• Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments

    Released by: Intervision Picture Corp.
    Released on: September 27th, 2016.
    Director: Erica Benedikty
    Cast: John Rubick, Tina Dumoulin, Lyon Tenbroeck
    Year: 1995
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    The Movie:

    In 1995 Erica Benedikty wrote and directed Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments, a movie made for two hundred and fifty dollars. That’s right, this movie was made for the cost of a fancy dinner.

    The story is as follows – somewhere out in the far reaches of space exists a planet called Mondora and from that planet comes Gregory Dapp (John Rubick). He’s an agent from some sort of space patrol who has been sent to Earth to bring in something he refers to as Phobe. He lands in the woods and runs around a bit, his blade style sunglasses and luxurious mane of hockey hair making for an imposing presence indeed.

    Meanwhile, a high school student/Toronto Blue Jays fan/Rockettes aficionado named Jennifer (Tina Dumoulin) talks to her friends about getting a couple of cases and how she could go for drinking a couple of beers tonight. She leaves class for the day… alone. She walks home down some railroad tracks and on her way finds a blue colored space rock that looks sort of like an egg. She isn’t really sure what to do with it or what it is until she’s approached by none other than Dapp himself. He saves her from the imminent danger that appears to be all around them at all times, and slowly but surely wins her trust. As such, she brings him back home where he talks to her mother (she offers him tea). It’s then that he explains who he is and why he’s here – but it just might be too late. The Phobe, which is a guy running around with camo net hanging off of him and a helmet on, has arrived and is willing to kill to get whatever it is that he’s out to get. Before it’s all over we’re treated to a lightsaber dual that takes place inside a local TV station and an epic battle at a rusty old steel factory!

    There are a lot of things about this movie that don’t make sense, but don’t let that dissuade you – this is about as epic as a two hundred and fifty dollar camcorder sci-fi/action movie can get. Shot on location throughout the great Niagara region (look for the Brock University tower and St. Catharine’s downtown parking garage to appear as well as a few other landmarks that will stand out to those familiar with the area!). This one has local flavor all over it, from the dive bar where a band plays and people slow dance erratically to the seemingly endless supply of railroad lines that litter the area. Accents are thick and fashions are wonderfully trashy in the way that that just so happened to be in the Niagara of the mid-nineties. This one winds up working not just as an example of low budget shot on video genre stuff, but as a great example of regional cinema.

    The DIY aesthetic on display gives the film a lot of charm. Enough charm that we can look past the fact that the acting is amateurish (though frequently quite heartfelt) and the effects handled primarily with found props and low-fi digital renderings (worth noting is that some of the effects in this version of the movie have been updated but the original effects footage is included in the extras – more on that below). It’s all pretty ridiculous, like a really, really low-rent take on popular action and sci-fi hybrids of the day but filtered through some sort of visionary poverty row vision. It’s definitely one of the coolest SOV oddities to make its way to home video in a long time.


    Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments arrives on DVD from Intervision Picture Corp. in a 1.33.1 fullframe transfer that presents this analogue production in all its tape-sourced glory. As far as stuff like this goes, it looks alright. The movie’s visuals are clearly limited by the fact that there was basically no budget here but the transfer, taken from an old Beta SP master tape, looks about as good as it realistically can. The screen caps below give you a pretty good idea of what to expect but those who have some affection for shot on video quickies from the nineties will have no problem with the quality of the image.

    Audio options are presented in English language Dolby Digital 2.0 and the track is fine, if on par with the video quality, meaning representative of the picture’s no-budget origins. Dialogue is typically pretty easy to follow and the score sounds… goofy, but good enough. Some of the sound effects are a bit high in the mix but somehow this makes the movie more fun. No alternate language or subtitle options are provided.

    Extras start off with an awesome audio commentary featuring Benedikty moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com and Peter Kuplowsky of the Laser Blast Film Society. She talks about how her job at Cogeco Cable (formerly MacLean-Hunter) cable allowed her access to the gear she needed to get this movie made and how that same connection allowed her to get the thing shown on local television. She also talks about how she wound up getting use of some of the locations featured in the film (shooting the finale at Hodgson’s Steel in Niagara Falls was a definite coup for the movie – the place is still around and going strong!), casting the picture with various friends, the effects and props featured in the film and where some of the ideas came from originally. The two moderators share Benedikty’s enthusiasm for the movie as she basically takes them through the making of the film from start to finish, noting its origins as a three page outline made for a college project to the finished movie that it is as presented on this DVD. Lots of scene specific info here too, noting how in one scene a single actor plays not only the Phobe but also the soldier fighting it, the redone graphics that are featured in this version, how a G.I. Joe toy was originally used in one scene, how the crane shots featured in the movie was pulled off (yes, this movie features legitimate crane shots!), how and why the leaves change in certain scenes, and lots more. It’s a really fun and interesting track that covers pretty much anything you could want to know about this movie.

    Intervision has also dug up Erica Benedikty's first movie, a fifty-eight minute oddity entitled Back In Black. Fans of vintage comic book store footage, particularly those of us with ties to the Niagara Region, will enjoy seeing a length scene shot inside St. Paul Street’s own Len’s Odds And Ends, which for the longest time was the only comic book store in St. Catharines – the lady who worked there for years is even featured in the movie and rings up our hero’s purchase on camera. It’s since changed hands and is now called Mostly Comics. It’s also worth noting that a few of the cast members, including John Rubick, appear in this feature as well. The story is a bit of a mess but it’s got a lot of fun elements – aside from the awesome comic store footage we get an Indiana Jones style adventurer wandering about (possibly in the scenic Niagara Gorge) who takes out a dangerous native. After that he enters a cave and fights a guy in a trench coat… before the camera pulls back and we realize it’s just some guy in a Maple Leafs shirt reading a comic book. He gets busted by his boss but then talks comics with a co-worker sporting a stone washed denim jacket. Anyway, our hero goes to Len’s and gets the latest issue of his favorite series. He takes it home and heads to his room to give it a read. That night a guy who looks like Bon Scott (Rubick) shows up. Once he’s in the house they crank up some RAWK that sounds an awful lot like the AC/DC song that inspired this solid hour of what the fuck. They rock out in the living room, then they hang out in the basement and talk comics. A smoke machine goes off and something opens up in the basement as our comic reading rock warriors try to figure out what’s going on with all the green lighting after falling into some sort of alternate dimension (that looks an awful lot like the infamous Screaming Tunnels – fans of Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone take note!). With four hours until the portal closes, they’re in a race against time to get home and clean up the mess they made before their parents get back!

    The disc also includes a twenty-two minute documentary from Rewind This’ Josh Johnson entitled, appropriately enough, The Making Of Phobe. While John Rubick passed away in 2003 after a car accident sadly took his life way too early, pretty much everyone else involved with the production shows up on camera here to talk about their experiences working on the film. There’s a lot of cool behind the scenes photos here as well as some footage showing off some of the locations as they are in the modern day. We also get a look at some of the illustrations and script pages that Erica came up with in the pre-production phase. She talks about making super 8 movies as a kid, pretending to film a movie without having actual film in the camera. Lots of talk about working with the budget she had and ‘making a movie within my means.’ She also talks about making Back In Black in 1993, her work at the TV station that allowed her to make Phobe. Tina Dumoulin talks about her character, her experience on the set and more – the rest of the interviewees follow suit as we learn about some of the other locations used, the effects, having to run through water when you don’t know how deep it is, their thoughts on Rubick and how proud he was of having worked on the film and how they pretty much all loved the guy – it’s quite a touching tribute to the guy who clearly meant a lot to all of the people involved in the movie. There’s also a lot of cool information here about the Niagara region, how it has its own character and weird culture that other parts of Ontario don’t have (“We have hickory nuts!”). Corupe and Kuplowsky show up here too, to talk about how the film’s Canadian qualities make it stand out and some of the movie’s quirkier elements. It’s a really well put together piece – informative and funny with a lot of great photos and clips used throughout.

    We also get a fourteen minute Q&A session that was conducted with the cast and crew following a screening of the film that took place in St. Catharines, Ontario in April of 2016. A lot of the interviewees who show up in the feature are here as well, fielding questions from an audience that would seem to be pretty enthusiastic about the feature.

    The original FX shots from 1995 broadcast version of Phobe are, as mentioned earlier, included here as well. There’s about two minutes of material and no doubt some will feel that this original footage fits the movie better than the newer CGI inserts do – but hey, it’s here. A couple of quick comparisons with the footage from the feature version up top and the older, original footage below (frame grabs aren’t exact but you’ll get the idea):

    Rounding out the extras are seven minutes of genuinely amusing outtakes and gaffes from the shoot, a three minute piece where the band Gribble Hell performs the main theme from Phobe, static menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments is SOV gold! It’s got all the quirky charm you could hope for and the low-fi spirit and determination on display in pretty much every scene is infectious. It’s a bargain basement picture to be sure, but if micro-budget camcorder oddities from the past are your thing, step right up. If the main attraction weren’t enough, Intervision has seriously gone all out in the extra features department, loading this up with supplements and including a second film as well. All in all, this is a pretty amazing release, a true special edition!