When I started TOKEN HOMO, I didn’t just want to cruise the well lubricated annals of queer horror films and their queer filmmakers, or just sit back and perv over the soon to be shredded bodies of their toned cast members. My love of cult, curious and yes, queer horror films is fueled by the hunt for an aesthetic that feels like our queer lives, often stitched together from the fabric of things we love and thrust with unashamed confidence into an otherwise hostile world.
THE ALIEN FACTOR is one of those low budget, independent exploitation films that makes my queer heart feel at home. Not because there’s an ounce of obvious queerness in it (although we could argue about that…), but because it simply dares to be itself and quite literally, goes for it. This is a debut DIY production of the highest order from legendary Baltimore filmmaker Don Dohler where everything is hand-scripted (dialogue has a strange sing-song quality as characters repeatedly refer to each other by name, which simply doesn’t happen in conventional screenwriting) and hand-built (the set for the oft-revisited police station interiors was erected in his basement).
The story, if you haven’t seen it, is ridiculously ambitious. A crashed alien spaceship accidentally unleashes its life-threatening cargo of hostile lifeforms that start munching on the locals. The mayor is more worried about the impact on his pet amusement park project and a mysterious stranger from out of town turns up to save the day. Apart from a rather butch doctor, women mostly get to scream and do stupid stuff, while the menfolk really aren’t that much wiser. What we do get are spaceships times two (the wreck is a particularly awesome in-camera effect), four assorted creatures and all the associated kills. There’s a wonderfully animated title sequence that feels like a much more sophisticated movie, and a heavy-handed synth soundtrack that rather muddies the waters.
But THE ALIEN FACTOR is really all about the monsters, as suggested by the prescient talent show synergies of its title. The performers behind each creature are duly listed in the end credits:
‘Inferbyce’ designed & worn by Larry Schlechter
‘Zagatile’ designed & worn by John Cosentino
‘Leemoid’ designed & animated by Ernie Farino”THE ALIEN FACTOR (1978)
Onscreen they present as some kind of kink wish-fulfillment project, as if these various dudes were finally living their best furry life, brazenly parading around in a fully fitted creature suit for everyone else to see. And there’s no hiding these suits in the darkness. They’re repeatedly over exposed, shot centre frame against white snowy backgrounds. I dare you to build a better one.
If you’ve ever been to your friend’s first drag show, you’ll be familiar with those overwhelming ‘proud mum’ feels that make you rise to your feet and scream ecstatically, no matter how much rehearsal you fear is needed before the next performance. THE ALIEN FACTOR is just that moment, a debutante monsters’ ball ready for its loving audience of queer family members to whoop with delight (despite or because of its flaws). Our beautiful butterfly is finally emerging from its pupa, and who the fuck are we to harsh its buzz?
IN BRIEF: A ridiculously ambitious debutante DIY creature feature to inspire all you wannabe drag superstars, pups, furries & fetishists.
STRAPLINE: “A Galactic Frightmare.”
READING (between the lines…)
Don Dohler hails from the same city as that other DIY film superstar, John Waters. There’s a documentary about Dohler’s life and work by John Kinhart, BLOOD, BOOBS & BEAST (2007) which I haven’t seen.
This screening is a side hustle to a side hustle… I’m working my way through the extensive filmography at the back of Stephen Thrower’s Nightmare USA, doing nothing more than searching Prime Video UK for available titles. It’s a gentle way to tackle Thrower’s epic book, exploring the suburban foothills of independent exploitation cinema, and feasting my eyes on something other than David DeCoteau‘s never-ending twink parade. In an interesting piece of synchronicity, Thrower references queer clubland legend Leigh Bowery in his own review of the creatures in THE ALIEN FACTOR, which I read after writing mine:
“… the long-legged ‘Zagatile’ has a special place in my heart, staggering around like a mutant giraffe or one of Leigh Bowery’s more insane creations.”“Nightmare USA: The Untold Story Of The Exploitation Independents”, Stephen Thrower (2007).
Streamed late at night from Prime Video UK, 27 October 2020.