Monday, December 10, 2012

Alien Factor, The (1978)

Directed by:
Don Dohler

Ernest D. Farino's opening title sequences always give films like these a professional feel... a feel the rest of the films rarely (if ever) live up to. This is one of those cases. Filmed in 1976 and 1977 on 16mm (with some bits shot on Super 8 in Michigan), this was the starting point for Baltimore-based director Don Dohler, an alien-obsessed fella who had a clear affection for 50s sci-fi flicks but next to no money to make his own films with. But, hey, that never stopped the guy, so good for him. Things begin like many other vintage monster flick begins; with a young couple parked in the woods being attacked in their car by a man-in-a-suit lizard alien thingy. It kills the guy and puts the girl - Mary Jane (Eleanor Herman) - into a deep state of shock. Mustachioed Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith), his Deputy Pete (Richard Geiwitz), nosy reporter Edie Martin (Mary Mertens) and others are on the case. They initially think the victim has been killed by a bear or a bobcat, but coroner Dr. Ruth Sherman (Anne Frith) and her nephew Steven (John Waters movie regular George Stover) uncover otherwise during an autopsy when they realize that the victim's body is filled with a toxic poison.

Another couple hanging out near the same area have a similar alien encounter except this time it's a different being... and it's wearing blue jeans! After stumbling upon its spaceship, the woman flees, gets run over by a drunken motorcyclist and is then healed by the more benign alien. So yeah, there are two aliens lurking the woods. Wait, or is that three? Another poor guy gets attacked by some sparkly red lights that cover his body and rapidly age him until he's a decaying corpse. Er, maybe four? In a sequence that lasts about ten grueling minutes, another man visits a bar, watches a band perform an entire song, goes home, reads a book, hears a noise and finally comes face-to-face with a very tall and furry alien thingy wearing platform boots (!) hiding out in his basement, which claws him to death. Four locals armed with shotguns head out into the woods against the sheriff's wishes and end up meeting that lizard monster from the opening sequence again, who kills them all save for one woman who screams. Apparently these creatures hate high-pitched noises.

Eventually, astronomer Benjamin Zachary (Don Leifert) shows up claiming to have spotted a meteorite falling right outside of town a few days earlier. Benjamin behaves strangely and clearly telegraphs early on via hokey dialogue that he's not quite who he claims he is. Accompanied by the town's greedy Mayor Bert Wicker (Richard Dyszel aka Washington D.C. area Creature Features host Count Gore DeVol), who wants to build an entertainment complex and is more concerned with bad press than anything else, Ben goes into the forest, discovers a spaceship and a wounded, dying alien (in a hilarious white fright wig) who communicates telephatically with him. It informs him it was transporting three zoological specimens when its ship crashed there and all the creatures escaped into the woods. Benjamin gets the approval of the mayor to stalk and eliminate these aliens or else they'll have to call the army in to help.

Extremely cheap-looking, amateurishly acted, poorly edited and filled with continuity errors, awful dialogue and cheesy sfx, this isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. For others, however, it's going to be a fun and charming no budget creature feature. I'm a little in the middle. I can clearly recognize that it's not a 'good' movie. The first half is extremely confusing if you've not seen it before and there are long, dull stretches where people walk around and such, but I do get some genuine enjoyment out of this each time I watch it. There's plenty of alien action and four distinct alien designs; a shellac insectoid "Inferbyce" covered with varnish, a hairy Yeti-esque "Zagatile" (the tall one... which is hilarious and completely awesome), a lizard "Leemoid" (which was designed and stop-motion animated by Farino) and the nice alien being, which isn't really given a name.

Despite what some sources claim, METAMORPHOSIS: THE ALIEN FACTOR (1990) is not a sequel to this, but an unofficial sequel to THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983). Dohler (who also appears in a small role here; along with his kids Greg and Kim) basically remade it as NIGHT BEAST (1982) and wouldn't make the actual sequel; THE ALIEN FACTOR 2: THE ALIEN RAMPAGE (2001), until nearly 25 years later. Most of the cast members - including future director Tony Malanowski (1982's THE CURSE OF THE SCREAMING DEAD) - were the director's friends and family members.

Ernie Farino sculping his 'Leemoid.'

The Retromedia DVD comes with many special features, including a blooper reel, a deleted scene, stills galleries and a commentary track from co-star Stover.

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