Perry Hall to Hollywood: Don Dohler publishes a movie magazine


You gotta love a magazine that goes from having Tyrannosaurus rex on the cover of its first issue to Mamie Van Doren on its second -- especially one run by a guy from East Baltimore who also edits the Harford (County) Business Ledger and hawks copies of the five feature films he has directed, including "Deadly Neighbor," "Night Beast" and "Blood Massacre."

Meet Don Dohler, whose home on a quiet Perry Hall cul-de-sac doubles as the headquarters of Movie Club magazine -- a bimonthly periodical dedicated to what its editor-publisher calls "classic independent and B-movies, with a slant toward the horror, fantasy and sci-fi genres."

What that translates to is a magazine that moves, within a single issue, from an article on "The Fugitive" television series and movie to a survey of juvenile delinquent flicks from the 1950s -- hence the photo of Ms. Van Doren, curvaceous star of "Untamed Youth" -- to an appreciation of the late Vincent Price that tags 1968's "The Conqueror Worm" as featuring "what may be the best performance" of the late actor's career.

It's also a magazine that has the temerity to suggest "Jurassic Park" is no more than a "mediocre money-making machine" and list 11 superior "dino-films."

So far, six magazine distributors in the United States and Canada have agreed to handle Movie Club, making it available at newsstands throughout the country.

"The magazine has a lot of visuals," says Mark Herr, purchasing manager for Baltimore-based Diamond Comic Distributors. Although Diamond deals primarily with comics, he says, it also distributes magazines that appeal to the same graphic-oriented audience.

"Quite frankly, it was better than we thought it would look," Mr. Herr says.

With a cover price of $3.50 and a subscription rate of $15.75 per year, the magazine has a circulation of nearly 10,000, Mr. Dohler says. About 10 percent of that is through subscriptions.

"I'll be happy when I'm about at the 2,000 mark," Mr. Dohler says of the subscription figures. "It's basically at the break-even point already."

Movie Club isn't Mr. Dohler's first foray into the magazine field. As a teen-ager, he produced "my own little ditto-ed fanzine," WILD!, featuring work by such artists as Jay Lynch, Skip Williamson and Art Spiegelman -- names Mr. Dohler says should be familiar to readers of underground and independent comic books.

He later developed Cinemagic, a magazine devoted to special effects in the movies, and Amazing Cinema, and wrote two books: "Film Magic" and the two-volume "Stop Motion Animation."

He also became a movie director, producing five films, all on shoestring budgets, that made up in enthusiasm what they may have lacked in subtlety and polish. The films, all shot in Baltimore City and County, also enabled budding special-effects artists to hone their skills.

But he sold Cinemagic to the New York-based publishers of Starlog magazine in 1979 and had pretty much gotten out of the business by the mid-'80s. He made his last film, "Blood Massacre," in 1987.

So what persuades a 48-year-old man to jump back into a profession he had abandoned nearly a decade earlier? Mostly, he says, it was friends who persuaded him to try publishing again after his wife, Pam, died of cancer in December 1992.

"Ever since I'd stopped doing it, I'd missed it," Mr. Dohler says from his basement publishing office. And while he won't say the magazine provided a way of coping with his wife's death, he acknowledges that "her death made me realize how short life can suddenly be."

So he ditched his job as editor of the Times-Herald, a Baltimore County newspaper and. beginning last summer, started work on Movie Club. (Mr. Dohler returned to the newspaper field a few weeks ago, taking over as editor of the Harford Business Ledger.)

"He has a lot of creative energy and I don't think he's happy unless he's using that energy," says Don Leifert, an English/theater arts teacher at Catonsville High School who not only doubles as Movie Club's editorial assistant, but has appeared in Mr. Dohler's five films. "He's a brilliant editor, not only of magazines, but also of film."

"I always liked writing, ever since I was a kid," says Mr. Dohler. As for the movies, he credits his mother, Mildred, with buying him his first 16-mm projector and a host of old horror movies and cartoons distributed by Castle Films.

"I used to look at them frame-by-frame," he says. Soon, "every Saturday was spent at the movies, seeing every new horror or sci-fi movie that came along."

That love of film comes through in Movie Club. But, both he and Mr. Leifert are quick to stress, it's a love that accepts the movies for what they are -- escapist fun never meant to be taken very seriously.

"We're taking a more simplistic approach to the movies," Mr. Dohler says. "Some writers get off on tangents where they analyze films too much."

Mr. Leifert agrees. "We tend to take a less critical approach. It's fun to write about these films, because they're fun films."

For more information, write: Movie Club, 12 Moray Court, Baltimore, 21236.

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