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Phobe is a cheaply made 1995 sci-fi action flick that, like most cheaply made 1990’s sci-fi action flicks, feels so “heavily inspired” by earlier more successful (and higher budgeted) sci-fi action flicks that no one (except maybe the director) will really take much offense in it being called a “rip-off”. Perhaps, given the sci-fi theme, even a “clone”.

Directed and co-written by Ontario-based college student Erica Benedikty, Phobe tells the story of Sergeant Gregory Dapp, an alien cop…. from the future…. sent to Earth to hunt an elusive extraterrestrial killing machine (called a Phobe)….. and to protect a teenaged girl…. all while rockin’ a sweet ass mullet!

Fuck yeah! Sounds pretty bitchin’, right? Here, check out the trailer from the 2016 Intervision/Severin Films DVD release.

Hello? You still there? There’s an 82.4% chance that you aren’t.

Okay, so I MAY have forgotten to mention that the film was made for Canadian public access television on a budget of $250. I didn’t think that was an important fact.

As I just stated (keep up), the film was made for $250. All of the film and sound equipment, as well as a few interior sets, were loaned to Benedikty in exchange for her volunteering at the local public access station. The actors and film crew all consisted of family and friends, while props were generally donated by local vendors. The shot took nearly a year, most of the filming taking place on weekends when “crew” were more readily available, if at all.

The film’s most notable element is evident from its opening moment. The music. Actually, the 1st thing you’ll probably notice is the film’s incredibly low-end, near Playstation 2 caliber computer graphics, but the music will definitely be second. The various themes really drive the film and help sell the notion of an action-packed sci-fi spectacle, even if they are primarily used in scenes of people just standing around and talking.

The idea of “rip-off” seems apparent during the opening moments as the Phobe uses a heads-up display much like the Predator’s, but much less impressive, to dispatch a squad of soldiers. Or paintballers. Not sure which. Benedikty openly admits to being inspired by Predator (as well as The Terminator), but upon its initial appearance, budget restraints make the Phobe seem more like a spiritual cousin to “Ro-Man” of Robot Monster fame. The creature is adorned in netting for armor, as well as a “Lazer Tag” helmet for…. well, for a helmet.

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The entire squad is taken down by the Phobe. All of them, that is, except Sgt. Dapp. Dapp (John Rubick, the film’s co-writer, as well as the director’s cousin) is clearly the toughest cop in whatever the Hell intergalactic police force he is a part of. You can tell from that mullet of his. Using a rocket launcher, Dapp takes down the Phobe in a scene so packed with adrenaline-pumping action that the audience doesn’t actually get to see the explosion. We’ll just pretend that it was an awesomely rad explosion. Ooooh! Aaaaah!

A few months pass and Dapp receives a message from his Commander that the Phobe has escaped once again, this time stealing a ship and piloting his way to a small shithole planet called Earth. It’s revealed that the creature has gained the ability to asexually reproduce, a fact that makes the creature more valuable alive than dead. Dapp must now pursue the Phobe to this distant planet, not on a mission of termination, but one of retrieval.

Dapp arrives on Earth, but not in time to stop the Phobe from killing 2 (more) mullet sporting yokels who look like backing musicians for 38 Special, or possibly the “not-as-close” friends of Wayne Campbell. One of the men is killed when he attempts to pick up an alien grenade that he mistakes for an odd blue rock. What makes this scene stand out is that the object noticeably changes color and shape for a couple of shots. This is because the blue prop was ran over and destroyed during filming of the scene and had to be replaced with the next best available thing: a bright red tomato. And that, folks, is how you squeeze a budget. And a tomato.

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The next day, Jennifer, a high school student played by a seemingly much older actress, finds a blue stone while walking home from school. Unbeknownst to her, the “rock” is actually the Phobe’s egg. While the Phobe will presumably win no “Parent of the Year” awards after it essentially ditched it’s unhatched offspring in a field on some random backwoods planet, it still decides to target Jennifer anyways. You know, appearances and all.

The Phobe stalks Jennifer for what seems like an overly extended period of time, presumably too shy to ask her out. No, that’s not right.  The creature finally takes a shot at her with its laser cannon, but misses the target when Dapp makes a conveniently timed appearance and pushes Jennifer out of the way. Obviously discouraged by his piss-poor aim and crippling social awkwardness around girls, the creature flees without taking another shot.

As is usually the case, the Phobe resumes its hunt shortly after. Dapp and Jennifer continue to flee from the creature during a drawn-out foot chase sequence that really looks like the actors are speed-walking away from the alien. They manage to distance themselves for a short time after jumping from the top of an exploding parking garage, but despite the threat that the Phobe still presents, they chose to stop at a local dive bar long enough to have a couple drinks and enjoy a slow dance together. Sure, it seems like an incredibly foolhardy thing to do at the moment, but it is really no less absurd than when it happens in bigger budgeted action flicks. “Hey, I know the killers are still chasing us, but I totally have time to have sex with Cindy Crawford on this train.”

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The Phobe resurfaces to ensure that our protagonists get their recommended cardio workout, but is soon thrown off of their trail yet again. When Dapp mentions that he needs a radio in order to contact his home world, Jennifer takes him to see her nerdy friend, Rob, whose father owns a ham-radio. This scene plays no real significance, but it does provide Dapp with an opportunity to discuss the environment of his planet, the history of the Phobe’s evolution, the reason for his mission, and the completely random fact that his eyes glow yellow in our atmosphere.

The film soon reaches it’s climax, which features cranes, double-crosses, and even a light saber fight. Sure, those are actually flashlights that the actors are holding, but it’s the effort that counts or something. The Phobe’s true appearance is also finally revealed, but the lump of plaster that awaits beneath the Lazer Tag helmet is bound to disappoint even those that have been able to see past the film’s budgetary shortcomings. That said, it is not enough of an issue to ruin enjoyment of the film.

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Despite these huge budget constraints, Phobe manages to do something that it rightfully shouldn’t. It manages to provide the viewer with 82 minutes of entertainment. While there will surely be some giggling caused by seeing a generally overweight cast of mullets and ponytails speed-walking from scene to scene, or from witnessing the spectacle of the woeful special effects, that will probably quickly pass once the viewer notices just how surprisingly well made the film is, especially considering the almost non-existent budget.

As expected, the acting can be quite amateurish and sloppy. As these were not actors, but instead normal young adults that really wanted to make a film for their own enjoyment, the dialog recitations can sometimes border on “painful”. At other times, the dialog sounds as natural as it would if you were having a conversation with your friends. And to some degree, that’s just what is happening. As the “actors” know each other so well, they more than occasionally recite their lines as if these were normal everyday conversations between themselves.

Another impressive element on display is the use of some very professional looking crane shots. While it serves the advancement of the plot in no real way, the slow rise of the camera through the branches of a long dead tree, or the pan down over the top of a fence look like something out of the most polished of gothic horrors.

Much like Bill Rebane’s The Giant Spider Invasion or Fred Olen Ray’s The Alien Dead, Phobe is a shining example of community film making. One determined film maker was able to create a movie with no budget and no studio assistance by reaching out to local vendors, who in turn provided items such as props or wardrobes simply because they were helping their fellow townsfolk by doing so, as well as their own circle of friends. The result is a film that, while not having the budget or effects of much larger scale films, outshines a large majority of those films in immeasurable charm alone. This is a film that we will feel that we ourselves could make, if we only believed in ourselves and our dreams.

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Rubick was tragically killed in an auto accident in 2003, leaving behind a wife and daughter. He was 34. Far too young to have been taken from his loved ones, especially in such a violent fashion. While Rubick did live long enough to see the film released on the public access channel (where it was successful enough to become the station’s most requested program), he did not live long enough to see his film released on DVD where it will now be able to find a new, presumably larger audience.

Before closing, I do feel obligated to mention that the film has received new digital effects for its DVD release. While these effects still look quite substandard to most modern films not made by The Asylum, they are a massive upgrade from those used during the film’s original television airings.While I will assume that this decision was made to make the film more appealing to modern viewers, I do not believe that casual “modern film” viewers are not the audience that will be seeking out this film. That said, I feel that “enhancing” the film not only deprives the viewer of seeing the film as it was originally created, but also strips it of at least some of the low-budget, DIY charm that made the film the cult sensation that it has become with its fans.

 

 

 

 

Best line: “An egg? What the Hell are you smoking?” Dialog sounds insanely real and believable at times.

 

 

 

 

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