Of gore-bound farms, churches of the damned, & deranged- splatter bound hallucinations [2021-02-17]When one thinks of gore-bound, yet creative Short-On- Video films of the 1980’s & 1990’s- the first two names that come to mind are Mark and John Polonia. During the 80's/90's these Wellsboro, Pennsylvania twins created a selection of low-budget classics such as Splatter Farm, Feeders, Church Of The Dammed, Hallucinations & How to Slay a Vampire. The pair carried on making films into the mid- 2000’s- then in 2008 John sadly passed away at the too-young age of thirty-nine. Since then Mark has carried on creating work- with to date sixty-two directing credits to his name, along with thirty-seven acting & sixty-five editing credits to his name. Mark kindly agreed to give us an email interview- discussing the classic SOV films, as well as later his more recent work.
M[m]: Can you recall what was the first thing to trigger both you & brothers interest in all things horror-related? And is there anyone particular film that influenced you both to want to start making film yourself?
Mark The definitive moment that triggered our film-making bug was Saturday afternoon TV viewing of Godzilla Vs. The Thing. That did it! Blew us away. Right then and there we knew this is what we wanted to do, and we pursued everything we could about film-making, which was scant in the early '70s, but it started the bug! We were five years old so it would have been around 1973.
M[m]: Ok so if Godzilla Vs. The Thing started off your love of horror in general, what was it that got you hooked on the more gore/ extreme side of the genre?
Mark It was our exposure to the horror films on TV, then the slasher boom, then the advent of VHS rentals. It all sort of combined, plus, horror/gore was easier to attain as far as film-making goes, than sci-fi.
M[m]: As you and your brother John worked together for many years, clearly you both got on very well together- did you ever disagree/ fall-out on certain filmmaking choices? And did you both have fairly set roles in each film you worked on together?
Mark John and I had relatively little friction on set, none I can remember. We served many roles individually but his strength was concept and special makeup effects and mine was directing and editing.
M[m]: one of the key collaborators on your early films was Todd Michael Smith- who co-wrote & acted in many of them. How did you both meet Smith, and how long was it before you started creating films together with him?
Mark Todd Smith was a great guy and was a high school friend. He was a creative type and joined us while we were making Halloween Night Part 2 , a super-8 short. He recently passed away, which was very sad. He was a great friend and collaborator. He was instrumental in the early years of our films. He provided the farm in SF because his grandmother owned it and convinced her to play Aunt Lacey. He made a few films of his own. Arty type stuff, but that was his passion.
M[m]: I’m sorry, I didn’t know Todd Smith had passed, that’s sad to hear. In all how many films did you collaborate in?. And which do you see as your favourite?
Mark Todd collaborated with us on a dozen or so films before he went on his own artistic path. He would agree that probably Splatter Farm and How To Slay A Vampire were our favourite collaborations. He was a really talented guy, a great friend, and is sorely missed.
M[m]: your first-ever SOV film was 1985’s Church Of The Dammed, which followed a satanic cult made up of corpse paint wearing monks with zombie followers. what influenced the corpse paint monks, and were you ever into dark & demonic side of metal, as the monks very much brought that vibe to mind?
Mark I think Church was inspired by the new wave of SOV movies we saw, particularly Blood Cult, which while not great, was a fascinating example. We bought a bunch of monk robes, wrote a script and went out and shot it. Overall, it was a failure as we were trying to play adults and it didn't work. We should have done a straight slasher movie. Many years later when I did edit it, I was amazed at how good it actually was being our first attempt at a feature and being shot on video. The make-ups were made up but Todd Smith did a few and was into metal music more than John and I so he may have been inspired by that aspect, I honestly can't remember as we applied the face paint at one time or another.
M[m]: you mention Todd was more of a fan of metal than you both where- so what were you musically into when you did the early SOV films, and what music do you enjoy these days?
Mark Todd was more of a fan of metal than John or I and to no avail tried to get us to listen to it. Some of it wasn't bad. I am a child of the 80's so I really like a lot of that type of stuff. As for music today, I don't like it or even understand most of it. I guess you are a product of the era you were born in so I'm still there as far as my music tastes go. My son, now 27, always chastises me when I play 80's music, stating the same thing I do about today's music, so it must be generational.
M[m]: Much of Church Of The Dammed was filmed in the snow- was this a deliberate choice? And what issue did the cold/ snowbound locations give you when filming?
Mark The fact that we filmed in winter was due in part because we started the movie in December and wrapped in mid-March, never filming the two or three scenes left to complete it. Anytime you film outside in the snow and cold it creates issues, such as wind ruining your sound, moisture shutting the camera down, and your hands freezing so cold you can't operate equipment, but we persevered and did it. Ultimately it does add a certain atmosphere money can't buy. I do remember it was the coldest and snowiest winter we had at the time. We frequently had to run inside to warm up during night time exterior shooting.
M[m]: Church Of The Dammed, as well as your second film 1986’s Hallucinations have recently got DVD releases on SRS Cinema- how/ when did you start working with the label?
Mark We started working with SRS Cinema back in the mid-'90s. I have known Ron a long time and I believed he released Feeders 2 and Bad Magic for us when they needed a home and we've been collaborating ever since.
M[m]: I know SRS Cinema & Camp Motion Pictures have released/ sell your titles- but are there any other labels you work with? Also, you mentioned prop sales- how often do you that type of thing, and how do you do it- on-line or in your local area?
Mark I have good working relationships with SRS, TEMPE, CAMP and David Sterling Entertainment. I also work with a great label called WILD EYE RELEASING. Check them out. They really get the type of film I make and have done excellent distribution getting the films out there. Rob is a great, honest guy. I have no complaints with any of the other labels either. I'm lucky in that I have good working relationships with solid companies. So many film-makers get screwed right out of the gate (like we did with the original release of SF) and never recover. Back in the day, it was a rogues gallery in the distribution world and film-makers were always walking the plank!
As for props I usually do an eBay sale every few years to make room for newer and larger props. I figure it gives something back to the fans as it will just rot away in storage if I leave it be. Some nice props have found good homes.
M[m]: Talking of Hallucinations- this was somewhat of a departure from your first film, with it’s decidedly surreal & nightmarish feel. Please discuss how/ why the film came about this way? And what were you influenced by?
Mark Hallucinations was a happy accident. We devised the script in outline form and tried to make a movie that felt like a real living nightmare. It has a lot of really weird, nightmarish scenes and an atmosphere of dread that we subconsciously let prevail through the movie, but were by no means experienced enough to make it happen on our own. It does have a real vibe to it that money can't buy. I'm not sure anything really influenced the plot because there's nothing really out there like it. We simply tried to do something scary, weird and nightmarish. I think we may be succeeded 50% of the time.
M[m]: Still on the subject of Hallucinations- why did you decide to use your own names on the film, and where the characters you played in any way close you all were all like at that age?
Mark We used our real names because we were the cast and crew and not having to remember made-up names while on camera helped us avoid mistakes. We were not playing ourselves at all in the movie. Todd plays a real jerk but as the nicest person you could meet, as well as John. Great guy, would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. As for me, I am not mentally challenged by any means......depending on who you talk too!
M[m]: Your first official release was 1987’s Splatter Farm- this has gone onto becoming both an SOV & lo-fi gore classic. How do you feel about the film all these years later?. Oh and I believe they're a few different cuts/versions of the film- why was this, and can discuss the differences between each cut?
Mark Reflecting back on SF I am honestly proud of what we accomplished. Keep in mind we were 17 at the time and had a feature released nationwide. We knew enough to make a creepy, twisted movie with great locations and gore, enough coverage to edit a scene properly, and a fairly good pace. It's a miracle it has the legs it does. Looking at any film after you made it you see a million things you'd do differently, but time and experience fix those. It holds up well, as nostalgia and a good example of what makes a cult movie with nothing more than ambition, determination and a VHS camera and a few broken downlights and tons of latex.
The original VHS release was a first pass rough cut, to just get the film from A to Z. The distributors did not allow us time to re-edit and released that version. We should have said NO to them, but we were kids and what did we know at the time about distribution. The DVD release is closer in tone to what it SHOULD have been, but so be it. Now people can use it as a production example of rough cut and polish.
M[m]: One of the more memorable characters of your early films was the Aunt Lacey character in Splatter Farm- her blend of awkwardness & creepy hammy-ness is great in the film. Had she acted before?, how was she to direct? And what were her thoughts on the finished film?
Mark Marion Costly was a real trouper. She never acted before so we really needed to coach her, not being very experienced ourselves but she did a slam-bang job. We did keep her in the dark on some of the more sordid aspects of the film, but when she finally saw it I think she was half excited/half horrified. She took direction well and offered her farm for the main location.
M[m]: In your early films you featured some extreme & transgressive gore ‘n’ torture- like the shitting out the knife scene( used in both Splatter Farm & Hallucinations) and a whole load of stuff in Splatter Farm. Were there ever any ideas that you came up with that you felt was just too extreme?
Mark Honestly, the original SF is too extreme in most cases, but that's what we went for as we knew it help breakthrough and make a name. As far as anything we thought of as too extreme, I believe there was a disagreement during the barn scene about going even farther and I put my foot down. I felt that scene went beyond what it should have and John and Todd wanted to keep going so we compromised. I shudder to think what they wanted to do I disagreed with because I can't remember, but if my compromise is what ended up on screen, giving them free reign may have landed us in jail! Lol!
M[m]: I know you’ve mentioned in the past re-using pros/ elements on your films- do you still have any of the props left from your early films?
Mark We keep as much and as many props as we can from past films because you can re-dress and re-design them for use on another project. I have a shed and garage full of props, masks, fake weapons, monsters, etc. My wife is forever asking me to throw it all out but it won't happen. I recently did some cleaning out and auctioned off some masks and models, including the Hellspawn mask and the surviving Feeders puppet. Lucky folks!
M[m]: Who did the soundtracks for your early films- as they really are often effective, in their lo-fi/ wonky creepiness?. And have you ever considered release these scores?
Mark Some of our early music was created by ourselves. We did everything. Todd and John did some of the music for Hallucinations and Splatter Farm. A lot of the time we were using library stock music in the early days.
M[m]: The interesting in SOV film has grown in leaps & bounds in recent years- why do you think it has? And what do you see personally as your favourite SOV films- please pick five(if you can) and explain why you like them?
Mark Shooting on video, or digital has gained respect in recent years because Hollywood decided to adopt it, when film-makers like myself have been doing it for years. Film is expensive. I shot on 16mm and every frame costs you a small fortune, so shooting digitally or on tape is a good financial draw. Also, there aren't many places who deal with film processing and such. It's the evolution of a medium and we were there early on. I would be hard-pressed to pick a favourite of mine. I've produced and directed over 75 features. There are things I like and dislike about each of them. Your films are like your children, they don't always turn out like you'd want them too, but you love them just the same.
M[m]: you are still making directing film now- with at present over sixty films to your name. What do you see as the pros & cons of making the film now, compared with when you started in the 1980s?
Mark I love making films, and I'm glad the technology has come around to being able to let many people afford to pursue it. The cons would be that there is a saturation of SOV films out there right now, but the pros are, with the glut, there are so many examples of different styles and levels of films, it helps you gauge your own strengths and weaknesses and gives you an insight to up your game, so to speak. Also, anyone, ANYONE who makes a film and gets it finished and released deserves a fair amount of respect in my book. It's not easy at any level and I remember how tough it was, and still is.
M[m]: As well as directing, writing, and editing you also have thirty-seven acting roles to your name- please select a few of the roles/ parts you remember most?
Mark I am not an actor, and any review of my performances will tell you that, but the most fun I had acting was in Feeders 2, being able to play opposite my two wonderful kids, and Horace in Muckman. That was a hoot and a lot of fun to just cut up and be corny.
M[m]: You talk about acting alongside your kids- what does your family think about your film work in general? And were your parents supportive when you were making your early films?
Mark Working with my kids was always fun, and my wife as well, although it was sometimes like pulling teeth to get through some of the films, but they were all troupers. Their opinion on my films varies depending on the project but they were very supportive. My parents were also supportive in the fact that they didn't really understand what we were doing, but they never got in the way and told us to stop, so that went a long way. I miss them both very much, god bless them.
M[m]: your two most recent films are Camp Murder & Reel Monster- could you tell us a little about each & what we can expect from the films?
Mark Camp Murder is a homage to 80's slasher movies that was shot last summer and should be out this year from SRS Cinema. It was produced by Will Collazo, a great and talented guy. I came on board as director, camera and lighting, and editor. I think fans will love it. The film hits all the beats and is a real love letter to the slasher genre.
Reel Monsters has languished in distribution hell for nearly 3 years. It is a more kid-friendly movie about Bigfoot. Great performances and production value, and the teen angle was a nice change of pace. So many people worked hard on that movie. I hope Camp Motion Pictures does something with it soon.
M[m]: Another recent film you made was Return To Splatter Farm- how did this come about?. And does it have the levels of gore & depravity of the original? and can you give us a rough plot outline?
Mark Return to Splatter Farm only happened through the determination of Jeff Kirkendall. We always planned to do a sequel but never had time due to other projects. Then when the original group started passing away, I resigned myself that it would never happen. I simply lost the desire to tackle it. Jeff, whom I've worked with for many years wrote a script that was very good. SO I figured the time was now if it were ever going to happen, so we did it. The film concerns a woman and her friends who visit a farm she has inherited. You can guess which one! Jeremy still prowls the farm and begins killing them one at a time. You can't really compare it to the original, at least in technical terms. It's a well-acted, professional film. It has moments of depravity, there's certainly lots for the gore-hounds, but in a much more mature way. Fans of the original won't be disappointed, but it isn't a crude, depraved sick fest like the original. We had long discussions about how far we would go in that area. You can never top the original, and so many movies have come that are far worse in content it would have been counterproductive to attempt it. What we did was take it in a slightly different direction while including much of what the original held dear.
M[m]:Are you working on new projects that you've yet announce?
Mark I am always working on new films. Last year alone I made nine films, two documentaries, dubbed several foreign horror movies into English, and worked a full-time job. The fun never ends. I absolutely love it. I wouldn't have it any other way. Creative people have to create.
M[m]: Do you still enjoy watch modern horrors- be they low or big-budget affairs? And if so please mentioned a few films that have impacted you in the last few years?
Mark Honestly, I don't go to the movies as much as I used to as I am so busy making films. I find the current state of horror improving greatly, but there was a decade or so where it really went south due to the fall of the independents losing any foothold in movie theatres, but streaming has changed that and we're seeing so many interesting films that aren't a product of the Hollywood mentality of doing the same thing over again, only with more money. The independents are always there first, and really, if you look at it, Hollywood often imitates us. I have to say the Conjuring films have impressed me, as has the latest Annabelle movie. There's style there, and substance.
Thanks to Mark for his time & efforts with the interview.
Photos- in menu pic Mark then & now, John & Tod in the infamous torture scene from Splatter Farm, John in Hallucinations, & Mark on the set of Return To Splatter Farm.Roger Batty