Donald Dohler

[ Age 60 ] Journalist and filmmaker was passionately committed to community newspapers and his low-budget films

December 09, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN REPORTER

Donald M. Dohler, managing editor of the Times-Herald, a Baltimore County community newspaper, and an independent science fiction and grade-B horror film producer who also founded and edited a magazine for amateur filmmakers, died of melanoma Dec. 2 at his Perry Hall home. He was 60.

Mr. Dohler, who divided his professional life between being a newspaper reporter and editor and filmmaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in the Idlewylde neighborhood of Baltimore County.

During the 1950s, he spent Saturday afternoons in local movie theaters watching what many film critics and historians now consider classics from the science fiction and horror genre, films such as Creature from the Black Lagoon, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Forbidden Planet.

Mr. Dohler was 13 when he was given an 8 mm Kodak movie camera for Christmas in 1958. He and a boyhood friend launched themselves into filmmaking with The Mad Scientist, their first production, filmed in his family's garage.

"They were crude and silly, but that's what got me into filmmaking," Mr. Dohler told the City Paper in a 2003 interview.

"He was a self-taught writer. As a teenager, he began his publishing career with a humor fanzine called Wild, which featured the early work of noted underground cartoonists Jay Lynch and Art Spiegelman," said his son, Greg Dohler of Baltimore. "He later published Cinemagic, a how-to for amateur filmmakers, and Movie Club, an appreciation of classic horror and science fiction films."

Mr. Dohler was working in Washington as a payroll clerk when two robbers entered the business and demanded the company safe be opened.

"It was in 1976, on his 30th birthday, and one of the guys put a shotgun to the back of his head. He said that's when he realized that he wanted to make movies," his son said. "So he quit and began working on The Alien Factor, produced by his company, Cinemagic Visual Effects, and completed it in 1977."

Mr. Dohler either directed, produced or wrote 11 films, including Fiend, The Alien Factor 2: The Alien Rampage, Blood Massacre, Harvesters, Stakes, Nightbeast and Dead Hunt, which was completed last year. Crawler, his last picture, is still in post-production.

"His films that have been seen worldwide through television and DVD distribution" were filmed mainly in Perry Hall and other Baltimore County locations, his son said.

Mr. Dohler was a co-founder in 2000 of Timewarp Films, with Joe Ripple, an actor turned director.

"On and off for the past 27 years, Dohler, while failing to register on the mainstream movie-biz Richter scale, has been cranking out low-budget, no stars horror and science fiction fare," reported the City Paper, who described his work this way:

"They are "90-minute features chockablock with decapitations, eviscerations, impalings, murderous nuclear families devoted to cannibalism or organ harvesting, thong-clad vampirettes, cleaver-wielding housewives, switch-blade flicking psychos, trigger-happy yahoos, marauding aliens, reanimated corpses, fog machines in overdrive, enough fake blood to fill several Olympic-sized swimming pools, more running through the woods than a battalion of Green Berets on maneuvers, and some of the scariest Baltimore accents in the history of cinema."

"He was a driven filmmaker who never gave up no matter how little the budget. He's now sitting next to Ed Wood in heaven," said film director John Waters yesterday from Los Angeles.

"Maryland was the low-budget movie capital of the world because of Don, and his movies became an inspiration to those who wanted to make films," said Mitch Klein, a graphic and special effects artist who worked on five of Mr. Dohler's films. "He was very easy to work with and trusted everyone to do their job."

"It was incredible working with him," said Leanna Chamish, who starred as the vampire queen in Stakes. "His death is a big loss because he presented a lot of opportunities for people to get started in show business and they wouldn't have gotten a leg up without Don."

About 20 years ago, Mr. Dohler began reporting and editing community newspapers in Baltimore and Harford counties, and most recently had been editor of the Times-Herald.

"Don believed passionately in community newspapers and he knew how important they were to people who lived in those communities. He sought out stories and treated them as seriously as if he were writing or editing them for The New York Times," said Bob Hughes, spokesman for the Baltimore County Public Library and part-time actor who appeared in several of Mr. Dohler's films. "I think at one time or another, he has been editor of virtually every paper that existed in Perry Hall, Parkville, White Marsh and Essex."

"He was the consummate community journalist. No story was ever too small for Don," said Bryan Sears, political editor of Patuxent Publishing Co.'s Baltimore County newspapers. "He knew so many people. Wherever I went, people would ask, `Do you know Don Dohler?'"

Mr. Hughes added: "He enjoyed filmmaking so completely, as he did his newspaper work."

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

Also surviving are his wife of six months, the former Leslie McFarland; a daughter, Kim Pfeiffer of West Chester, Pa.; a brother, Glenn Barnes of Perry Hall; a sister, Joyce Dohler of Perry Hall; and a granddaughter. His wife, the former Pamela Merenda, died in 1992, and a marriage to Lynn Eschenbach ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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