When one thinks of the wave of shot-on-video films of the ‘80s and ‘90s, such thoughts usually revolve around exploitation at its craziest: films full of dimestore gore and crazy ideas that would never pass muster in bigger, more commercial productions. Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments represents the opposite of that mental image. Though it was made cheaply by amateur talent on both sides of the camera, it draws its inspiration from mass-appeal genre hits and tries to compete with them on a bar-tab budget.
Phobe starts with Sgt. Dapp (John Rubick), a kind of intergalactic cop, being dispatched to Earth to fetch the titular escaped creature. Said “phobe” is a genetically engineered super-killer that must be stopped, especially now that it has developed the ability to reproduce asexually. Local cheerleader Jennifer (Tina Dumoulin) stumbles across its egg and Dapp teams up with her, going on the run as they try to figure out how to stop the alien menace.
The result wears its amateur status on its sleeve: the script by director Erica Benedikty is disjointed and shamelessly cribs its concepts from The Terminator and Predator, it’s shot like a local t.v. commercial, the actors are like earnest sleepwalkers and the titular creature is simply a guy in a homemade monster mask wearing camouflage netting. It feels like the kind of Super 8 opus that “monster kids” used to make, only updated to the mid-‘90s and made by grownups.
If you’re the kind of viewer who can roll with the above elements, Phobe has an oddly appealing innocence to it. The fact that it was made in Ontario, Canada gives it a unique regional quality, including a backing cast of genial hosers trying not to chuckle as they get through their dialogue. The hair is also amazing, particularly the bodacious spiked mullet favored by Sgt. Dapp. Benedikty crams in every cheap effect she can with total enthusiasm, including some surprise live pyrotechnics.
As aesthetically humble as the results are, it derives a certain energy from the raw enthusiasm of the participants. Anyone who ever goofed around with a camcorder to make their own homebrew movies back in the day might find themselves charmed by Phobe: it’s not exactly a movie you would “like” but it’s easy to sympathize with its amiable desire to entertain on meager resources.
DVD Notes: Severin sublabel InterVision Picture Corp. has delivered a surprise special edition DVD for this obscure Canuck favorite. The transfer does well by a vintage tape source, delivering a solid image for a standard-def video production. The extras begin with a commentary featuring Benedikty along with enthusiasts/film scholars Paul Corupe and Peter Kuplowsky: it’s cheerful and unpretentious as it delivers plenty of info on the locations, effects and challenges of making the film.
You also get Benedikty’s first video-film, Back In Black (58:02), a fantasy opus with a couple of amiable hosers entering a fantasy world inside a comic book for an Indiana Jones-style quest. Rubick stars as one of the heroes, wearing an ensemble that makes him look like Brian Johnson from AC/DC.
The key extra here is a new featurette (22:07) directed by Josh Johnson of Rewind This fame, Benedikty, Dumoulin and several key cast members pop up here as they explain how a local public access station made the film possible and the community assisted in the best “let’s put on a show” tradition. There’s fun outtake clips, some amusing quips from the cast and a nice tribute to the deceased Rubick.
Also included on this set are a set of outtake (7:29) that show how much fun everyone had making the film, a reel of the original VFX shots from the original broadcast version of the film, a Q&A from a recent screening and a clip Gribble Hell performing the film’s main title theme.