It Came from the Camcorder: Hallucinations and Lethal Nightmare

Before there was Splatter Farm, there was Hallucinations, a movie the Polonia brothers and Todd Michael Smith shot on video in 1986. It wasn’t released until 2007, as an extra on another Polonia flick. It is very much the product of a trio of teenagers exploring their love of horror and trash cinema, and working out their nascent artistic chops. Offering a detailed critique of this movie makes little sense. It doesn’t exist in the same realm as art films or Hollywood. It’s a movie made by young adults who were too young to vote, yet it also displays a surprising grasp of editing and pace. That’s quite the feat considering the movie has an incomprehensible plot. Like Splatter Farm, it also has scenes many mainstream horror flicks would avoid.

John and Mark Polonia play brothers John and Mark, while Todd Michael Smith plays Todd, a fellow teen who lives at John and Mark’s house because of familial troubles or something. The three of them are left without parental supervision for a couple of days, and they begin suffering from disturbing hallucinations of the horror flick variety (being left at home alone and something coming to kill them is one of the secret nightmares of being a teen — they want to be adults, but they’re not 100% ready for it). There are knives, a chainsaw, deformed creatures, a demonic presence, and plenty of fake blood. Adding to the fun house atmosphere are stock sound effects that had to have been taken off of an old LP of scary sounds. Those were real things people used to break out for Halloween.

There isn’t any clue why the three are seeing these horrific things until the very end of the movie, when John and Mark figure out the hallucinations are a manifestation of their fears of growing apart as they get older. Aww, that’s so cute. The movie is a work of love, delivered with blood and guts.

One aspect of the movie I enjoyed was the authenticity of the performances. The three young men have no training as actors, and often, lines are delivered as dead as can be. But, what they don’t have is the overactive charisma that is required of child actors in Hollywood. These are three skinny, awkward teens who have yet to grow into their bodies, and they carry around all sorts of angst, like actual youths. They weren’t pretending to be these people. It’s just who they were.

Another enjoyable part of the movie are the homemade special effects. The blood looks like spaghetti sauce in some shots, and strawberry syrup in others. One creature in the film was a baby doll slathered in fake blood, and another was a flexible dryer hose with a Hallucinations 1986 DVD boxtorso attached to the front that looks like a huge penis. One can’t see these things and not laugh out loud. But, I wasn’t laughing at the film. I was laughing with it.

One effect, though, which featured one of the brothers getting his chest sliced open, was quite well done, and on par with many professionally produced horror flicks.

It doesn’t matter if Hallucinations is good or not. These were three enthusiastic youths making their very own movie in a genre they loved. At just sixty minutes in length, it’s also a tight watch. That said, Hallucinations will be difficult for viewers not into this kind of movie. I am into this kind of movie, so its landing place in the Watchability Index reflects that. Hallucinations takes over the #202 spot from Return of the Fly, just squeaking into the top half of the Index.

But, wait, there’s more!

In 1992, as part of a deal with their distributor, the Polonias and Smith remade Hallucinations under the title Lethal Nightmare.

The plot is the same, the location is the same, and the teenaged boys of Hallucinations are now in their early 20s. Unlike Hallucinations, Lethal Nightmare was shot on Super 8, rather than videotape.

That’s a curious decision, as it didn’t do anything to improve on the quality of the first film, especially since they couldn’t afford high-end processing and transferring. Also, Super 8 doesn’t have sound, and the Polonias and Smith didn’t record any while shooting. All audio is overdubbed, with the majority of the dialogue being very out of sync. That’s not an unforgivable sin in film. In Italy, out of sync dubbing is a technique, not a failing.

The main trouble with this film was that it was lost on a shelf for quite a while, and when Mark Polonia finally got ahold of it for release on home media, it had degraded quite a bit. Most noticeable are audio drop-offs that happen with regular frequency. And by regular, I mean about every second and a half. This has a huge impact on watchability.

Additionally, the group didn’t go as far with their visuals in this film. All the notable gore scenes from the first film are there, but they are toned down. This doesn’t seem to have been by design, but rather because what they were doing just wasn’t working as well.

Lethal Nightmare is an artifact, interesting only to those who are already fans of the Polonias and Smith. It’s almost as if we got to watch them grow up a little bit on film. The same characters, played by the same people, only the moustaches are a little more substantial, and the hairlines a little less so.

Not as watchable as its progenitor, Lethal Nightmare slips way down the Index, displacing Act of Valor in the #320 spot.

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