The Alien Factor (1978) Review by RevTerry

Sometimes the realization runs past my brain that I haven't the slightest idea what “seeing” an extraterrestrial would really be like. No matter how fucked up and bizarre, the image I can conjure up in my head probably isn't even close. Anything I picture is based on the world around me and its science fiction. Since the term “extraterrestrial” indicates that something is not from this planet, my personal experiences and knowledge are not going to cut it. Chances are if something were to show up in a ship (or whatever it travels in), the basic differences in its biology alone would have me dying of shock in a pile of my own excrement. Just being in contact with an otherworldly being could make me sick, kill me, or drive me insane before I got in a handshake. As a species, We are like fucking homeschool kids when it comes to our galactic citizenship. What if we are the only squishy ones around for galaxies, and every other being is some kind of translucent rock with a sex organ or a thin cloud that shits metal? How do we speak to something like that? We will be lucky if “first contact” happens with a little grey dude sporting black eyes and an oversized dome-piece. Meeting up with a species that close to our own would imply some kind of intergalactic Parent Trap situation. It might be almost embarrassing, having somehow run into another organism with a similar carbon path among countless possibilities--it would be like spotting someone with the same obscure band tee at a punk show, times a million. The real thing could make H.R. Giger's poky penis bugs look like manageable pests for all I know. At least you can shoot at that, and it's within my brain’s range of understanding (sharp hurts, acid bad, etc..). For all the freaky beasts and strangeness that I have indulged in over the years, I could never be properly prepared for everything universe contains. In the grand picture, I'm just a simple Earth lorn, sun-loving carbon thing in pants, virtually incapable of comprehending the vast existence outside my figurative and literal bubble. That doesn't mean what might be out there somewhere is not worth speculation, quite the opposite. In fact, since I can't know right now, I can let my imagination run wild. Fuck the sky, until they make themselves known to me, there is no limit. Cult legend Don Dohler, presumably, did not know what extraterrestrial life was like when he made his series of low budget films on the subject. He did, however, like making space aliens in his garage, and so we have The Alien Factor (1978).
( Spoiler Warning)
After a secluded drunken make-out session is interrupted, leaving one participant dead and another in a state of shock, a small town’s trusty sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith) gets called in to investigate. With one kid mutilated and the other unable to speak, Cinder chalks the tragic mess up as the act of a particularly vicious wild animal but is left understandably nervous by the ravaged remains. He throws the dead guy and the mute girl in the car, but by the time he unloads them at the hospital, several parties arrive demanding answers. Cinder quickly debriefs the city's mayor (Richard Dyszel) who is mostly worried about the killing having an effect on a recent back door deal for an amusement park. Afterward, the sheriff does his best to shoo a crowd of unruly hunters away and caution them against hunting the yet unknown culprit down (drunken militia-style). Later that night, a less intimate couple of youngsters encounter a metal spacecraft behind some bushes. In a panic, the female takes off running away from the vessel only to be mowed down by a stray motorcycle. The cyclist (going who the fuck knows where) realizes he probably just killed somebody and takes off as soon his bike starts back up, leaving the girl to bleed out. Luckily for her, a lumpy humanoid with glowing eyes witnesses the accident and leaps to her aid. With some light grunting, the creature provides life-saving emergency healthcare, Jesus style, and leaves before the other teen shows up (to continue turning into a shirtless man in blue jeans). At the morgue, the town's top medical minds try to make sense of the savaged body, but the closer study only leads to more questions. The damage seems to be beyond what the average bear is capable of, and the traumatized witness is now talking about monsters. Before any conclusions can be made, a call comes in from local newspaper reporter Edie Martin (Mary Mertens) hoping to get the scoop on the fucked up town gossip. Being professionals and not actually knowing anything themselves, the people in white coats refuse to divulge any new details. Unsatisfied, the ambitious Edie heads out to dig up her own dirt and see if she can't get carved up herself.  It soon becomes clear that the wild animal is not from this world. Mostly, because this strange dude named Zachary (Don Leifert) shows up and tells everyone so. According to Zack, he is some kind of deadly specimen-wrangler on the way to a cosmic zoo who crashed landed on Earth and accidentally released his recent catches. His cargo was made up of three malignant creatures, each with their own murderous style, which he calls “The Inferbryce, “the Zagatile” and “The Leemoid”. Small town hysteria and colorful corpses follow as Zack teams up with the more cerebral of the locals to neutralize his pets. Also, just in case that's too much gripping sci-fi action to handle, there is a twenty-minute intermission performed by a 70s bar band with a fancy pirate for a lead singer.
As endearing as it is cheesy, The Alien Factor (1978) is a small scale tribute to 50s alien invasion flicks told through value brand shlock. It's an almost solid science fiction story, crafted by someone deeply acquainted with the genre and put to tape with an intense layer of straight-faced oblivious ham. Intended to be a serious sci-fi thriller and built with some care, much of the film's entertainment lay in its failures. Even so, it ends up a successful watch for “movie” sake as well, coming through in the end as a complete thought with almost an adventures vibe to it. The plot is a somewhat simple play on well-used genre devices with enough gung-ho imagination to make up for its lack of actual substance. There is no trace of its intended tension, and the tone instead ends up on an island between bizarre and comfortable.  Almost every towns-person is introduced like the main character, only to spin off or die unceremoniously at a random point later. It feels like the final episode of a (fucked up) Maryland based Northern Exposure with no budget, killing off its characters with a random alien story arc for a hasteful finale. Each of the space-things in the assortment comes with their own unique details and abilities. Like any proper monster movie, it begs you to pick a favorite and lays out the characteristics as if you might find the toy later at Kmart. There is an alien creature for every taste--I spotted five separate, distinct species, counting the shitty spaceship driver that looks like Goldar’s (from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) broke ass cousin and Zack who later reveals that he is very lumpy in his true form (not really a spoiler). Among the escaped prisoners are a sinister anthropomorphic beetle, a yeti riddled with tumors and a Land of the Lost dinosaur that inexplicably becomes partially translucent at times. It's not a deep story by any means, although Zack does make a point to describe “Leemoid.” as being intelligent which raises some questions about the true nature of this “zoo,” Zack's moral standing, and how his species might view humans. My distrust of police-like authority figures aside, the rainbow of freaks is a lot of fun, and they have a timeless quality to their anything-goes nature. Even wearing a dry delivery like a fashion statement, the pacing of the film is quick and more offbeat then stale. There are several breaks for needless depth and exposition as part of an inspired reach for atmosphere. It's probably not the intended result, but the pointless scenes add a surreal twist to the vintage cliches. Between the unconnected musical number, melodrama and the obsession with seemingly unimportant objects, some chunks accidentally stumble into (what would later be) Twin Peaks territory. The majority of the film could be a shoestring Outer Limits episode, putting emphasis on its “shocking reveals” and would-be gross-out moments. Switching gears, it goes full Twilight Zone after the final showdown, complete with a few critical messages about the nature of the human race. It is not the most original plea for self-reflection, but I always love a good old fashioned “man is the true monster” style twist in my sci-fi.
No one is going to mistake The Alien Factor for a masterwork of cinema. The movie is a significant example of no-budget filmmaking, not because it does an excellent job of hiding its shortcomings, but because it goes all out with what it does have. Buried in its production is a visual textbook on backyard creature flicks, offering up homebrew versions of the previous decade's special effects. Of the sets used, the sheriff's station receives the most decor, having been equipped with a gun rack and a pin board for background dressing. A lot of the footage consists of various parties wandering through Pennsylvania's snow-covered woodland areas, sometimes resembling those Outdoor Channel hunting shows I would pass while channel surfing.  Laser-based weaponry mostly relies on bright colors and a participatory wiggle from its victims to kill. All the otherworldly designs look like a middle school sketchbook come to life in an old lady's craft box. No two creatures sport the same styles of frugal craftsmanship with a sampling of oversized puppets, costumed actors and stop motion creations. The grounded spaceship scenes are achieved through the use of a miniature and forced perspective (and also contain the film’s steadiest horizon line). When it's not utilitarian, the camera has a mind of its own, spending a fair amount of time in people's faces while they ramble on. Shot in 16mm and enlarged to 35mm, the resulting picture is often soft, defocused or washed out with a medley of exaggerated artifacts etched into the master. Most of the film is brightly lit, outside of a few instances, notably during the appearance of “Inferbryce” and his black-black costume. There is a little blood on the victims, mostly smeared on post-attack--nothing that would be considered gore in most circles. The well-rehearsed fight (for lack of a better word) choreography brings a lot of unintended humor whenever employed and almost makes you feel bad for the people stumbling around in costume. Inconsistent sound levels and background noise have accompanied every release I have seen (heard?) so far. At any given moment the hypnotic synthesizer score demands attention and tries its best to inject unease into the wholesome corn-fest. Uniformly, the musical stylings go for broke only to crash and burn in beautiful ways. Almost every technical aspect of the film misses its mark, or just plain fails in some glorious manner. The more earnest the effort, the sweeter the effect, and the pure uncut levels can only be achieved when a film has really fucking tried. No self-aware, self-described bad movie will ever come close, it is lightning in a bottle concocted from uncontainable aspirations.
 A fan first and foremost, Don Dohler was fascinated with the science fiction of his childhood and from an early age, developed alternatives to their grand scale imagery with household items. After a noteworthy stint as a teenage publisher in the early 60s underground comic scene, Dohler publicly entered the world of cinema in 1972 with his Cinemagic magazine. The eleven issue run, which Dohler self-published from his home, provided helpful how-tos and information for aspiring filmmakers culled from various budget auteurs and his own experimentation. In 1976 following a hostage situation at his place of work and some reflection, Dohler decided life was too short and resolved to put his self taught monster-magic to film. Putting together a $10,000 budget, he enlisted everyone he knew (including contacts obtained through Cinemagic) for help and took up directing himself out of necessity.  The first in a series of similar productions, The Alien Factor saw its release sometime in 1978 to little notice. While Dohler had originally hoped for a full theatrical run, the film was later sold into national television syndication for late night monster features where it found its audience among insomniacs with good taste. He continued to release films sporadically until his death in 2006, including a name-only sequel Alien Factor 2: The Alien Rampage (2001). Alien Factor was Dohler putting his money where his mouth was, so to speak, and by his own accounts primarily served to put his monsters on film. Dohler's work both on and off the screen is credited with inspiring countless SOV cult filmmakers as well as mainstream figures such as J.J. Abrams. In the same way that Nathan Schiff is New York’s eternal patron saint of SOV splatter, Donald M. Dohler will forever be a holy figure for DIY science fiction in the church of trash. 
The Alien Factor (1978) is a patchwork golem constructed of genuine cheesy monster love, endowed with the soul of a 50s invasion epic and brought to life by sheer will (and pocket change). It's both a classic piece of trash cinema history and an iconic success story for “fuck-it” film making. It lives up to its laughably bad movie reputation, and the accompanying plucky spirit behind its creation shines through consistently. Beyond all that though, the movie is an enjoyable watch with values both intended and otherwise. You can talk shit through the whole thing, pick out a favorite among its bad guys like it’s the Ninja turtle cartoon, and soak up some game all at the same time. For my money, it's Don Dohler’s best, although his entire filmography brings great joy to my Earth contained existence. I may never get my chance to experience a real life being from beyond the stars. Maybe it's for the best, as I don't know what that contact will be like. It could mean swift furry disembowelment or something far worse that comes with its own chapter in future textbooks. Sure, it's possible the real ET wants to be my homie, ride around on my bike and rub me lovingly with a glowing finger, but it could just as easily be an indescribable ball of sentient pain that accidentally makes brain smoothie leak out of my nose when it speaks. As an upside, then I could be the one riding in the basket wrapped within a blanket.
Director: Don Dohler
Writer: Don Dohler

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Review by:
RevTerry

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