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Tuesday, September 27, 2016


In the latter part of the 20th century there was a brief but wonderful phenomenon in which people took their camcorders, which were designed for Mom, Dad, and the kids to shoot their own crappy-looking home videos, and started making crappy-looking "movies" with them. 

As the technology progressed, the homegrown charm of these crude do-it-yourself productions began to fade, leaving us with a precious few memorable examples of the camcorder genre which are noteworthy for being either surprisingly watchable (as is David A. Prior's SLEDGEHAMMER, the first shot-on-video horror movie) or just jaw-droppingly awful (and thus, perversely, still just as watchable, as in the case of Barry J. Gillis' mindboggling THINGS).

The 1995 sci-fi opus PHOBE: THE XENOPHOBIC EXPERIMENTS (Intervision, DVD) falls into the former category thanks to the competent direction of Erica Benedikty (also a co-writer, among other things) which, amazingly enough, even includes a crane shot or two (!). 

Originally conceived as a horror-themed feature film to be shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, its projected half-million dollar budget was later reduced to around a few hundred bucks--which, as you might expect, resulted in a considerably less lavish finished product, shot with a Betacam Sp, which made its debut on a Canadian community cable TV station. 

The script involves a cop from the planet Mondora who's been tasked to track down an escaped cyborg creature known as a "Phobe."  The Phobes (short for "Xenophobe") were originally created as super-warriors in an interplanetary war but are now on the loose. 

When one of them steals a spaceship and hightails it to Earth, Sgt. Gregory Dapp (John Rubick) is ordered to bring it back alive.  This he attempts to do with the help of a high school cheerleader named Jennifer (Tina Dumoulin) after she is inadvertently drawn into the whole potentially bloody mess while walking home from school through the woods. 

The less-than-svelte Rubick is supposed to be playing a cool supercop but he looks more like that guy in high school you dread showing up at your house because he eats all your snacks and drinks all your beer.  As a cheerleader, the cute Tina Dumoulin is a bit on the plus side but that just somehow seems to make her even cuter. 

While both are rather lacking in acting skills, if they'd actually been good I would have been severely disappointed.  Besides, the dialogue is so amusingly banal and unsophisticated that their unpolished acting style fits it perfectly.

The Phobe itself is like a shaggy cross between the Terminator and Swamp Thing, the costume being not too bad at all when photographed right.  Sgt. Dapp seems to alternate between actively tracking the beast and being tracked down by it so that the film can emulate various scenes from THE TERMINATOR, PREDATOR, and other similar sci-fi/action films. 

Naturally, it's pretty much irrelevent in this case to notice things like bad acting, gaping plot holes, inept production values, bad sound, or, in short, bad anything.  These are to be fully expected and, as such, are as normal and natural as whiskers on a kitten. You like kittens, don't you?  Sure you do.

The filmmakers do pull off some nice touches here and there (such as the aforementioned crane shots that pretty much had me agog).  The few outer space/spaceship shots that we see are pretty basic computer graphics but in this context they're quite passable.  A later spaceship landing benefits from some clever forced perspective.  Ray gun FX are well done, and in one fight scene between Dapp and the Phobe we even get a couple of honest-to-goodness lightsabers! 

The DVD from Intervision is in 1.33:1 full frame with Dolby 2.0 sound, remastered and greatly improved from its original form.  No subtitles.  In addition to a pleasant director's commentary plus Benedikty's first feature-length movie, the supernatural adventure BACK IN BLACK, we get a lengthy behind-the-scenes featurette entitled "The Making of PHOBE", a recent cast and crew Q & A which followed the remastered film's first actual theatrical screening, a comparison of FX shots between the original TV broadcast and the new improved version, outtakes, and a rendition of the film's catchy theme music by the group Gribble Hell. 

When talking about camcorder films, the two most basic questions are: (1) does it vaguely resemble an actual movie?, and (2) is it watchable?  With PHOBE: THE XENOPHOBIC EXPERIMENTS, the answer to both questions is a cheerful "yes."  While it didn't exactly blow me away or anything, the fact that it's effortlessly charming and just plain fun to watch in its own amateurish way is enough for me to recommend it.  Unless, of course, you simply insist on being a camcorder-phobe. 

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