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Hallucinations (1987)

Directed by Mark and John Polonia, Todd Michael Smith
Sub Rosa Studios VHS

When I was nine, my family drove from Chicago to Florida, just like the Griswalds in National Lampoon’s Vacation. One morning, we stopped at IHOP for breakfast. I had to use the restroom after we ate. The restroom was made for one person and the door was unlocked. But when I opened it, there was a fat man in a three-piece suit sitting on the toilet. When he saw me, he stood up.

I’ve never felt more uncomfortable in my life.

Except for when I watched Splatter Farm.

Released in 1987, Splatter Farm was a shot-on-video cesspool of degeneracy. It had man-on-man rape, genital mutilation, and grandmother incest. The movie stood tall with other SOV sludge like 555 and Black Devil Doll From Hell. But unlike those movies, Splatter Farm was not made by adults. It was made by seventeen-year-old twin brothers named Mark and John Polonia, and their high school friend, Todd Michael Smith. That made the experience of watching the movie even more unsettling. Passionate about making movies in their backyard that no one cared about, the Polonias could be seen as role models for misunderstood teenagers. They weren’t self-conscious about their ill-fitting glasses, awkward facial hair, or decision to appear nude in front of the camcorder. The Polonias had confidence. They made movies to please no one but themselves. Their massive, no-fi movie legacy was only stopped by John’s passing in 2009.

Hallucinations is a demo version of Splatter Farm. Shot prior to Splatter, but unreleased for over two decades, this movie is comprised of outrageously violent vignettes that hang on a standard haunted house template. At first. Then things get heavy.

The first fifteen minutes of Hallucinations is a live action enactment of a to-do list from a Midwest dad in the middle of February. John makes coffee. Mark plows the snow. Todd vacuums the living room rug. John calls a sex hotline that he finds in the classifieds of Gallery, which was hidden in someone’s sock drawer. We find out that the brothers’s mother is working double shifts for the next few days and won’t be home. A “monk who lives across the road” shows up. The hallucinations begin.

At this point, we expect a teenage SOV horror movie to emulate Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter and A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. That’s what teenagers do. They replicate what’s popular on their own terms. Nigel The Psychopath and The Butcher were both made by energetic teens with access to a camcorder, and the influences were obvious. Hallucinations is different. The purpose behind the violence in this movie is clear — one scene even features Todd reading a copy of Daniel Krogh’s The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis And His World Of Exploitation Films. But the psychological intimations are a different story.

For the most part, the dream sequences in this movie are pretty standard for SOV trash-horror. A kitten is mutilated by a chainsaw. A severed leg appears in a refrigerator. A Freddy Krueger-esque slasher shows up wearing an Adidas snowsuit. But the gross-out gags are slowly engulfed by sexual perversion. In a scene that was reused for Splatter Farm, John shits out a knife and finds himself castrated in the process. The camera lingers on the crotch of his whitey-tighties as he fondles himself and gore seeps out of the wound. Later, Mark wears a potato sack mask, ties Todd to a bed, whips him, then caresses his crotch with a razor blade. The scene ends when Mark attacks Todd’s genitals with a machete. Finally, John takes a shower, complete with nudity. He’s attacked by a giant penis monster that’s made out of plumber’s hose, duct tape, and Silly Putty. The monster thrashes against John’s crotch, jabs at his mouth, and chokes him. The movie ends with a surprisingly mature — but still violent — statement on family dynamics.

It’s not likely that the Polonias or Todd Smith understood what they were doing while making this movie. And neither do we. But the sexual animosity, as well as the off-handed psychology, is what makes Hallucinations so impressive. And fascinating to watch. Unlike most Polonia productions, there’s never a dull moment. A gentle eeriness carries us through while we wait for the next gross-out effect. Ambient synths from a Halloween sound effects cassette drone while green light bulbs gradually replace all of the regular light bulbs in the house. A sickly claustrophobia builds and it’s completely alien to the fun-loving mood that we usually find in Polonia productions like Saurians. But we never forget that this is their movie. Especially when Mark yells, “Ah, fuck this shit!” in the patented Polonia drawl, which sounds like Ben Stein in the middle of a quaalude binge.

In 1987, three high school juniors made a movie called Hallucinations that feels like a mutant three-way between Kenneth Anger, Tex Avery, and David Cronenberg in David “The Rock” Nelson’s basement.

In 1991, the Polonias remade Hallucinations on Super 8 as Lethal Nightmare.

And those are just two more reasons why the world is great.