“Splatter Farm” : Want-To Trumps Can-Do

Posted: April 6, 2010 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , ,

"Splatter Farm" DVD from Camp Motion Pictures

In 1987, rural Pennsylvania twin brothers John and Mark Polonia probably had no business trying to make a horror movie. But they did it anyway. Armed with nothing but their dad’s piece of shit old-school VHS camcorder, no money, a found location, some primitive ideas for how to stage  gore scenes that they’d learned “on the job” since they were single-digits in age and first began playing with their family’s old Super-8 movie camera, and a half-assed “script,” they set out, with friend and his grandmother in tow, to become moviemakers.

The fact that we’re still talking about the results of their handiwork today, a when almost every other similar home-made horror flick never got seen by anybody beyond the people who made it and maybe a few of their friends, is testament to the fact that the shot-on-video monster they gave birth to, the aptly-titled Splatter Farm, certainly has something going for it — but what, exactly?

It’s certainly not the acting. The Polonia brothers themselves portray the film’s two leads, a couple of super- thick-rimmed-glasses-wearing late-teens  total horror geek losers named Joseph and Alan. The only other characters in the film are portrayed by their friend/co-writer/co-director Todd Smith, who tackles the role of Jeremy, a demented farm hand with plenty of secrets , some of which he doesn’t even know about, and Smith’s real-life grandmother,  Marion Costly, who plays the twin boys’ lonely and batshit crazy old aunt Lacey.

Smith, to his credit, does a pretty convincing job as Jeremy and is feaky-looking and -acting enough to creep out the average viewer. Costly, on the other hand, is simply abominable — you can’t even call what she does “acting,” it’s more like just reciting lines. You’ve literally never seen a performance this bad in your life. I halfway wonder if she didn’t have the lines scribbled down on her hands, Sarah Palin-style.

So, no, it’s not the acting that has made Splatter Farm the ultra-small-cult “classic” it is today.

And it’s not the directing, that’s for sure. This flick is credited to three directors, as alluded to before, and it looks every bit as made-up-as-it-went along as it surely was. Sure, the two brothers and their pal try to get a bit creative here and there with some different perspectives, slow-mo, and other rudimentary tricks, but none of it really works and everything they attempt to achieve stylistically comes up well short of the mark.

So it’s not the acting, and it’s not the directing. What then? The story, maybe?

Buzz! Sorry, wrong answer! The story is as stupidly simple as anything else about this fil — err, movie. It’s not a “film,” per se, so I won’t call it that. Basically all that happens is that two twin brothers get sent to live with their aunt they haven’t seen in years over the summer at her country home, where the phones don’t seem to work, the randy old aunt takes a liking to twin brother Alan (to the point where she ends up drugging him and, presumably, having her way with him), and a handyman who works around the farm likes to do shit like cut himself and lick up his own blood. Oh, and kill anyone else he can. Which isn’t really too many people when you consider there’s only one on-screen murder before the brothers themselves are in danger.

It’s not like they slowly find this out over time, either. It’s pretty obvious that something is wrong with Jeremy right off the bat and it takes all of about five minutes to figure out that something ain’t right with Aunt Lacey, either. The bothers are left without a car about 20 minutes into the proceedings, and even though they wander around aimlessly quite a bit during the first third of the film, and as I mentioned the phones don’t work, the idea of just getting the fuck out of there on foot never occurs to them.

Then again, we’re not exactly talking about two charming geniuses here, as an early dinner scene proves. After eating a splendid supper of baked beans,  Joseph delivers one of the accidentally great lines in movie history, “sorry to ruin everyone’s dinner, but I gotta go take a shit,” after which Alan, almost flirtatiously, tells Aunt Lacey “that was a fine meal,” while the old bat caresses his leg under the table.

Say it with me, people — ewwwwwwww.

Pretty shortly after that, the fun and games begin as Jeremy decides to kill these interlopers.

So let’s see, where does that leave us? The story sucks, the direction sucks, and the acting sucks. Well, then, what about the gore?

It’s certainly plentiful, and it’s certainly sickening, and it’s certainly ambitious, but like everything else here, it’s pretty ineptly staged. The blood — and there really is a lot of it — is thin and runny and not too terribly red, the viscera and entrails are school-stage-play “quality,” and the rotted corpses that we get are pretty much obvious papier-mache or Plaster of Paris or some shit, although the real bugs crawling around the eyesockets are a nice touch.

So the gore is lame, the story is lame, the direction is lame, and the acting is lame. By all accounts, then, this thing never should have made it further than the VCR in mom and dad Polonia’s living room. And yet here we are, 23 years later, and as I said ,we’re still taking about this thing. What the hell for ?

Todd Smith as country bumpkin psycho Jeremy

I think the reason why can be boiled down to one word : earnestness. The Polonia boys and their pal wanted to make a horror movie so goddamn badly that they just went out and did it.  Not only that, they wanted to make a memorable horror movie — and Splatter Farm certainly is memorable.

Oh, sure, it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons, as I just detailed, but it’s memorable too for watching three young moviemakers try their damndest even though their reach so far exceeds their grasp you spend nearly every moment of the flick wondering why they didn’t just say “fuck it” and give up. I would have. You would have. But they didn’t. And goddamn it, you gotta respect that.

Splatter Farm wants to be the bloodiest, sickest, most nauseating mess you’ve ever seen. It wants to push every single button it can on the old tastelessness machine. It wants to make you sick. And in the hands of a Lucio Fulci or somebody like that, it probably would. In the hands of the Polonias and Smith, however, it ends up occupying a weird middle ground that you almost don’t know what to make of as a viewer.

On the one hand, you want to laugh your ass off at the Z-grade amateurism of the whole thing. And let’s be perfectly frank, there are plenty of occasions where Splatter Farm is, indeed, laughably incompetent. Too many occasions to even count, much less list, in fact.

On the other hand, the subject matter they’re covering here is so puke-inducing — necrophilia (Jeremy shoves his dick in a decapitated head’s mouth and fucks it until he climaxes), incest, cannibalism, and anal fisting (Jeremy shoves his hand up one of the brother’s asses while he’s killing him and smears the phony diarrhea-ish substance all over the hapless lad’s face), to name just a quick handful of depravities, that you really can’t bring yourself to laugh even when the production “values” demand nothing less. And the SOV camerawork gives it all a kind of cheap-documentary immediacy that a production with any sort of budget whatsoever probably just couldn’t match, which is effectively accentuated by the dilapidated farmhouse locations that seem so believably real because — well, hell, they are.

So the brothers Polonia and their pal Mr. Smith definitely want to give you a serious case of the willies — and being a waaaaaayyyy independent production they can get away with stuff that even the most amoral exploitation producers wouldn’t touch with a 50-foot pole. But their lack of technical expertise — hell, their lack of even basic competence — well, to be honest, while it makes them look inept, it conversely makes them seem like even sicker fucks then they’d come off as being if they were helming anything like a real production here. I say that because there’s no wiggle room for them here. A jive Hollywood asshole who’s gone too far can always fall back on “well, I didn’t really want to do that, but the producer (or the studio, or the ever-nebulous “audience”) really wanted us to pull out all the stops on this one.” The creative “minds” behind Splatter Farm can’t do that — they came up with this twisted shit, and even though it was obvious they couldn’t pull just about any of it off, they went ahead and gave it a go anyway. That doesn’t take much in the brains department, I guess, but it definitely takes balls.

The Polonia boys shopped this thing around to various cheap-ass video distributors for over a year and got no takers. They gave up and moved on to another project which I guess must have been slightly better, because one of those cheap-ass video distributors said they’d like to release not only that later effort, but Splatter Farm, as well. For whatever reason, the second project, the one they wanted more, never did see the light of day, but Splatter Farm did. And the rest, as they say, is history.

And now, dear friends, you can experience this SOV opus for yourself, should you so choose, thanks to the good folks at Camp Motion Pictures, who have released Splatter Farm as part of their Retro 80s Horror Collection line, which includes titles like Cannibal Campout, Ghoul School, Killing Spree, Video Violence, and other mainstays of the backyard-produced horror subgenre that kinda flourished there for a minute during the largely unfortunate Reagan years. It’s billed here as the “cult classic special edition,” and apparently the brothers Polonia have tweaked it a bit, remastering the picture as best as possible, editing out a bit of superfluous crap from another backyard production altogether that they threw in to pad the running time (yes, folks, this “special edition” is actually a little bit shorter than the previous VHS release — it clocks in at just under 70 minutes), and tinkering with the sound to fix up some “drops” and incidental noises that were present the first time around.

As for the extras, like all the Retro 80s stuff Camp has put out, it’s pretty well loaded — there’s a commentary from the Polonias, a huge selection of their earlier shot-on-Super-8 work ( these were  no-sound recordings, but they do provide commentary for all of them), and there’s a great documentary about the production of the movie that includes a visit back to the farm locations used for the shoot (the house has been remodeled, sadly). All in all, the Polonia come across as surprisingly well-adjusted, decent family guys who aren’t exactly proud of the movie they made back in their late teens, but then aren’t ashamed of it, either. They gave it a shot, it is what it is, and they’ve moved on since then. And while they lead relatively normal lives (apparently) now, they do still get the urge to get out a video camera and make a cheesy horror flick, like Splatter Beach a few years back.

All in all, the highest compliment you can pay to Splatter Farm is to acknowledge that it even exists. By all rights it probably shouldn’t, and the fact that it does says something — and even if that “something” is just that two twin brothers with very little talent but a lot of gumption got together with a buddy of theirs and tried to make a seriously fucking twisted horror flick despite the fact that they really didn’t know what the hell they were doing, that’s nothing for these guys to hang their heads about. Splatter Farm is what is is because it has no other choice but to be — well, exactly what it is., and while that’s not a lot to put on your tombstone when it’s all said and done, I suppose,  it’s a greater legacy than most people will ever leave behind.

Thoughts like that keep me warm at night.

  1. Great review! The aunt in Splatter Farm is nasty as hell! It makes me cringe when she comes on screen!

    • trashfilmguru says:

      Thanks for the kind words, I appreciate them. She is indeed a strange character — you can’t really call what she does “acting,” per se, but it’s creepy in its sheer straightforward incompetence.

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