Mark Polonia: The Hardest Working Man in the Bad Movie Business

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Mark Polonia: The Hardest Working Man in the Bad Movie Business

Roughly 20 years ago, as a smartass teenager with a burgeoning appreciation for terrible movies and absurdist internet comedy, I first read a scathing review of a film called Feeders 2. Written in the year 2000 by now-deceased SomethingAwful founder Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka, the comedy review painted Feeders 2 as a new and heretofore undiscovered species of zero-budget sci-fi horror cinema, the worst film that had ever been reviewed by SA to that point. In my mind’s eye, this moment was akin to Feeders 2 entering some kind of immortal canon, a hall of fame for terrible movies that would ultimately enshrine it alongside other obscurely infamous works like Andrew Jordan’s legendarily grungy 1989 Canadian horror flick Things. In the years that followed, other prominent reviewers of lost, terrible cinema such as the Red Letter Media crew have likewise taken their shots at Feeders 2 and its predecessor, spreading awareness of the film as a widely recognized member of the bad movie canon.

Here’s the thing, though: Most filmmakers responsible for a zero-budget disaster on the level of Feeders 2 have a tendency to fade away into obscurity in the years that follow, their brief dalliance in the world of cinema all but forgotten. The guy behind Feeders 2, on the other hand? He directed eight feature films in 2021, and will produce at least six more in 2022. His name is Mark Polonia, and he’s perhaps the hardest working and most prolific man in the bad movie business today. He’s also an oddly inspiring figure to would-be, zero-budget auteurs everywhere, a man who bounced back from the tragic loss of his brother and filmmaking partner to become more prolific than ever. Seemingly nothing can stop this guy—certainly not negative reviews, that’s for certain. Making movies seems to simply be a function of his existence on this planet.


The Films of the Polonia Brothers

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Feeders 2, and pretty much every other film to bear the name “Polonia” before 1998, was the product of not only Mark but John Polonia, identical twin brothers from small-town Pennsylvania who dreamed of emulating the grindhouse horror films of their youth, and doing it as a team. As kids, they reportedly received home video equipment and tools for birthdays, obsessed with the prospect of making their own movies from the time Mark first saw Mothra vs. Godzilla as a 5-year-old. Filmmaking was their shared raison d’etre.

The pair were only 18 years old, in fact, when they shot their first commercial feature—in a loose sense of the word—1987’s Splatter Farm, a tale about a necrophiliac old woman living with the corpse of her husband, and (naturally) starring both Polonia boys as well. Splatter Farm, though extremely crude, functions as a near-perfect rubric for everything that would come to define the Polonia Brothers’ style: Very low production values and amateur actors, combined with slightly more competent FX and gore in suburban and rural settings that took advantage of wherever the brothers were able to shoot for a few days at a time. Supreme opportunists, they took advantage of whatever was available to them in order to produce trashy gems like this Splatter Farm sequence, which includes not only an exploding mannequin head but a senior citizen blown to bits by a suggestively placed pipe bomb. The content would be shocking, if it wasn’t also so crudely amateurish that it ultimately loops all the way back around to “hilarious.” Even when dealing with disturbing material, a Polonia Brothers film is so earnest in its attempt that it somehow reads as bizarrely wholesome. Their vintage work in particular has that sort of effortless “good bad” quality to it.

Together, the pair would go on to produce, direct and edit almost 30 films together in the subsequent two decades following Splatter Farm, including 1996’s particularly infamous Feeders and its 1998, Christmas-themed sequel Feeders 2: Slay Bells. The former was seen by far more viewers than one might expect, as the pathetic “alien puppets attack” flick was picked up by the Blockbuster Video chain in the wake of Independence Day’s massive success, ultimately becoming the chain’s most rented independent film of 1996 in the process. If you thought such success might somehow translate to bigger budgets for a film like Feeders 2, you would be sadly mistaken—this is a film that ends with a scene involving Santa Claus personally gunning down the aliens with a handheld laser pistol that fires not digitally rendered blasts of light but hand-drawn squibs of laser that look like they were freehanded in MS Paint. The entire sequence is awe-inspiringly terrible.

I can only imagine that at the time, the Polonia Brothers must have viewed themselves as contemporaries of the likes of Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson; fellow shoestring visionaries who wanted to use their boundless enthusiasm in service of crafting stylish, schlocky, gross-out thrills aimed at their horror-loving peers. But where the likes of Raimi had an innate genius for shot composition and connections with actors and technicians who would go on to become Hollywood icons, the Polonia Brothers had…access to houses over long weekends in rural Pennsylvania, and a network of friends who were happy to help, but none who were destined to go on to fame and fortune in the industry. Watching the films they produced in this era, one is almost tempted to label them as pioneers of “bad on purpose” filmmaking, but Mark Polonia insists that the intention has always been (and remains) to do the best he can with the extremely modest resources available to him.

“No one sets out to make a cult film,” Mark Polonia observed to the Philadelphia Enquirer back in 2019. “It’s up to others to make that call. I guess if you break it into the most simplistic form, you have to ask the question ‘Were you entertained?’ And if that’s yes, we won.”

Given the depth and central nature of the filmmaking connection with brother John Polonia, who Mark describes in the same Philadelphia Enquirer story as “basically the same person,” one would understand if Mark Polonia’s directorial career had come to a sudden halt in 2008, when John unexpectedly passed away just before his 40th birthday. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for Mark, losing the identical twin presence who had served as a co-writer, co-editor and co-director on essentially all his films for 20 years, but it’s hardly a surprise that Mark’s output dropped after dedicating 2009’s HalloweeNight to John. In the next three years, he directed only a single feature film—almost inconceivable for someone named “Polonia.”

But as the mid-2010s arrived, Mark Polonia showed B-movie fans what “prolific” actually looked like.


Polonia Ascendant

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Beginning gradually in 2013, and in earnest around 2015, Mark Polonia began what can really only be described as a filmmaking spree. In the last seven years, specifically, he’s directed no fewer than 37 feature films, at least as far as IMDb is concerned, a pace of more than five features on a yearly basis. Suffice to say, Mark Polonia clearly found his groove once again, even after the loss of John, and along the way he embraced newer techniques of extreme low-budget shooting, including a greater reliance on computer-generated effects. Today, he’s seemingly more busy than ever, and legitimately in demand as a low-budget shlock professional for hire.

And oh lord, the films that have been rolling out through this period. Taking some pretty clear cues from the likes of The Asylum, specialists in producing low-budget films that consistently turn a profit through exhibition on streaming services, Polonia has refined the commercial viability of his craft by increasingly turning to absurdist, meme-worthy titles and creature features with names like Sharkenstein, Bigfoot vs. Zombies, Land Shark and…House Squatch, which is about a sasquatch that won’t leave someone’s house. Yes, that’s the entire premise. All are coupled with spectacular posters that massively oversell the contents of the film you’re about to consume. Seriously, whoever is designing posters for these films is the real MVP of the operation.

Polonia has likewise explored the Asylum-style “mockbuster” route to at least some extent, with titles like Amityville Exorcism, Sand World or Jurassic Prey. This is, after all, the same guy whose film Feeders ended up benefiting from its extremely passing similarity to Independence Day, so he likely understands the value of being adjacent to respectability more than most.

The thing for a viewer to understand, though, is that there’s still a wide, wide gulf between the likes of Mark Polonia and The Asylum, almost as wide a gulf as there is between The Asylum and Hollywood. Whereas a CGI-laden Asylum creature feature might objectively look like garbage, many of their films still have budgets pushing the $1 million mark, spent on a combination of washed-up B movie talent and copious amounts of effects shots. A Mark Polonia joint, on the other hand, is lucky if its budget scrapes the $10,000 mark, and sometimes he’s making a feature film out of as little as…a gorilla suit and an empty house. Most people, glancing at those assets, would fail to see the potential for a quasi-feature film. Polonia, on the other hand, thinks “Well, I can make 71 minutes of House Squatch with this.”

The ability to market and sell these kinds of films is likely due to the crowded modern streaming service landscape, which has created a sudden vacuum and demand for exactly this sort of schlocky content, as a means of filling out the genre pages of various streamers with inexpensive titles. These films are therefore delivered in bulk, by filmmakers and production companies specializing in cranking out as many shark, ghost, sasquatch, etc. projects as they possibly can in a calendar year. It was only natural that Polonia unite with the likes of Wild Eye Releasing, cheapo horror mavens who produce a truly mind-boggling number of releases, as a patron—as he points out in this 2016 interview, the company approached him with a pitch to take advantage of the public domain status of the Amityville Horror story, and the result was Amityville Exorcism. This year? He’s about to drop Amityville in Space, also with Wild Eye Releasing. As ever, each film is made in service of the next film.

The legacy of John Polonia, meanwhile, has been kept visible in the zero-budget indie film community in a number of ways, including a 350-page, independently produced book about the brothers that was released in 2021, titled Monstervision: The Films of John and Mark Polonia. Mark likewise dedicated another special feature to his brother in recent memory: 2020’s Return to Splatter Farm, which effectively brought the entire Polonia filmmaking journey full circle, right back to the farmhouse full of corpses where it began.

As it stands today, IMDb credits Mark Polonia as the director of 71 films, and at his current rate of output, he’ll cruise past the century mark by the end of the decade. With the barest of resources at his disposal, he’s made both a hobby and a career out of film that has spanned more than 35 years, from the dawn of the home video horror era to the advent of the VOD cheapie. No one who watched Feeders 2 in the late 1990s would likely believe it, but Mark Polonia doesn’t care what you think, as long as you watch. The man has movies to make.


Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident genre geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more film and TV writing.