of iniquities and turned it into some manner of mainstream success (or in Andrews case, a critically acclaimed cult following). Even better, the noted independent film company has championed some frequently unheralded folk forgotten by even the staunchest schlock maven. In the case of Blood, Boobs, and Beast, outsider auteur Don Dohler is the subject. This smart documentary serves as a wonderful introduction to the man, his achievements, and his unusual path to making movies. And just to make things interesting, Troma tosses in an example of his work, Nightbeat. Both films celebrate the warped and wasted potential that was this producer/director's frequently unfathomable muse.
In this double disc set, we have two separate full length features. The first is a documentary from 2006. The other is an original Dohler film from the early '80s. Separately, the storylines for each are as follows:
Blood, Boobs, and Beast
While working on his latest project, a slasher throwback entitled Dead Hunt, filmmaker Don Dohler runs into a series of snags. First, his longtime collaborator and now director Joe Ripple retires from his day job on the police force. Deciding to switch careers and become a nurse, his school and work schedule keep him from certain commitments. Then Dohler faces a situation he's been plagued with all his life - the lack of enthusiasm. After years as an illustrator, comic book artist, publisher, and producer, he's lost the will to make films. Finally, he senses a need to slow down. Though only in his mid-50s, Dohler once dropped out of filmmaking all together - and kind of enjoyed it. Now, as Dead Hunt sputters and stalls, he wonders if it's all worth it - and if it's time to disappear again.
When an alien space craft crash lands in the Maryland countryside, a local sheriff and his girlfriend deputy step in and start evacuating the town. And it's a good thing too since the ET that stumbles off this ship is not packing a sympathetic heart light. Instead, this badass monster is laser blasting the locals - that is, when he's not disemboweling them and enjoying a little Baltimore blood feasting. As the buffoonish mayor and his sassy slut assistant prepare for the arrival of the governor, Sheriff Cinder and his posse prepare for the worst. Meanwhile, a criminal delinquent named Drago wanders back into town, targeting his ex-girlfriend for a little assault and battery. When things turn deadly, he becomes part of the lawman's long list of problems.
In order to discuss this DVD package, it is necessary to address each film individually. Naturally, we begin with the Dohler overview:
Blood, Boobs, and Beast (Score: ****)
Documentaries about unsung filmmakers are nothing new. Everyone has their favorite forgotten (or never discovered) hero, and there is a natural need to want to inform the world re: what they've missed. But not every subject warrants a 90 minute dissertation on their cinematic style and/or substance. Some people are just...well, dull. Thankfully, Don Dohler is exceedingly interesting, and not just for the movies he made in the '80s and '90s. As a principle participant in the rise of underground comics, he inspired such visionaries as R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman. As a publisher of medium-specific magazines, his Cinemagic publication was a special effects bible (and precursor to such modern periodicals as Cinefex). His first film - The Alien Factor - hit just as Star Wars was taking off and it more or less built his entire career. Still, many would not recognize Dohler's name or the movies he's made without seeking guidance from IMDb or Wikipedia. John Paul Kinhart hopes his film Blood, Boobs, and Beast changes all that. In many ways, he gets his wish and then some.
There is an inherent sadness to Dohler's story, one that centers mostly on his position as an industry also-ran. While his publication and comic legacy is secure, as a filmmaker, even the most diehard schlock lovers have failed to support his efforts. Dead Hunt argues for the reason why - he appears to be as capable of competent macabre as Mark Borchardt of American Movie fame. It's a clear case of fandom overriding ambition and ability. But Dohler is not alone in his pursuit. Collaborator Joe Ripple often comes across as an indirect diva, looking to make sure his place at the b-movie banquet is secure. What happens over the course of Kinhart's excellent examination speaks for hundreds of wannabe filmmakers, frustrated by the lack of attention and stymied by the Joe Bob Briggs' title mandates. One of the best parts of the film focuses on the fact that Dohler's most popular movie is a stripper filled excuse for fear called Vampire Sisters. It sickens the man just to think about it. As engaging as it is inspiring, Blood, Boobs, and Beast should be mandatory viewing for every would-be auteur. It definitely puts things in perspective.
Nightbeast (Score: **1/2)
Nightbeast starts off with such a violent, all out alien vs. earthling killing spree that you know it just can't keep up the pace. You realize after our extraterrestrial interloper has taken out dozens of local yokels that director Don Dohler just can't maintain such a body count. Sure enough, the minute we finish the Star Wars inspired laser battle, our space thing spraying the countryside with his own lethal light show, things calm down considerably. It's at this point when genre fans will either forgive Dohler his doldrums, or wonder why he pulled back on the firepower all together. With its murky, man-in-suit scare tactics and lack of consistent gore, Nightbeast really can't stand up to the scrutiny. But there is still something quite enthralling about this film, a devil may care attitude that seems to imbue every moment with subconscious movie magic. It could be Dohler's uneven tone. Or maybe the toy model like monster. Perhaps it's the asexual love scene between Tom Griffith and a very un-interested co-star. Whatever it is, there's a car wreck quality to the film that definitely keeps us engaged.
At least things pick up near the end, when victims are again falling left and right. Of particular note are the Mayor and his spastic slut of an aide. After a drunk act that only Foster Brooks could appreciate, our title terror comes in and lays down the smack. Never has an audience been more grateful to see a couple of complete hams die for the sake of a scare. Equally interesting is Drago's subplot, though it ends up underdeveloped. Then there is the electricity based stand-off against the alien. There is so much random running, so much loopy scientific logic, and action adventure bull hockey that we end up forgetting to care about killing the space invader. When it happens, we're kind of shocked by the suddenness. As an example of why Dohler is championed by lovers of outsider cinema, there is very little in Nightbeast to support such a claim. But when taken with the documentary about his life, when you learn how little the director really cared about the medium he was working in, the film becomes something beautiful. It turns into an angry middle aged man's cry for attention. The results are ridiculously addictive.
Both films are offered in clean, crisp 1.33:1 full screen images. The colors are bright and vibrant, the details easily discernible. Blood was made on video, and Troma wisely avoids a post-production "film" look, keeping the direct to tape authenticity intact. Nightbeast was captured on celluloid, and except for a little softness, the transfer is terrific. The version offered here appears to be a ported over disc from a previous release. There's even the old Lloyd Kaufman/Debbie Rochon "fill in the blank" intro from a few years back.
Unlike some digital mastering jobs which throw the music to dialogue ratio all out of whack, the sonic situations here are solid. The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 serves both films very well, even though it's clear that Nightbeast was made on the shortest of budgetary shoestrings.
Each disc has its own special features, so it's best to describe them separately. On Blood, we are treated to a commentary by director Kinhart. It's very informative and loaded with entertaining anecdotes. There is also an introduction by Lloyd Kaufman, and a lot more corporate come-ons (trailers, ads, etc.). For Nightbeast, we get a full length discussion from Dohler who appears somewhat happy with the final result. There is also a collection of behind the scenes material, outtakes and bloopers, as well as a trailer. Again, Troma-oriented offerings flesh out the rest of the DVD's added content.
Don Dohler was clearly a film geek's obtuse go-to guy. None other than Lost's J.J. Abrams appears on camera to discuss what a major influence the director was on his passion for genre moviemaking and horror/sci-fi in general. It's a sentiment supported by Tom Savini and The Evil Dead's Tom Sullivan. Sure, Dohler's actual film Nightbeast may be one set of fake tits away from a Fred Olen Ray reject, but there's a lot of skill, and a little soul, in the low budget bungle. As a result, both the documentary and the feature deserve a Highly Recommended rating, since both serve as reflections on each other, and the man behind them. With his passing, Don Dohler leaves behind a legacy that just continues to grow. Even now, one can see either film inspiring the next generation of dreamers. Don Dohler was much more than a curmudgeonly moviemaker. Blood, Boobs, and Beast and Nightbeast make that abundantly clear.