My first encounter with a Don Dohler film, though I didn’t know it at the time, was 1981’s Nightbeast, a wonderful slice of sci-fi/horror cheese. (Seriously, if you haven’t seen it stop reading this and go find it. I’ll wait.) Despite the fact that it was made on a budget of a roll of quarters and fingernail clippings, Nightbeast is entertaining as hell and, in one scene anyways, produces some legitimate tension. I swear I hadn’t been that edge-of-my-seat since one of my ex-girlfriends told me she was “late.”
But this review isn’t about Nightbeast (unfortunately): it’s about Dohler’s previous film, Fiend (unfortunately).
A bad special effect that resembles a flying turkey gizzard zips through a cemetery (accompanied by an awesome synth soundtrack that should have been put to use in a better film), and possesses a corpse (Don Leifert, whose performance is the only other good thing about the movie) who awakens looking like the bastard offspring of Oliver Reed and the “frozen chunk of shit” from Joe Dirt. He promptly kills a girl making out with her boyfriend in the cemetery, drains her life force, then turns into the pornofied version of Danny McBride. He moves into a house by removing the realtor’s sign from out front, takes the name of Eric Longfellow, then sets up shop as a music teacher all while strangling victims to drain their life force and keep him from rotting. His neighbor, Gary Kendar (Richard Nelson, who looks like a redneck version of Tim Robbins) dislikes Longfellow because he plays music loudly when Gary gets home from work and wants to relax. Soon, however, Gary begins to suspect that there’s more to Longfellow than meets the eye.
The synopsis makes Fiend sound like a bang-up horror/comedy; however, the film is played totally straight. This wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the fact that it’s pretty bland. No tension, no scares, no blood or gore, nor are there any stupid or so-bad-it’s-good moments to laugh at. Just a whole lotta nothin’ goin’ on. Sure, you have Gary trying to figure out what’s going on with Longfellow, even though his motivations seem rather questionable and illogical (in one scene, Gary deduces that Longfellow is guilty because Longfellow tells police he was listening to music and didn’t hear a girl get killed. Sherlock Holmes he isn’t), but most of the time you get to see him run errands for his wife, bicker with his wife about Longfellow, and drink beer. And for the sake of fairness, you get to see Longfellow do stuff as well: feed his cat, drink wine, stab pictures, walk around his house, talk with his assistant; and then, maybe, strangle a person here or there. As you can see, Fiend is positively thrilling.
While watching, I couldn’t help but think that the film was a wasted opportunity. The whole time I kept wondering how Longfellow got on in the world. How does a guy who recently died set up a music school? How does he go about purchasing a house? How does he have a clean police record, giving that looking into Longfellow would either bring up the fact that he’s dead or that he simply doesn’t exist (this actually happens in the movie; rather, exposition tells us it does)? A film answering these questions would have made for a legitimate slice of entertainment.
As is though, the film is pretty forgettable. There are far worse films to waste 90 minutes on, but there are also far better films to waste 90 minutes on—like Dohler’s Nightbeast. Seriously, if you haven’t seen that one, check it out. As for Fiend, there’s no rush. Or need really.