October Horrorshow: Hellspawn

Hellspawn VHS boxThe Polonia Brothers are at it again. After sitting on a shelf for the better part of a decade, 2003 saw the DVD release of Hellspawn, one of the brothers’ more stylistically classic movies.

Hellspawn has the feel of an homage to horror films from the 1950s and ’60s. It has lingering, atmospheric shots that evoke English gothic horror and Hitchcock’s Psycho, and a soundtrack reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead. Hellspawn is clearly a movie the Polonias put a little more time and care into than something like Feeders. And yet most of it still feels mailed in.

What hurts this movie the most, and might be the reason behind its delayed release, is the sound quality. The brothers shot this movie on video, as was their wont, and it sounds like they used the built-in mic on whatever camcorder they were shooting with. The result is entire scenes with muddled or unintelligible dialogue. Without fail these issues with the sound happen during scenes with much-needed exposition. That places an undue burden on the rest of the movie. Where the brothers succeed in homage-ing, they don’t keep pace in scares or effects. For a movie with an 86-minute running time, long for the Polonias, that makes watching a slog, despite flashes of vintage Polonia.

Brian Berry and Sebastian Barran play Mick and Jack (I think — the credits aren’t clear on who plays whom), a closely-aged uncle and nephew pair in northern Pennsylvania who are hired to house sit. The owner of the house bugged out because of a monster, the titular Hellspawn (‘Big’ Dale Storm) that is stalking the local populace. The creature moves from set piece to set piece doing away with cast members until a final confrontation with Mick and Jack.

If one has seen any random Polonia movie, all of this will be familiar. If it sounds like I’m wearying of Polonia movies, that’s because I am. They have been my favorite shitty moviemakers since last year’s Horrorshow, but they do hit the same notes over and over again. They are at their best when they use their love of horror and mirthful senses of humor to shock. This movie has the benefit of them stretching their legs, but in the most important scenes, it’s all rote.

Long sequences abound where not much happens. Then when the creature attacks, it’s over too soon. It’s clear there was little to no budget to work with, but the Polonias were no strangers to deprivation. No matter how tight the purse strings, it doesn’t take much money to dig into the grosser sections at the local meat market and come up with useful bits and pieces for a gore scene. They’ve done that before to great effect. In this movie, not so much. We viewers need gore from a Polonia movie because it’s what they did best in movies like Splatter Farm and Hallucinations, and was key in what made those movies entertaining.

When the acting stinks and the writing stinks and the entire production often has the look and feel of teenagers fucking around in the backyard, jettisoning what they do best is a cardinal sin, not made up for by the small strides made in pace and photography.

As written above, though, it’s the technical issues that doom this movie’s watchability, more than its other failings. That sends it tumbling down the Index, where it lands with a thud in the #442 spot, displacing Alien Rising. I recommend staying away, despite the Polonias trying some new things here and there, always a good thing for artists, even when it doesn’t work out. The twenty minutes of them being creative just doesn’t make up for all the rest.

A final note. Keep an eye out for frequent Polonia collaborators Todd Michael Smith and Marion Costly in brief appearances, should one decide to watch.

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