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Friday, May 19, 2017

Fiend



Fiend
Don Dohler
1980

A flappy red blob-thing floats over a cemetery before deciding on a grave to inhabit. The creature that rises from the dead is part man, part monster, part music teacher, and all Eric Longfellow (Don Leifert). Longfellow moves in to a quiet suburban neighborhood with his cat, Dorian. He establishes himself with a music teaching business. He also has a side job as a monster that has to strangle the life from people in order to keep up his human appearance. The bodies start to pile up, and one beer swilling, violin hating, next-door neighbor begins to suspect that Longfellow is not what he seems.

What separates Fiend from many low budget horror films is how it carves out little moments that create feelings of strange dread. Longfellow does not just arrive in the neighborhood, a looming thunderstorm that sends all the local kids scurrying for cover precedes him. Longfellow engages in habits that are supposed to convince others that he is human, but they are off, from his dank unfinished basement dwelling, his aimless windshield cleaning, and even the casual cruelty with which he runs his music school. Longfellow is an interesting monster, a pompous academic who looks down on his blue-collar neighbor by day, and a strangulating monster also by day.

Even monsters like kitty cats though.
Don Dohler’s early musical scores are filled with wonderful atonal synthesizer sounds that really set an off kilter mood. For a film that is nominally set around a music teacher, Fiend is startlingly uninterested in traditional music. This mirrors its protagonist, who only marginally engages with petty human concerns. If this was a deliberate choice on Dohler’s part, it is very clever and understated.

Fiend offers no gore, and most of the violence is from lengthy strangulation scenes. Dohler relies more on weird menace as opposed to visuals, which is opposite of many of his early films that offer ambitious, yet low budget special effects extravaganzas. Don Leifert’s make-up when Longfellow transforms into his ghoulish self is messy, gross, and very effective. When he’s off strangling victims, he’s often surrounded by a red glow. Aside from the weird flying blob monster that opens and closes the movie, that is it for special effects.

"Funny meeting you in this neck of the woods.
Ha! Get it? Hey, I'm talking to you."
The cast has a few of director Dohler’s regulars, Leifert seems like he’s often playing pompous blowhards, and Longfellow is no exception. George Stover, also a Dohler veteran, plays the nebbish Dennis. Stover is typecast in Dohler’s movies as the whiny guy who gets killed, but I have to admit, he does that kind of role very well. No one is going to take any acting awards home in this movie, but everyone acquits themselves enough to not distract.

I love the work of Don Dohler, especially his output from the late 1970s to early 1980s. Fiend is my favorite of these movies, simply because it oozes with dread and makes the most use out of its seemingly benign urban setting. It is a quiet story and a slow one too, but it also made with a lot of love and attention.

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