As the end of our sensational seven day Nasty series approaches, Dave Wain and Matty Budrewicz team up to each examine a film from the newly discovered Section 3 list. First up, it’s Dave and the mighty sci-schlock cheapie NIGHTBEAST…
If you speak to most casual horror fans whilst armed with a list of fabled video nasty titles, and ask them to pick out the ones that belonged in the original list, you’ll find that many will point to movies such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). The fact is of course that until recently these movies carried the stigma of being associated with the original Director of Public Prosecutions’ list of seventy-two titles.
In researching the legal paperwork for Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide, Marc Morris managed to discover the previously unpublished third list. In it there were eighty-two titles that were designated under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act by the DPP. These films were liable for seizure and forfeiture by the police, removed for sale or hire and then destroyed although they were not ultimately prosecuted. The discovery of this list certainly goes some way into revealing just why certain other titles carried a video nasty association.
If you read the list [you can check it out at the bottom of our Marc Morris interview HERE] it has some truly bizarre entries. The ones that stand out to me are iconic films like George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Profondo Rosso (1975) by Dario Argento, both of which are now considered to be the pinnacle of horror filmmaking; the idea of them being seized by the boys in blue beggars belief. Others that wave at me in mock indignation are cheese-fest’s like Charles Band’s Parasite (1982) and Xtro (1982) by Harry Bromley Davenport – films whose only crime is surely to have been made at all.
Such loveable yet undeniably bad film-making brings me to my choice of movie to highlight in this Section 3 analysis: Nightbeast. The concept that this 1982 Don Dohler movie could feature on such fascist documentation alleging potential moral corruption of the population should they view is absurd. The idea that if this was 1984 and a policeman could come into my video store and seize my copy of Nightbeast as it would be deemed an obscene publication is jaw-droppingly insane and misguided to the point of ridicule.
Let me tell you a little about Don Dohler, the film-maker with the demeanour of a tired accountant, and a resigned reluctant acceptance of his cult status. Dohler’s career could best be summed up as a handful of low budget films, all made with a great amount of heart and a whole lot of passion. Born in Baltimore in 1946, Dohler was a fan of the genre from an early age being an avid reader of Famous Monsters of Filmland. By 1972 he had launched his own magazine called Cinemagic which featured illustrated step-by-step guides to create your own amateur special effects. The magazine ran for eleven issues before being purchased by Starlog in 1979, but its legacy was lasting with many contemporary Hollywood filmmakers such as JJ Abrams citing it as an influence.
His first foray into making his own films came with The Alien Factor in 1978. It was a fairly simple idea with a crashed alien spaceship leading to a horde of extra-terrestrials invading small town USA and mutilating the townsfolk. Despite its meagre budget it was surprisingly a notable success due to the popularity of Star Wars. With George Lucas’ film raking in big bucks in the cinemas, the American public found themselves with an insatiable desire for anything sci-fi orientated and Dohler’s film quenched that thirst just fine. The Alien Factor went on to appear at selected cinemas, not to mention a stint on that famed Grindhouse strip of 42nd Street, while a healthy TV syndication ensured that Don received some much needed coin in his direction.
With the general consensus that there was always a core audience for horror, Dohler then went into production on Fiend (1980). Little was changed by way of production, he still used friends, family and familiar locations and with the finished product and he decided it might be worth his time seeking out Lloyd Kaufman to seal a nationwide video distribution deal with Troma. Kaufman, despite being impressed with what Dohler brought to him, opted to pass on Fiend saying that his audience demanded more nudity and explicit content – something Dohler himself wasn’t too keen on integrating into his films. However, having decided if that’s what it’ll take he set about creating his next project, Nightbeast.
Nightbeast actually turned out to be pretty much a more polished and professional looking version of The Alien Factor. With many of the original cast of that movie reprising their roles there are a lot of similarities, especially in the narrative which shares many a same plot point; not least the alien spacecraft crash landing in a small town. From here we meet the heroic Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith) who arrives on scene with the local militia to investigate the disturbance only to be attacked by the alien. Cinder decides to make a stand, and along with the lovely Deputy Lisa (Karin Kardian) and a handful of townsfolk, the battle is on to defeat this extra-terrestrial invader.
While the plot doesn’t exactly feature much in the way of originality, the charm of Nightbeast lies firmly in its homemade nature. We have a spaceship crafted from polystyrene and paper, with much of the film being shot in a patch of woodland adjacent to Dohler’s back garden so they could run the power lines for the lights into his house! The supporting cast are largely made up of neighbours, friends, his aunt’s hairdresser and, let’s not forget, his children as well. The film is bursting with Ed Wood-style moments such as the scenes he had to extend to pad the film out that show his kids with a six month age difference looking noticeably different in terms of height and weight.
One of the most talked about scenes in the film though is undoubtedly that sex scene that Lloyd Kaufman suggested Dohler put into his film as “that’s what people want”. I implore you to watch this moment of insatiable erotica and tell me that it’s quite possibly the most anti-erotic sex scene ever filmed. Sheriff Jack, whilst running for cover from the marauding alien happens to sustain a mild injury to his leg. It needs attention though and Deputy Lisa suggests they stop off at a nearby cabin to get it cleaned up and bandaged.
For whatever reason Tom Griffith dispatched with the dated but functional long hair he sported in The Alien Factor for the most ridiculous prematurely greying perm you are ever likely to see. We’re talking aged Napoleon Dynamite here. During this first aid session Deputy Lisa gets ravenously horny and reveals her tan lines whilst off comes the Sheriff’s ill-fitting y-fronts. With his beer gut and handlebar moustache, this steamy lovemaking session is about as erotic as watching your Mum and Dad having sex – yet oddly all it does is solidify your appreciation of what Dohler managed to pull together.
Nightbeast was released in the UK by Vipco having been passed with no cuts made in 1983. Why would they make cuts though? It is virtually a blood free zone apart from a few incidents of very tame low budget gore. I can only think that its remarkably iconic sleeve featuring the John Dods (Ghostbusters II, Alien Resurrection) designed creature conjured up the idea that the film might contain something more ‘corrupting’ than it actually does. It was reclassified (again without cuts) in 1996 for a release on retail VHS in Troma’s brief sojourn into the UK home entertainment industry. Troma’s US release of it is well worth picking up as you can get it on a cool double feature alongside John Paul Kinhart’s excellent Blood, Boobs and Beast documentary which examines Dohler’s career.
Despite its low budget nature, Nightbeast is looked back on as the pinnacle in of Don Dohler’s career. Granted, that may be akin to saying that Glen or Glenda is the pinnacle of Ed Wood’s career but nevertheless, for a guy that made movies in his own town, with his friends and family and DIY special effects, Nightbeast represents quite an achievement. Dohler only made seven films in his career, and after having production problems on Blood Massacre (1991) which found the film land in other people’s hands for completion, he decided to back out of the industry with only the occasional return. Harvesters (2001) which he co-wrote is certainly worth a look for those low budget aficionados amongst you.
Dohler died of cancer aged sixty in late 2006, and it’s only since his death that I became aware of the legacy he left. The fact that legacy includes a position on a Section 3 DPP list is a genuinely surprising one. It’s such an inoffensive little film that the average viewer would more likely mock and disparage as opposed to question its morality. However, if the recognition it gets from this infamy creates a few more Don Dohler fans then it might just be worth the attention.
For Part Two of this feature, click HERE
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