Fake-blood thirsty

A documentarian examines the life of a Perry hall filmmaker who raised schlock to low art

May 01, 2007|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Reporter

A spaceship filled with specimens bound for an intergalactic zoo crash-lands near Baltimore. A resuscitated corpse remains alive by strangling his neighbors. A quartet of deranged citizens picks on the wrong flesh-eating zombies.

John Paul Kinhart first encountered the films of the late Don Dohler - Baltimore community newspaper editor by day, schlock filmmaker by night - about six years back, when he bought a tape of 1978's The Alien Factor.

"I wasn't very impressed with the movie," is how Kinhart remembers that moment, perhaps understating the case slightly. But if he wasn't taken with the film, the aspiring documentarian was eventually taken with Dohler, who was not only a filmmaker of some renown, but also a pioneer in the underground-comics movement and founder of a magazine that inspired a generation of Hollywood special-effects artists.

FOR THE RECORD - In the Today section yesterday, the wrong title was given for a documentary premiering this weekend at the Maryland Film Festival. The title is Blood, Boobs and Beast.
The Sun regrets the error.

Knowing a good documentary subject when he had been introduced to one, Kinhart would eventually spend two years following Dohler, interviewing him and watching as he worked on what would turn out to be his last film.

Kinhart queried Dohler's friends and associates to determine just what drove this bespectacled father of two - who made his home in an unobtrusive house on a Perry Hall cul-de-sac - to create nine films as director or writer, with names such as Fiend, Nightbeast, Stakes and Blood Massacre.

The result of Kinhart's work, a 74-minute film documentary, gets its world premiere at this weekend's Maryland Film Festival. The portrait it paints of Dohler, who was 60 and editor of the Times-Herald, a newspaper serving northeast Baltimore City and Baltimore County, when he died of cancer in November, is one of a complicated man who loved making films that reveled in their amateurishness and their schlock value, but who also shrank from his financial backers' demands that he make them schlockier and more exploitative (by including, for example, more graphic violence and topless women).

"He doesn't exactly come across as a guy who's an exploitation filmmaker," says Kinhart, who graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2001.

By spring 2004, Kinhart, a video editor for a Washington-based nonprofit, already had two rough documentaries behind him - Futonmaker, which he had begun as a student at MICA, and Non-Player Character, which had its debut at the 2005 John Hopkins Film Festival. Convinced that he was ready to tackle his first full-length project, Kinhart approached Dohler about making him the subject.

He was "cool with the idea," Kinhart remembers, but then the real challenge for a filmmaker began: how to make this quiet, introspective guy, who made bad movies most people had never heard of, interesting? Kinhart decided to focus on the conflict between the kind of movies Dohler wanted to make - low-budget sci-fi shockers - and the movies he was being pushed to make - exploitative gore-fests.

"That was a bit of a struggle," Kinhart acknowledges. "You know, `This guy doesn't make great movies. Why make a movie about him?' "

Blood, Boobs and Beasts, as the movie is titled, was named for the three things that every low-budget filmmaker supposedly holds dear. It traces Dohler's career, from his early days in the underground-comics scene, through his pioneering stints as a movie-magazine publisher focusing on special effects and low-budget sci-fi, to his career as a movie writer-director-cinematographer with a dedicated, if decidedly non-mainstream, fan base.

"Given the fact that there was a local filmmaker with a cult following, we felt it was time to pay tribute to him," says Maryland Film Festival programmer Skizz Cyzyk, who is among the dozens of fans and fellow filmmakers interviewed in Kinhart's documentary.

"I just knew him as this horror filmmaker. I never knew that he was in the underground-comics scene," Cyzyk says. "I had vaguely heard about these movie magazines that he did. I found it fascinating that here was a guy from this area who had done so much stuff."

BB&B, shot while Dohler and his partner, Joe Ripple, were making their final film, Dead Hunt, proves a compelling portrait of an intricate man - one whose love of movies, and the unnatural worlds they can create, was nurtured in him almost from the start.

"When he was a kid and his mom took him to see King Kong, it just scared the pants off of him," says Dohler's son, Greg, 40, photo editor for the Gazette newspapers of suburban Washington. "He was just fascinated by the whole film. He really did love the special effects and the whole magic of that."

As a teenager, Dohler drew a comic strip centering on the adventures of a tuft-haired wanderer named Pro Junior - one of the earliest underground cartoons, and an influence on such comics artists as Art Spiegelman, Skip Williamson, even R. Crumb.

"He was seminally involved in that which would become the underground-comics movement," Williamson says in the film.

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