Transmissions to Earth: FIEND (1980)
About a year ago, Nick Cato reviewed this one from memory for his “Suburban Grindhouse Memories” column, and it sounded interesting to me, so I figured I’d check it out. A big part of why was the “monster” —Dan Leifert in zombie makeup—which I’d seen stills of all over the place, but had never actually seen the movie (or even knew what it was called). Despite the fact that Nick didn’t remember it being very good, I have to admit, I really enjoyed this one more than I expected to.
Made by low-budget Baltimore filmmaker Don Dohler, FIEND (1980) is one of those movies that defies logic, and will have you laughing your ass off at certain scenes. The scenes that work are actually pretty good, the ones that don’t are just plain funny. But, despite its lack of funds, it’s a decent little flick, tells a coherent story, and features some entertaining acting, especially from Leifert as the pompous violin teacher (and part-time reanimated corpse) Eric Longfellow.
It begins with a spirit of some kind—it glows bright red and is hard to make out—entering a graveyard at night. How’s that for a spooky beginning! The spirit flies around until it stops at the grave of someone named Dorian and then it plunges down into the ground. Not long afterwards, the corpse rises from its resting place—an ugly deteriorating zombie. The spirit has reanimated him! Soon afterwards, he strangles a young woman, and his hands glow red. After she dies, he no longer looks like a walking corpse—he looks like a normal man! He wanders into a neighborhood where his distant cousin is selling a house (I guess they’re not there). He pulls up the “For Sale” sign and makes the place his home. So that’s how a zombie gets a place to live!
The soul energy that revives him only lasts so long, so Mr. Longfellow (as the creature now calls himself) has to strangle more women now and then to keep himself fresh. We’ve seen creatures like this in dozens of other horror movies, but somehow it works pretty well here. Every time he kills someone, he glows red (it’s a cheapo effect that gets used a lot). Somehow, in between murders, he is able to open his own music school and is considered a respectable member of society. How? Where did he get the money to fund a school (much less handle the expenses of a house—like gas and electricity—where he’s obviously a squatter). It doesn’t matter. He even has a faithful employee named Dennis Frye (the great George Stover, veteran of several of John Waters’ movies and probably a local hero in Baltimore—Stover also produced the movie). Frye is clearly afraid of his boss and is always saying “Yes, sir, yes sir,” when Longfellow verbally abuses him.
Longfellow has a good cover, so no one finds him suspicious. No one, that is, except his next-door neighbor Gary Kender (Richard Nelson). Kender first starts complaining to his wife Marsha (Elaine White, one of the better actors in this movie) because Longfellow has students come to his home for violin lessons, and the noise is irritating him, but he eventually learns that that’s the least of the troubles Mr. Longfellow has brought to town. The murders of young women seem to be happening closer and closer to where they live, and when a little girl in the neighborhood named Kristy Michaels (played by Dohler’s daughter, Kim) is found murdered in the woods behind their houses, her neck broken, Kender starts to notice the weird comings and goings of Mr. Longfellow. When he finds out that Longfellow told the police he didn’t hear anything because he was listening to music with his employee Frye on headphones (how do two people listen on headphones to reel-t0-reel tape player?), he really thinks there’s something up.
Gary goes over to Longfellow’s house to ask him questions. He learns that Longfellow doesn’t live in the upper part of the house, but down in the basement, where it’s darker and damp. When Kender asks him why he lives like this, Longfellow says he likes it that way. When Longfellow goes to get them some wine, Gary snoops around and finds a room hidden behind a black curtain, where Longfellow has skulls and books on black magic! That’s a sure sign this guy is up to no good!
Kender does some investigating on Longfellow’s background and finds out some odd things about him. Meanwhile, a kid in the neighborhood named Scotty (Dohler’s son Greg) follows Longfellow through the woods and sees him meet Frye in a secluded place and kill him. Scotty runs to tell Kender, but Marsha at first tells the boy he’s sleeping and to come back later. When Gary finds out the boy had come by, he is eager to know what Scotty saw, so he goes to his house. Scotty is reluctant to tell his story at first, but then he spills the beans, and Kender is even more sure that Longfellow is the local serial killer.
Armed with all the facts he has dug up, Kender is about to call the police, when he notices his wife is gone. Longfellow called her up and asked her to bring over some aspirin, because he had a horrible headache. She tells him she doesn’t have anything at first, then decides the neighborly thing to do is to help the guy out, so she goes over. Longfellow told her over the phone that he would leave the door open for her, since he’s in too much pain to come over himself.
Marsha goes into the house, but Longfellow is nowhere to be found. Anyone with half a brain would have just left the bottle on a table and gone home, but she wanders around the house calling out Longfellow’s name. Eventually she goes down into the basement, and you know she’s in trouble then!
Kender figures out where Marsha went and goes over to save her. Which leads to the big showdown between Kender and Longfellow. Will the damsel be saved? Will good prevail over evil? You’ll have to see the movie to find out.
FIEND is actually a pretty enjoyable flick, if you’re into this kind of low-budget drive-in fare. Director Don Dohler also made other goofy horror flicks like THE ALIEN FACTOR (1978), NIGHTBEAST (1982), THE GALAXY INVADER (1985) and BLOOD MASSACRE (1991). His movies are exactly the kind of stuff you’d find in abundance at Mom and Pop video stores in the 80s.
The cast may not be made up of the best actors in the world, but I enjoyed the performances. Richard Nelson is kind of stiff at times as Gary Kender, but as the movie progresses, he gets better in the role, and makes a decent hero. Elaine White is actually very likable as his wife, Marsha. George Stover, not the best actor you’ll ever see in a movie, is actually pretty entertaining as the milquetoast employee Frye, and Don Leifert is terrific as Eric Longfellow, who acts like a pompous ass when he’s not out strangling people. I thought Leifert’s performance was pretty funny at times, and FIEND seems like one of those grindhouse gems you find once in a while after wading through a lot of garbage.
This one is only for fans of low-budget, trashy movies. But if you’re into this kind of stuff, I think you’ll have a fun time with FIEND. If this one isn’t a cult movie yet, it should be.
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares