The Alien Factor (1978)

I first encountered this one years ago, probably on the old Turner Superstation, but had no idea what it was.  At the time, we were shocked by just how bad it was, and eventually (very eventually at that) turned away to catch another show that was on at the same time, which we wanted to see.

And yet, we were quite disappointed that we’d missed the ending…

Flash forward quite a few years.  I never quite forgot this film and did eventually figure out what it was we’d seen – not that I was entirely certain until I actually saw it again.

Somehow, over the years this film has developed a loyal following, perhaps thanks to Turner showing it on many a late night.  Back in 1978, Don Dohler and his small team of of budding amateur filmmakers with ties to Dohler’s Cinemagic magazine, teamed up to make an SF horror film, featuring some of their special effects creations.  In fact, one notes that the credits not only list the designers of all the alien monsters in the film (all conveniently named, by the way) but also tell us that the designers are also the guy in the suit!

Curiously, the copies on Youtube seem to have far better sound than what I remember from seeing the film years ago.  Sound has always been a problem for low budget productions, although even they seem to be catching up (certainly, the dialogue in Dohler’s 2001 sequel is very clear, although perhaps a little too clean).  And, yes, the acting is still amateurish, even if nowhere near as bad as I remembered.  In fact, one is struck at times at the attempts to bring a little artistry into what one expects to be a simple exploitation film (the scene where a group of children find a dead body particularly stands out).

One could make quite a list of flaws, from dumb plot moments to editing glitches, but that misses the point:  a group of friends who loved monsters and science fiction films got together and turned out a quite respectable 16mm film, one that is better than one might expect of its origins, even with an amateur cast, a virtually non-existent budget and limited experience.  Seen from this perspective, The Alien Factor does stand out – so much so that it inspired a lot of other filmmakers, including, of course, the legendary Polonia Brothers.  It is also interesting to note, post-Alien, that it’s use of gore, while rather restrained by today’s standards, would have made it stand out at the time.

If you go in expecting Alien or Predator, you will be disappointed.  But if you accept it for what it is, it is quite good in its own limited way.  It is telling that they cared enough to put in the extra money for 16mm, instead of filming in 8mm or video – options which might have been cheaper, but ultimately would not have looked as good, not even on TV.  And it is telling that, even though the monsters were the stars of the show, and the creators undoubtedly wanted to show off their handiwork, we really do not see much of them – which helps make them seem far more real.

It is what it is.  Enjoy it if you can.

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