The lights in the auditorium fade. A large, boxy white dot — the product of primitive late 1970’s video technology — appears on screen, prompting J. Elvis Weinstein to quip, “In the beginning, there was Pong.” And thus begins the second Cinematic Titanic Live, the latest release in Joel Hodgson’s MST3k riffing offshoot. The main course at this roast is The Alien Factor, an extremely amateurish 1978 science fiction movie from Baltimore’s famed Do-It-Yourself filmmaker, Don Dohler.
Panic is about to grip the entire population of a small rural Maryland redneck town. Well, panic would grip the population of a small rural Maryland redneck town if the trio of murderous aliens that recently escaped from a crashed zoological spaceship weren’t gallivanting about and murdering them! Fortunately, though, there’s an adventurous, portly, porn-stached astronomer there to jump into the ring and take the unstoppable extra terrestrials on one by one. Who is he? What strange powers enable him to communicate telepathically (or is it “telepathetically?”) with the aliens? And will he be able to save the day in time before the backwoods local yokels screw things up any further?
Frankly, one would either be lying or insane if they said they cared. The Alien Factor is one bad mama jama of a movie. The writing is on-par with that of a short science fiction story contest entry written by a high school jock. The actors would have a hard time getting cast in a community theater play even if no one else auditioned. And the special effects are as cheap as they can possibly get. But of course, anyone familiar with the legacy of admittedly cheapo sci-fi and horror films from the late Don Dohler (who sadly, passed away in 2006 at the age of 60) knows that said “flaws” are what made his early works so fun — and the audience members at Cinematic Titanic Live: The Alien Factor recognize such.
I think the Cinematic Titanic crew may have been just as aware of The Alien Factor’s naïve charm as well — because this is by far the driest presentation (live or otherwise) that I have seen from them yet (I didn’t see The Wasp Woman, FYI — and I only mention that because I hear it’s a dry one, too). There are a lot of “silent” moments to be found here wherein our riffers are not tackling the movie relentlessly. Instead, they seem to sit back and smile at the movie’s own ineptitude while the audience chuckles away at the same. It’s only natural, too: by itself, The Alien Factor is ripe with unintentional humor.
And therein lies my biggest problem with Cinematic Titanic Live: The Alien Factor — it’s too dry. Even when the jokes are flying (and they fly frequently, I should add), they’re a bit on the dry side. Each of the crew — the aforementioned Hodgson and Weinstein, along with Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl — get their opportunity to buzz in with some truly inspired jokes (I think Trace actually outdoes the rest this time ‘round: his inner monologue for the sheriff’s deputy in one particular moment even places the rest of his posse in stitches).
But it seems to me that they just weren’t “ready” for this performance. They appear to stumble over their own one-liners at times (while treading dangerously over onto to the one-liners of their comedy partners at others). The audience is a lot more subdued than the crowd from Cinematic Titanic Live: East Meets Watts, too — and one could probably argue that they weren’t as entertained by the on-stage movie-mocking as the Titans had hoped for. Perhaps the Titans were just having an off-night. Or, maybe the entire theater was packed with Don Dohler fans (we do exist) and people that simply didn’t understand what was going on.
Or, maybe The Alien Factor is just so user-friendly (read: it can entertain an audience with or without a host) that the Titans felt they could take it easy on this one.
A few side notes here: The Alien Factor features TV horror host Count Gore De Vol (aka Richard Dyszel) as the Chevy Chase-ish mayor. Don Dohler actually produced a sequel to the The Alien Factor in 2001 (entitled Alien Factor 2: The Alien Rampage) when he returned to indie filmmaking after decade-long absence). Dohler also remade The Alien Factor in 1982 (with only one alien) as Nightbeast, which featured many of the same cast portraying the same characters (and was his best film, in my opinion).
Cinematic Titanic Live: The Alien Factor is available at the official Cinematic Titanic website (along with all of their other releases) via DVD or download.
Like our previous Live encounter (East Meets Watts), Cinematic Titanic Live: The Alien Factor is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, with the main feature placed in the center of the screen, and the Titans to the sides. It might have just been my ever-worsening eyes, but the video quality here didn’t seem to be as good as it was on the previous Live release — while the 2-Channel stereo track didn’t rub my in either a good or a bad way whatsoever. Special features are limited to a five-minute peek atCinematic Titanic Live: East Meets Watts.
In short, Cinematic Titanic Live: The Alien Factor does deliver, albeit in spurts. It’s a pity, too — because early works of Don Dohler should (theoretically) be easy to riff on. Perhaps that’s the problem here: Don Dohler’s early works have achieved that hard-to-reach cult status on their own — without having had to appear on a show like Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the past (don’t worry, MiSTies, I’m not knocking our beloved show), thus making them too easy to riff on.
Or something like that.
It’s still fun, regardless.