Wednesday, December 24, 2014

December to Dismember: FEEDERS 2: SLAY BELLS (1998)

It’s Christmas Eve and what better time to kick off our annual looks at some of the oddest flicks with Yuletide spirit.  Having done this for four years now, we’re finding it harder and harder to unearth stuff to cover.  In our years of Xmas flick reviewing, we’ve collectively hit some shocking lows when it comes to horror/sci-fi/action Christmas flicks.  Notice I was genre specific there as I’m sure one of those direct-to-demand “family” Xmas flicks with cats and dogs are bad enough to make you scratch out your eyeballs. We’ve covered the good and we’ve covered the bad.  I guess it is about time we get into the ugly with something like FEEDERS 2: SLAY BELLS (1998).  This, my friends, is going to hurt.

Before this week, I’d never seen a “film” by the Polonia brothers.  I was certainly aware of the oeuvre of the twins, Mark and John, from Pennsylvania, but something in my primal instinct kept me away from their shot-on-video titles like SPLATTER FARM (1987) and SAURIANS (1994).  With their bespectacled and mustached look (surely the envy of hipsters everywhere) the brothers set out to do their own thing in as they made no budget affairs in hometown.  In the mid-1990s, the brothers Polonia teamed up with shot-on-video powerhouse Jon McBride, director of CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988), the film that still haunts Tom’s nightmares.  The resulting feature was the alien invasion flick FEEDERS (1996).  If you haven’t seen FEEDERS (and I’m going to assume you are sane and have not), the plot revolves around two buddies – Derek (Jon McBride) and Bennett (John Polonia) – cruising around the Pennsylvania countryside where they encounter a deadly group of carnivorous extra-terrestrials.  The film ends with Derek killing his friend Bennett, who had been cloned by the nasty E.T.s, and running wild on the streets as aliens zap buildings (allowing for demolition footage).  The final shot is a fleet of UFOs heading towards Earth, leaving audiences dreading the idea of a FEEDERS 2.

The sequel picks up with Derek giving a recorded statement about what happened to him.  Who he is giving it to is never established, but it is a rather impassioned plea that more aliens are coming and we must fight them.  Because apparently no one saw the buildings zapped at the end of the first film.   The filmmakers then quickly establish the holiday spirit as we meet Alan (Mark Polonia) and his wife Bernice (Maria Humes) decorating a Christmas tree with their son and daughter (in his capacity as screenwriter, Mark Polonia couldn’t be bothered to give them names).  It’s tough times out there for an insurance agent as evidenced by this dialogue exchange.

Daughter: “When is Santa bringing us presents?”
Bernice: “In about one more day.”
Alan (whispering): “Only if daddy gets paid tomorrow.”

Wait…so you haven’t bought any presents and plan to do your shopping on Christmas Eve? Someone needs to introduce Alan and Bernice to layaway.  That evening Alan is woken up by some strange lights outside his house and sees a UFO.  The craft’s inhabitants beam down and quickly take up residence in Alan’s basement.  However, THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983) this is not as the beasties mainly freak out the family dog and cause the lights to flicker off and on for the film’s first hour.

“I’m the mannnnn in the box!”

Christmas Eve day rolls around and Alan heads into work to for his scrooge of a boss (“I hate Christmas! And you’re not leaving early either.”).  Meanwhile, we get a couple of aliens scurrying around town to attack random folks.  They kill an older lady and her cat, a local priest, and a dude working at a pallet factory. Amusingly, the priest’s scene begins with him reading with it clearly dark outside. After he is killed, Alan drives home in the daylight.  Continuity, schmontinuity!  We also get a loving montage of mom wrapping presents (uh, didn’t Alan say he had no money earlier?) set to blasting synthesizer Christmas music.  I’m pretty sure this music was listed in the recent C.I.A. torture report as one of the things used against terrorists. There is also a goofy scene where the parents go into the basement to get some presents and one of the aliens charges towards them, only to get knocked out after hitting its head on a board.  “What an ugly doll,” Alan quips before throwing it on the floor. Then, in the film’s most dramatic scene, the aliens feast on Lady, the family dog.  Yes, the dog got a name, the kids didn’t.

It is at exactly at the 39 minute and 20 seconds mark that something kind of magical happens.  Up until this point, the kids have been discussing Santa Claus and his impending visit.  So what do the Polonias do?  They make Santa a character!  Cruising around in his sleigh, Santa (Polonia mainstay Todd Carpenter) is shot down by some aliens in his air space.  Shit…just…got…real!  With a genuinely creative twist, it seems only fitting that the Polonias cut back to Derek and he spends the next 7 minutes telling his story, which allows for a sepia-toned flashback to the first film.  Yes, 7 minutes of a 70 minute movie.  Back at Alan’s place, the battered Santa passes out on an outdoor slide and the aliens figure it is go time.  They sneak up from the basement and, after attacking the Xmas tree, go after Alan and his family.  The kids tell dad they saw Santa outside and Alan figures he has to save him.  Good move as Santa has the ability to teleport and, once inside the house, heads to the North Pole to get a ray gun to zap their alien pests into video effects fade outs.  The moral of the story?  Santa is real and don’t take kindly to aliens messing up his busy schedule.

Having been a forty-year-old Polonia film virgin, I’m not sure if I should be thankful or not that I lost my cherry to their FEEDERS series.  FEEDERS 2 is a particularly rough one as it is almost sadistic in its ineptness.  Remember when you were a kid and would get a hold of a video camera and make movies where you and your friends ran around fighting some kind of monster?  That is basically what this is, but with only slightly more of a script. The idea of Santa Claus whooping ass on screen isn’t exactly anything new.  RenĂ© Cardona had him fighting the devil himself in SANTA CLAUS (1959) and ol’ Saint Nick had already fought aliens in SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964). However, it is a rather novel concept for the shot-on-video realm, where the finding new ways to hide blood tubing is considered a major achievement. Unfortunately, the Polonias do very little with it and their filmmaking skills are pretty shoddy.  As mentioned earlier, just as Santa works his way into the picture and things pick up, he is summarily forgotten for the McBride flashback which offers nothing to the film but padding.  I kid you not, after he gives us a recap of the events of the first film, McBride just shrugs his shoulders and walks off camera, never to be seen again.  The script is about as anemic as aliens’ tiny little bodies.  Speaking of which, you won’t believe the FX on display here.  The alien dummies from the first film return, but they also inject a new version with heads that look like a tennis ball covered in latex.  The computer effects are only slightly better with computer generated flying saucers that would make Ed Wood proud.  And speaking of Wood, wait until you get a look at the film’s acting.  They say the camera adds ten pounds, right?  Well, the video camera adds even more, causing the performers to slog around almost comatose onscreen under the weight. My favorite bit is when Alan ponders aloud what to get a woman who has everything and Bernice flatly replies, “More” with all the inflection of a zombie demanding brains.  And don’t get me started on Carpenter as Santa, who feels the best vocal inflection is to sound like Pee Wee Herman.  It says something when the best acting is done by the dog.

All that said I still have an odd level of appreciation for the Polonias.  They managed to follow their dream and crank out a bunch of stuff during their two decades working together (sadly, while looking them up, I found out that John passed away unexpectedly in 2008).  I can admire the men, while decrying their efforts right?

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