Before his brother's untimely death in 2008 at the unthinkable age of 39, Mark Polonia was part of one of the most unusual moviemaking combo of all time. Along with his twin sibling John, the duo took their love of schlock horror and turned out terrific efforts such as Feeders, The House that Screamed, Splatter Farm, and the campy Splatter Beach. While they made many more movies, only a few found their way onto the updated home video format of DVD. Then John passed away and many worried that Mark would end his prolific motion picture ways. Well, the fanbase shouldn't have concerned themselves. The Polonia spirit lives in on solo outings such as Halloweenight, E.V.E. of Destruction, and a slice of simian silliness known as Empire of the Apes. Many in the bad movie club will find this Planet of the Primates rip-off to be a lame, low rent affair. For those familiar with the Polonia brand, however, it's just another example of imagination and gumption giving over to double digit budgets and limited production possibilities.
In the not too distant future in a galaxy far, far away, a prisoner ship commander is taking a trio of comely babes to an alien planet. Seems our lovely if unlucky ladies will become "entertainment" for the extraterrestrial inhabitants there. Uncomfortable with the idea of being some ET's extended concubine, they escape, only to see their plastic bottle space pod crash somewhere in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. There, they come across an tribe of apes that are desperate for two things: (1) a way off the planet, and (2) costuming and make-up better than what can be bought at your local Party City. Seems the chief of the chimps has been lying to his 'people' about the advise he is getting from "The Elder" while another in his staff sees the girls as a sign towards something...ummm, we're not quite sure. Anyway, the prison ship commander discovers where the gals are, goes down to retrieve them, and falls in with these distant cousins of Cornelius. Eventually, the apes trick the humans, take over the ship, and head into a black hole, where they become the rulers of their own ape world. Their next step? Invasion of Earth!
Oh my, is Empire of the Apes miserable. It's not bad-bad, it's just laughable and ludicrous. Polonia, clearly only capable of spending a $1.50 on special effects, seems to have built his interstellar models out of left over San Pelligrino bottles and duct tape, and his apes are nothing more than monkey masks over various parkas, trench coats, and carpet samples. The dialogue is dopey, the narrative almost impossible to follow, and the acting is on the level of the rejects from the local community playhouse. There's no blood. There's no boobs, and the beasts are basically jokes. By violated all three of Mr. Joe Bob Briggs's "B"'s, this film just fails. It lacks the knowing nod and wink that the Polonias used to add to their work, arguing that their subpar special effects should be taken as serious. Even more disconcerting is the final sequence, which leaves way too many unanswered questions and the promise of a sequel (dear God NO!). In the realm of homemade horror films, Mark and John were legitimate legends. They understood how to balance ambition with awful. With Rise of the Apes, the tilt toward "terrible" is just too great. Nothing about this misguided movie can correct that.
Released by MVD Visual in a decidedly bare bones packet (no extras, just a single menu with chapters), the audio and visual element here are half-baked at best. Because of the limitations in the technology used, the Dolby Digital Stereo mix can't decipher much of the dialogue. When the characters speak clearly (read: during ADR, not inside their ill fitting masks), we understand what's going on. But some of the words get garbled by the cast and the sound effects and score are strangely overwrought. As for the image, the transfer suffers from a DVD downplaying. Clearly, Polonia filmed this in some manner of HD. When the movie was made available on home video, the resulting render has left ghosting, halos, and other defects as part of the 1.78:1 anamorphic picture.
There is no bigger Polonia apologist than yours truly. Of the four films I have seen by the brothers before Empire of the Apes - Feeders, Feeders 2, Splatter Farm, and Splatter Beach - only the latter came up bit short. The other three were inventive and fun lo-fi horror romps. This pathetic Planet cop-out couldn't even get me to care. I would offer up a Skip It, but something about this effort argues for a Rent It, just so you can see it for yourself. Over the decades, the homemade horror movie subgenre has created some unheralded classics, with Mark and John Polonia behind more than a few. With Empire of the Apes, the former argues for what most people think of his efforts - pointless, pondering, and pathetic.
Want more Gibron Goodness?
Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here