Crawler DVD Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Alpha Video
Directed by Joe Ripple
Written by Don Dohler and Joe Ripple
2004, 84 minutes, Not rated
Released on August 6th, 2021
Darla Albornoz as Shelly Pearson
Justin Timpane as Paul Adams
Daniel Ross as Ronny "Dipper" Kanowski
James Keegan as Maxerton
Nikki O’Dell as Phelps
George Stover as Sheriff Jeff Rich
Elkie Cooper as Jenny
When a meteorite crashes in the woods near Baltimore, a deadly alien emerges and targets the neighboring suburbs for prey. A group of U.F.O. enthusiasts suspects the government is once again covering up the truth of what’s out there. Shelly, Paul and “Dipper” track the meteorite and are surprised to learn it has landed nearby. Their plans to investigate are thwarted by an elite military team conducting their own search of the woods. A pair of Federal agents on the case tells our amateur sleuths to stay clear, as there may be radiation in the area. The creature continues its assault and when mutilated bodies start piling up, it is clear things are getting out of hand. The Feds come clean about the monster and ask our young heroes for help, but their motives remain cloudy. Can the government be trusted? Is the military strong enough to kill this alien invader? Or will the fate of our planet rest in the hands of three untrained civilians from Charm City?
Our story begins roughly twenty years ago. In the year 2000, the horror genre was flooded with found-footage titles thanks to the surprise hit The Blair Witch Project that was shot in Maryland the year before. While so many aspiring young directors were quick to copy that format, a seasoned filmmaker from Baltimore had other interests. Don Dohler (Fiend) found success in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s making cheesy science fiction movies with a loyal group of friends and family – often in his own back yard – and now he was ready to tell new stories. The 1990s had ushered in a wave of micro-budget shot-on-video titles signaling that just about anyone who wanted to make a movie could now do so with fewer hurdles.
Timewarp Films, the Maryland-based independent production company founded by Dohler and Joe Ripple at the turn of the century cranked out a string of entertaining micro-budget genre pictures with Ripple as the director. They worked together on the scripts, with Dohler also serving as producer, editor and cinematographer. By 2004, they had released three movies: Harvesters, Stakes and Vampire Sisters. Their next project, Crawler, finds Dohler revisiting the familiar idea of aliens invading small town Maryland – something he had previously covered in his early career with The Alien Factor (1978), Nightbeast (1982) Galaxy Invader (1985) – and yet again with Alien Factor 2: The Alien Rampage (2001)!
Once production wrapped on Crawler, Dohler quickly edited the picture, but there were some hefty visual effects to deal with, namely making the titular creature. Convincing CGI was not really a thing using consumer software in 2004, so the project was set aside as Timewarp began its next endeavor, a slasher throwback called Dead Hunt. This picture was to be its last, as Dohler unexpectedly passed away in 2006. The film was released the following year, as was the documentary Blood, Boobs & Beast, a look back at the life and films of Don Dohler. Ripple would keep the Timewarp doors open and direct two more features, Sealed Fates (2010) and Jebediah (2011). But what the hell happened to Crawler?
The short answer is that the visual effects were not easily accomplished. They weren’t exactly being generated by a team of Oscar winning genius f/x artists from ILM, but rather just a couple of regular guys from Timewarp doing the best with what was available for the home market. Time stretched on and as is often the case, life continued to get in the way of their work, but over the next fifteen years (!) the project finally came together in 2019. Add another two years to secure distribution and we finally have a DVD release. So the big question now is: Was it worth the wait? Yes and no.
As stated above, Dohler had told variations on this story four times already before returning to the well yet again. The screenplay splits its focus between two groups: a trio of small town U.F.O. enthusiasts and a group of three soldiers searching the woods for the creature. Bridging the two is a pair of government agents who aren’t very good at their job and are putting everyone in danger. The military thread is a bit of a dud with these guys endlessly posing their way through the woods waiting for something to happen. Luckily, the creature is a bloodthirsty bastard that kills nubile campers and somehow sneaks into suburban houses to attack naked women! Its appearance borrows elements from Alien and Predator, but is far less convincing.
The U.F.O. seekers played by Darla Albornoz (Stakes), Justin Timpane (Ninjas vs Zombies) and Daniel Ross (Garden of Hedon) as Shelly, Paul and Dipper respectively are given the most to work with and carry the picture with their friendly back-and-forth banter. Dohler regulars Don Leifert (Fiend) and Dick Dyszel (Count Gore De Vol, Every Other Day is Halloween) make cameo appearances, and the always welcome George Stover (Blood Massacre) has a supporting role as the local sheriff, one who wears sunglasses at night! Performances in ultra-low-budget movies are generally uneven ranging from wooden to decent and you’ll find that here too, but without any real stinkers in the bunch.
Crawler definitely took its sweet time getting here, but hardcore Timewarp fans will appreciate the effort. It may be flawed, but it also has heart and aims for nothing more than to entertain, at which it mostly succeeds. This wasn’t Dohler’s swan song, it’s just the last to be released, and the company still has two more titles in the pipe waiting to hit the shelves. If you’ve been eagerly awaiting this picture for fifteen years, keep your expectations in check and you should be in for a fun time.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, picture quality is sharp and free from any compression issues or macro-blocking. Colors are strong without bleed. black levels are decent and flesh tones appear natural throughout.
The Dolby Digital 2-channel stereo mix does a fine job most of the time, but there are a few hiccups where the sound dips and you’ll need to ride the volume. This has more to do with the original recording levels than the quality of this track.
Extras kick off with an extended Making of Crawler (49 minute) piece that collects behind-the-scenes footage shot during production of the cast and crew at work.
A Don Leifert Tribute (12 minutes) features footage of the late actor prepping for his role. It is primarily an interview reflecting on his time working with his longtime director friend. Leifert previously appeared in all five of Dohler’s early films and has a cameo in this one.
The original trailer is also included.
There is an easy-to-find Easter egg of sorts, a short (2 minute) assembly of our three leads goofing around between takes and addressing the camera. Unfortunately, after Dohler’s brief intro promising hilarity, all of the audio has been replaced by jolly music that will keep you from actually hearing anything anybody is saying. Boo-Hiss!
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