Geek culture has sure come a long way in the decades since nerdiness was first defined. Used to be, the feeble were beaten up for their inability to fit into the proper socially mandated cliques. Now, they set the tone for all online discussions, and prowl the fringes of popular culture to formulate the latest examples of the zeitgeist. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the medium of film. Once, only artists and professionals were allowed into cinema's holy domain. But with the advent of VHS (and now, DVD), any dork with determination could and continues to make their own damn movies. Thanks to a direct to video market hungry for product, and an audience willing to accept sometimes limited entertainment returns just to watch actual films in the comfort of their homes, untested talent could make a quick buck and/or name for themselves releasing their hackneyed homemade efforts. Two of the better believers in this theory are Mark and John Polonia. From adolescence onward, they strove to find a way to express their fear fandom, and the result has been one of the more peculiar creepshow canons in all of horror. A good example of their idiosyncratic charms is their first videotape epic, Splatter Farm. New to DVD from Camp Motion Pictures, it shows the brothers in all their miscreant glory.
It's summer, and Alan and Joseph have promised their reclusive Aunt Lacey that they will spend a few weeks with her. Traveling to her isolated property in the middle of the country, they figure they're in for a dull and uneventful vacation. Unfortunately, Auntie is hiding a secret - and his name is Jeremy. Obsessed with human blood and the violating of vivisected body parts, this cruel childlike manboy companion is a mass murdering menace. He's also emotionally attached to the old bag for reasons more disgusting than decent. After arriving at her home, Alan and Joseph begin to suspect something fishy is afoot. The barn is covered in grue, and there's a locked room under the house. And to make matters worse, the aging relative has the hots for one of the boys. There is no way this trip to the outskirts of civilization will end well for these suspect city folk. Jeremy will make sure of that.
Sick, twisted, and just a tad troubling, the Polonia Brothers' 1987 slasher spectacle Splatter Farm is like watching a selection of Sawyer family home movies. In the tradition of such tawdry backwoods frightfests as Mother's Day, Last House on the Left, and any version of the seemingly eternal Ed Gein story, the underage auteurs, responsible for such Super VHS schlock as Feeders, Terror House, and the priceless Peter Rottentail, put their tentative talents to the test as they overdose on gore and pile on the perversity. Aside from the standard slice and dice, Splatter Farm also delivers rape, sex with the elderly (implied, thankfully), feces fun, corpse grinding, and oral pleasure with a decapitated head. If you weren't so sure that the Polonias were just a couple of horror fans working out their inner dread for the sake of their brand new camcorder (they used to work in Super8), you'd think you had stumbled upon a deviant's vomit-inducing video diary. Unlike the genre it so easily imitates, Splatter Farm is not your typical madman with a meat clever cavalcade. Instead, it's a sleazy, seedy throwback to the mass murder movies of the drive-in '70s. Though the boys were probably too young to remember the particulars of the passion pit days, the ready availability of titles from the era clearly influenced the duo. Not only do they suckle at said terror teat, but they try to throw in a few nasty novelties all their own.
For a while, we can't quite overcome the amateurish quality of what we are seeing. Though they appear to be in middle school, the brothers swagger like a couple of Eurotrash boy toys, pseudo-stash facial hair acting as maturation fodder. Unfortunately, their whisper thin body types give away their greenhorn personas almost immediately. Luckily, costar Todd Rimatti is there to turn slimy psychopath Jeremy into a freak as fiendish as a certain Leathered face. Granted, he's not working with major thespian capacities, and he tends to use his own adolescent aura to generate most of his presence, but you can't deny its effectiveness. He makes a perfect counterpoint to the brothers' bothered personas and really sells the situation - crazy killer cutting up people and playing with their parts. Thanks to a wonderful bit of location luck (the farm and house used have an eerie, unsettling quality), and the perplexing non-performance of Marion Costly as the amorous aunt, we end up with a film that constantly challenges convention as it completely fulfills most of the genre's mandates. Since this is basically a four person drama, the Polonias have to find ways of making the limited casting work within the horror motif. While other 'victims' for Jeremy are introduced and quickly dealt with, the real suspense comes from the cruel cat and mouse games the oddballs exact on their guests. It's this sense of unease that is Splatter Farm's greatest strength.
And it's a good thing it's so powerful. Gore fans may enjoy the light pink pus supposedly passing for blood in the film, but the vast majority of sluice used is limp and ineffectual. Similarly, the Polonias employed several left over mannequin/rubber body parts to realize their vivisection, and it takes a great deal of suspended disbelief to not laugh out loud at these barely passable props. In addition, at this early phase in their career, the brothers were barely competent behind the camera. They make unusual directorial choices and experiment with optical approaches that, on occasion, fail miserably. Yet when combined with the film's other definite charms, with its disquieting sense of the sinister and its 'anything for fear' attitude, the problems pass by quickly. In fact, it's safe to say that Splatter Farm would be a good place for most first time indie auteurs to begin their non film school education. It illustrates how no budget, limited logistics can still be forged into something quite disturbing, and how imagination and gumption can overcome even the most restricted artistic designs. Don't be mistaken, however. This is not a lost macabre masterpiece just waiting to be rediscovered. In fact, Splatter Farm is about as far from classic as a self-helmed horror film can be. But it does deliver what most outsider efforts can't - a plausible premise effectively realized. The Polonias should be proud of that fact.
Since this is lifted from the best possible VHS copy of Splatter Farm available, it's truly amazing how good this 20 year old analog artifact looks. Sure, the lighting is all out of whack, and the colors can careen wildly from correct to corrupt, and the lack of definition and detail is both a blessing and a curse. Still, the 1.33:1 image is very watchable. In fact, some of the flaws add to the aura of awfulness the movie strives to create.
As internal microphone recording jobs go, Splatter Farm is pretty pathetic. The dialogue is either dialed down far too low, or overmodulated to the point of distortion. Luckily, most of the movie is made up of action sequences and gruesome gore workouts, so we don't have to suffer long as the flat Dolby Digital Mono mess that accompanies the conversations plays out.
The Polonias are a library of independent filmmaker "do's and don'ts", and the added content they offer on this DVD really proves this point. Their full length audio commentary is hilarious, insightful, and quite critical of their two decades old epic. The boys aren't beyond mentioning mistakes and take great pleasure in elements and sequences that appear to pay off in the manner they expected. Overall, the duo delivers a brilliant bit of play by play, explaining many of the production problems they faced while creating this film. It's a sentiment shared by the Behind the Scene featurette recorded for this digital package. The Back to the Farm documentary is an engaging look at the project, the now adult Polonias revisiting many of the locations used. Along with a collection of "Gory Short Films" (dopey but fun) and an excellent set of liner notes, the boys really go all out to defend and define themselves. Toss in Camp's typical collection of trailers, and you've got an excellent set of supplements.
Like taking a trip back in time to the days when magnetic tape magic was just a visit to the Mom and Pop video store away, Splatter Farm is some nicely nasty nostalgia. It represents the first forays into full blown filmmaking from a pair of brothers obsessed by the artform, and exudes enough sleazoid stink to fill a string of seedy grindhouses. Easily earning a Recommended rating, this is one of the best DVDs the revamped Camp Motion Pictures has released so far. Aside from the obvious (if peculiar) pleasures of the film itself, the digital presentation allows us to hear the brothers in all their self-deprecating honesty, and the inclusion of their old school home movies is a wonderful touch. Many in the post-millennial age have dismissed the Polonias as artifacts from a bland bygone era, more or less incapable of keeping up with today's grim, balls to the wall 'gorno' epics. Yet after watching this nauseating little number, however, you'll wonder if the whole sour subcategory wasn't the brothers' invention. Though it's sloppy and aesthetically incomplete, Splatter Farm is quite unsettling. That's a claim that most modern movies can't even begin to claim.