A Fiend is an evil spirit, much like a demon, that goes around possessing corpses. In order to keep the body active and prevent decay, the Fiend must absorb the life energy of the living. Thus is the life of Mr. Longfellow, a newly re-animated corpse that used to go by the name of William Delvon. The Fiend known as Longfellow thinks it’s found itself a really cushy gig. It’s moved out into the suburbs, and has so far conned people into thinking it’s some kind of professional music teacher. Meanwhile it’s busy sucking the life essence out of women in nearby areas, leaving a trail of fresh bodies in its wake. But the charade can’t last for long. Turns out keeping your host corpse from rotting away into oblivion uses up a ton of energy, and the Fiend ends up having to kill someone about every day or so in order to keep up its appearance. Naturally, all these bodies popping up draw quite a bit of attention, and it’s not long before Longfellow’s nosy neighbor Gary starts becoming very, very suspicious, and decides to start playing amateur detective.
And I’m pretty sure he’s a salesman, so as you can imagine he makes a crap detective.
Fiend is yet another movie suggested to me by Filmgore, and LOOK! — What luck! — It also happens to be a movie by Don Dohler, whose other directorial work includes such masterpieces as The Alien Factor and The Galaxy Invaders. And yes, for those who can’t tell, that was sarcasm, because those last two movies are awful and they were both riffed by Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax, respectively. So that should give you a good idea of this film’s quality right there. It was certainly almost enough to have me turn the movie off right then and there as soon as I saw his name, because I already feel that seeing three Don Dohler movies is more than enough for one lifetime, thank-you-very-much. But, I persevered, and believe it or not I’m kinda glad I did, because while it’s still not very good, I do think it’s one of Dohler’s better films. But it also wasn’t at all what I was expecting, so I think I may have to lodge a complaint with the makers of Filmgore for false advertising. Which…. I guess would mean sending a letter to Charles Band. That’s fine. I’ll just throw it on the growing pile of grievances I’ve lodged against that man.
Compensate me, you lying bastard!
Complaint #1: What the hell was this movie doing in Filmgore to begin with? Cause, there is, like, no gore. None. There are definitely dead bodies, and the villain is given some make-up effects to show signs of decay, but I wouldn’t necessarily call any of that “gore”. There’s no ooze, no puss, no removal of limbs, hell, I don’t think there’s even a drop of blood spilt in the entire film. The Fiend does all his murderin’ using good, old fashioned strangling, so while the movie is violent, it’s not, like, THAT violent. I guess that since this is a film from before 1984, when the PG-13 rating was established, that there was just no better rating to give it, but I think even PG-13 might be pushing it. The worst thing that happens is a child is killed, but even that ends up being 100% implied, rather than shown. There’s just a bunch of ominous staring and then a cut to a body bag. Like, I’m impressed the movie was brave enough to knock off an innocent kid, don’t get me wrong, but hell, even some Disney villains meet their end more violently.
Every other complaint can be summed up under: It’s a Don Dohler movie. The soundtrack is downright awful. The picture quality is poor, the framing is often crappy, and the acting is so-so. And did I mention the music was bad? I swear this guy uses the same handful of audio tracks in all of his movies. That or they’re just altering the songs slightly to claim that they’re new and trying to trick me. Either way, they’re horribly repetitive and often grating. Seriously, the nicest thing I can say about the music is that at least all the tunes are clearly made by the same synth machine, so they’re all consistent in their level of annoyance.
Behold the film’s cinematic splendor!
Then there’s the effects which, honestly, probably the less said about them the better, but I’ll still go into it for completionist sake. Keeping in mind that this is a very low-budget production, most of what is used is used pretty sparingly and, like the deaths, much of what is there is either unclear, or mostly left up to the viewer’s imagination. But what little of it there is is…. Well, it’s not great. The make-up effects they use on Longfellow are decent enough, but they still look like the kind of stuff you’d get from a cheap kit from Spirit Halloween, and they don’t always look like they were applied particularly well to boot. But I did at least like the effort they put into making the Fiend look worse and worse as the day went on, the longer he went without absorbing someone’s energy. I mean, it still looks horribly cheap, but I do still appreciate the attempt nonetheless.
Dude could use some moisturizer.
The special effects, on the other hand, don’t even live up to “okayish”. These are about as cheap as early special effects can be, and mostly consist of the Fiend partially glowing red to indicate that he’s absorbing someone’s life force. It isn’t used a lot (probably simply because it was too expensive for them), and it’s usually not too bad when used sparingly, but when the bad guy goes full “red, fuzzy glow” it does look pretty off-putting, and the glow itself can be a bit over-saturated, and thus overpowering. What’s worse, is that the true form of the Fiend is rendered in nothing but the overpowering red glow which, A) doesn’t help it look any less goofy as hell, and B) Is ridiculously hard to see. I mean, I don’t even know what this thing is even supposed to look like, or even what it is. You’d think it’d be menacing or something, but with the way they rendered it, it kinda looks like an angry, glowing, skinny red shrimp. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but it’s kinda hard to be frightened of something that’s supposed to be some kind of demon, when it looks like the Ghost of Seafood Fests Past.
I actually kinda liked the animated hand graphic…
And no, seeing it from a different angle doesn’t help.
But wait, you said this was a “better’ Don Dohler film. I did, and for a couple of reasons. The first is, I actually kinda like the concept of the plot? I mean, it’s fairly solid, and you don’t see the concept of Fiends used a lot. Movies tend to just lump all demon types together for simplicity’s sake, so it’s nice to see a very specific type of demon highlighted, even if it’s kind of a cross between a zombie and a vampire. The second, is that I think Dohler really nailed the atmosphere in this flick. There’s such a surreal, dreamy quality to the movie that it feels a lot similar to older, black and white films like “Night of the Living Dead.” I’m not saying these things make the movie a masterpiece, or that they put it in the same league as those films, but they do help make the movie more watchable.
That said, Fiend is still very much a Z-grade horror movie. The film doesn’t look great, the cinematography is shoddy, the music is grading, the effects aren’t so hot (but they get the job done) and the pacing is horribly jumpy, with all the good parts interrupted by long scenes of people talking. But the concept is good, the atmosphere is impressive, the villain is decent (he’s probably the best thing in the movie), and the film has a lot of heart. Is it good? Almost. I think this may be the closest Dohler ever got to making a decent film, and I kinda wish he’d had the budget to maybe pull it off. So, while I wouldn’t call it good, I think he almost got it right with this one, so I’ll give him partial credit. At the very least, it’s loads better than The Alien Factor, so bravo to Dohler for improving. If you can appreciate low-budget, slow-paced horror oddities, then this might be fun for curiosity’s sake. But if you want a little more ‘oomph’ in your horror, then this is not the film for you.
Fiend is available on a variety of streaming services.
Fiend is also available on DVD and imported Bluray.