Sunday, July 1, 2012

Movie Review: Feeders (1996)

Jon McBride
John Polonia
Mark Polonia

Written by:
Mark Polonia

Jon McBride
John Polonia
Todd Carpenter
Sebastian Barran
Maria Davis
Melissa Torpy

IMDB link

What...? A year-and-a-half is soonish! ...oh yeah? You kiss your mother with that mouth?

Okay, so Feeders: this is the movie with which the Polonia Brothers, in the late 1990s, hit the big time. And, by "big time", I mean the BB Exclusive shelves at Blockbuster Video (you know, the section where all of the later Steven Seagal movies debuted). But, hey, for a pair of dorky, camcorder-toting twins from Pennsylvania, that's not bad. Of course, by any normal cinematic standards, the film is hilariously slapdash and amateurish - in some respects, actually less technically impressive than Splatter Farm - so it's a good thing that our standards here at Obscurity and Beyond are far, far lower than anything anyone might call "cinematic", or "normal". But, credit where credit's due, getting a movie like this into stores the length and breadth of America is no small achievement.

Feeders opens with a serious narration about ufology and the phenomenon of alien abduction, whilst the camera tracks across what looks to be some of the most chillingly convincing pieces of pictorial evidence yet recorded in support of the extraterrestrial hypothesis.

Whoops! My mistake! In fact, these "pictures" appear to have been drawn in HB on the back of a bus ticket by a four year old with Parkinson's. Now, in fairness, I actually think these are supposed to represent witnesses' own depictions of their encounters, and we can't always expect the average Joe on the street (much less the average rectal-probed redneck) to be artistically talented. But considering the type of film we're dealing with here, and the fact that these drawings are interspersed with more traditional artistic renderings (probably ripped from the pages of Mysteries of the Unexplained), you would be forgiven for thinking, as I initially did, that this was the Polonia Brothers' honest-to-God best effort at painting a spaceship.

Planet Earth, pre-public smoking ban.
Anyway, if the tone of the opening narration in any way suggests that the movie is about to feature artsy-fartsy things like subtlety and ambiguity, such misconceptions are quickly dispensed with during the title sequence, which features a CGI silver saucer zipping through space accompanied by the wheeee! sound from a kiddie's toy laser. On the upside, we're also introduced to the movie's main theme: a driving, upbeat and surprisingly catchy little earworm that perfectly suits the cheap-and-cheerful vibe of the film.

Eventually, the little computer-generated UFO flies into a little computer-generated Earth, before appearing in the skies over rural Pennsylvania (as a side-note, the digital effects in Feeders take a lot of critical heat, but all sarcasm aside, they're not that awful, being roughly on a par with late-80s Doctor Who). There, a park ranger worries that the "meteor" he sees is going to start a forest fire. Now, I like to think of myself as a bit of a sceptic - I do my best to avoid the all-too-common fallacy of jumping first to outlandish conclusions when witnessing or hearing about something unusual - but I'm also pretty certain that if I ever saw a large, humming, metallic disc hovering slowly over the tree-line, sweeping beams of otherworldly energy across the forest floor, "meteor" would not be my go-to explanation, and the direction in which it went would most assuredly not be matched by the direction of my steering wheel. But this park ranger isn't me; if he was, he would instead be lying in bed, eating toast and reviewing shitty movies, and then we'd never get to see a man die by being poked in the neck with a TV antenna.

But before that can happen, the movie has to introduce its villains, and believe me, no time is wasted in that department. Whereas less, ahem, courageous filmmakers might have taken stock of their limited effects budget and opted to keep the aliens offscreen for most of the running time, the Polonias have their critters beam down four minutes in, and right away we're treated to a nice big, fat close-up.

This is what we see:

I like to pretend that the one on the right is a stroppy teenage alien, dragged along on a work experience assignment when he would rather be at home playing Call of Duty. This would explain why his misshapen head hangs limply forward at all times in a permanent shoe-gazing scowl, his arms dangling at his sides like a spoiled brat in a strop.

Here he is again, looking even more bored and pissed off:

Surely its time the alien government brought back National Service.

Once on the ground, these little foam-rubber scamps embark upon a reign of terror. This involves sneaking up on fishermen and assorted locals and taking bites out of them with their imaginary mouths. I get the strong impression that the directors were painfully aware of just how pathetic the creatures looked, so they threw up their hands and said "fuck it, we'll play 'em for laughs". How else do you explain the aliens frolicking hilariously behind unwitting humans, stealing fish, and bobbing animatedly around the world like the puppets from Sooty?

Cameraman: "Hey, look, a mirror!"
In-between these extraterrestrial shenanigans, we are introduced to our heroes central characters, Derek and Bennett; a pair of dorks driving to the ocean to hit on bikini babes. Amazingly, one of them isn't even a Polonia brother: Derek is played instead by Jon McBride of Cannibal Campout fame, but I still found it confusing because he kinda looks more like a Bennett, and John Polonia looks more like a Derek, somehow. I think it must be because he's thinner, and also because my brain has been deranged by overexposure to shot-on-video horror.

As per standard no-budget protocol, we are treated to way, way too many shots of these guys driving around featureless roads. I'm not sure why this is so often the case in these films, but I suspect it has something to do with the rental car being their most expensive prop, and darned if they're not gonna get their money's worth! 

Sadly, the budget didn't stretch to Sean Connery
Eventually, they stop to visit a town whose suburbs have been destroyed by the collapsing of a dam. This scene serves absolutely no narrative purpose. Perhaps you might think they had access to some ruined buildings and wanted to crowbar them in for the extra production value, but no! All we see is Derek standing next to the car, pointing his Canon compact off-screen, intercut with black-and-white library stills of a flooded town (with a pronounced 1960s feel), a corny "lens shutter" effect superimposed. In all honesty, I think they just wanted something to break up the endless driving scenes, which, now I think about it, is a decision I wholeheartedly approve of.

So Derek snaps away like he's got a 32 gig card in his camera, realising only too late that it's still 1996 and he's pissed all his film away on a couple of washed-out buildings. They head to a nearby gas station, and while Derek is inside arguing over the price of Kodacolor, Bennett is making a move on a hot local babe. Well, by "move" I mean he sidles over to her wearing a lecherous grin, and by "hot babe" I mean...

Wow! You really know how to help a girl look her best, guys. I mean, really...

Even the walls in here are wooden.
Okay, to be perfectly clear: I am not a male chauvinist, and I genuinely like the fact that zero budget films usually feature actors and actresses of all shapes, sizes, looks and facial hair configurations; it makes these movies feel more grounded than their Hollywood counterparts. But if you're going to make such a big deal out of the fact that your horny lead character has a hard-on for beach-bimbo bikini-types, you could at least make sure his love interest combs her hair and maybe refrain from shooting her at an angle that has her squinting painfully into the sun with her face scrunched-up in blinded agony, you know? These images are going to outlive the actress (God help her!), the least you could do is try to make her look her best.

Well, as it turns out, she is suitably enamoured with this moustachioed sex fiend and his sight-unseen pal to arrange a double date between them and her best friend (she might be prettier, I'm not sure, I can't make her out through all the big hair and Dierdre Rachid glasses).

When Derek finds out about this, well...

Fortunately, he is reprieved when he knocks down a fisherman who stumbles, bloodied and confused, into the path of their car. "What if he's still alive!?" gasps Derek, looking at the man's crumpled form sprawled by the roadside, like that would be the worst possible outcome. As it happens, he is alive, and is muttering incoherently about "little men". Ohh, spooky! So, being charitable souls, our knights in shining denim bundle him roughly into the back seat of their convertible - potential head and spinal injuries notwithstanding - and set out to dump him at the nearest doctor's office.

By the time they arrive, things seem to be looking up at last for the beleaguered fisherman. With the help of Derek and Bennett, the man is beginning to support his own weight and is able to struggle into the examination room.
"Mmm... Bennett... your hair... so fresh!"
It seems like a few hours rest and a cup of tea (stat!) might set him straight. The doctor makes a brief assessment of the patient, and promptly pronounces him dead on arrival.

Wait, what? What did you just say? He died? You mean after he gingerly lowered himself onto the examination table, roughly point-four of a second ago? Oh! Well, you better crack on with the resuscita-- hey! Where are you going? Phone call? What did you say you were a doctor of, again?

Of course, neither of our main characters think to ask these questions, as it has already been established they're a pair of gormless tubes. Thankfully for them, idiocy seems to be an acceptable defense for manslaughter in Pennsylvania: a brief, off-camera chat with the sheriff and they are out the door, off the hook, and back on the road.

Mankind's last hope.
Elsewhere, the "babes" are being menaced by more interstellar invaders (or maybe the same ones, I can't be sure since its the same two puppets used over and over), and the doctor is killed in a scene featuring what is almost certainly the most creative and effective use of Microsoft Paint in a visual effect, ever. No kidding, I'm not going to spoil it because it's probably the best shot in the film.

Dumb and Dumber's car, meanwhile, gets zapped by a UFO and, pursued by the hungry puppets, the pair take refuge in an isolated house, only to discover that aliens have turned the owner into a Halloween prop. It might appear silly now, but when you've spent the best part of an hour watching those blu-tack-and-lollipop-stick aliens romping across the countryside, this seems like a perfectly acceptable gore effect:

Derek and Bennett barricade themselves inside, and are terrorized throughout the night by Bobby and Longknapper (don't know what part of my addled brain those names crawled out of, and yet they seem fitting), before the saucer arrives, blows a huge MS Paint hole in the ceiling and abducts one of the boys in a mindblowing blaze of 2D particle effects that must surely have slowed their PC-386 to a crawl.

The remaining dude is left to face the alien horde and their twisted games alone, and events escalate to a big, apocalyptic, stock-footage-tastic finale. I've spilled the beans on too much of the plot already, so I won't spoil any more just in case someone out there actually cares, but I will say that Jon McBride must have garnered some pretty bemused looks from the locals when he fell to his knees in the middle of the street, clutching his bouffant and screaming at their houses like Charlton Heston at five in the morning...

"Don't look, Derek! Don't look into the paragraph!"
Feeders is a tough movie for me to review: the thing is, I like it. The Polonia brothers (and I'm including McBride here, as an honourary Polonia) seem like nice, down-to-earth guys who love what they do. It's also clear that they had a whale of a time making this flick, and that sense of fun definitely comes through in the the final product; for all the hundreds of crushingly bad reviews, people keep watching it, people keep writing about it. Even those who call it the worst movie ever made (oh, so naive...) seem to have a good time with Feeders, even if they don't openly admit it.

Fun factor and ridiculous "worst film" claims aside, though, it has to be said that Feeders is 100% trash - and that's fine; trash can be enjoyable, trash can even be spectacular - but, unfortunately, in this case, it is also kind of a disappointment. In spite of its faults, Splatter Farm was a fairly impressive achievement for a pair of backwoods high school kids with no professional training. Feeders is shot on slightly better cameras but that's about it as far as any artistic improvements are concerned. The Polonia brothers had ten years of semi-pro film-making experience under their belts by this time, so you'd expect better than the same dull static shots, uneven editing, looped audio... and what the heck happened to all the awesome rotting corpse props from Splatter Farm? If they could afford the financial outlay to build stuff like that in 1986, why are they buying horror props from a supermarket in 1996? Perhaps it's unfair of me to say this (and pretty rich, too, given that I'm still working for minimum wage at age 28), but it feels like they've taken the lazy option; trading in the development of their obvious talents to turn out these quickies for a fast and easy buck. It's always sad to see a promising talent tread water like this. To a lesser extent, you might say the same thing about Jon McBride. He turned out two enjoyably cheap-n-cheerful SOV horror-comedies in the mid-80s (Cannibal Campout and Woodchipper Massacre, maybe I'll review those some time this decade) which were actually better written and shot than the Polonias' stuff, but by the time of this film he hadn't worked on a movie in almost a decade, so he at least had an excuse.

"Hey those puppets we ordered just arrived, I... oh."
In any case, McBride actually comes out of this better than anyone, since he is by far the best actor in the piece. He might never win an Oscar, but he manages to squeeze some genuine likability out of one of the dumbest non-disabled characters to ever grace the screen, which has got to be at least an Emmy-worthy achievement. John Polonia does a serviceable job as Bennett, but those girls... my God... One scene that sticks in my mind is the phone call where Michelle calls Donna (Donna Michelle, geddit?) to fill her in on their upcoming hot date. Not only does the dialogue sound like it was written by a fifty-year-old man struggling to imagine how young girls might talk on the phone, but the girls themselves are quite clearly reading their lines from a piece of paper held just out of shot, delivering them in the kind of bored monotone you'd get out of a child forced to read aloud in class as a punishment. I understand that you're not always going to end up with great performances when your talent pool consists exclusively of family members and friends who owe you favours, but would it kill you to ask for a little facial-expression-sauce on that serving of lines? If it comes down to it, just pull the face you want them to make (happy, sad, terrified) and tell them to copy it; you don't have to be Laurence Olivier to conjure up a concerned frown while talking about how your dad's gone missing!

Son, I am disappoint.
For better or worse, thanks to its comparatively wide release, Feeders has pretty much become the archetype of absolute zero-budget horror, so whilst I certainly can't recommend it as a "good" film, it is one of those movies you just have to see if you are into the obscure stuff, even if only to say you've seen it. It's quite possible you'll come out with a smile on your face and a new-found appreciation for SOV trash, but I in no way guarantee that. It's a Marmite picture: you either love it or hate it; even those of us who love it can't really explain why, and will openly admit that its flavour isn't a million miles from shit.

Unfortunately, Feeders is currently out of print (how could this be allowed to happen!?), so if you want to own a copy, you'll have to go down the second-hand route. The original VHS tapes command fairly high prices on eBay - up to around $100! Cheaper is the now-deleted DVD set containing both this and Feeders 2 (oh yes!), which you can pick up for about $10 from Amazon Marketplace. If, like me, you live in the UK, expect this to be a little bit more expensive, since neither version was officially released this side of the pond.

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