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 Phobe-dvdinspi­ra­tion 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.