One day in 2003, I was editing a video for one of my classes at Mansfield University, when their A/V guru, Mark Polonia, asked me if I wanted to be in a movie. The obvious answer was "Sure." The role was a small part in the Bigfoot film Among Us, and it kindled my friendship with Mark and his twin brother John.
The Polonia Brothers have helmed an impressive array of independent horror and science fiction movies. At nineteen years old, they made names for themselves with 1987's shot-on-video Splatter Farm. Since then, Polonia Bros. Entertainment has brought homebrew epics to a dedicated fanbase. Embracing exploitation and defying funding, Polonia Brothers films are "love or hate" affairs. But even the harshest critics of the Polonia output will acknowledge the passion behind the productions.
When I attended my first of many horror conventions with the brothers, someone came up to Mark, and excitedly asked him, "Are you Mark Polonia?" I was blown away at the time, but I've since learned that in the right cinematic circles, Polonia Brothers Entertainment is legendary. I feel privileged to have appeared in over a dozen of their productions, and Mark made a cameo in my 2007 short film, VectorZone. Mark and John changed my life, instilling me with a love for movies, especially horror flicks.
After John's passing in 2008, Mark continued to write, direct, edit and produce films. He's still releasing product, to the delight of the low-budget movie circuit. In late 2018, Mark returned to his roots in Wellsburo, PA after an extended stay in Los Angeles. Yesterday was our first meeting in two years, and it was great to catch up in the hallowed halls of KFC. Mark brought me a copy of his recent release, Alien Surveillance, which is available for streaming on Amazon Prime, or rental at Family Video. (I prefer renting over streaming. Not that you care.)
Our get-together wasn't the time for this interview; it was an unmitigated goof-off session. I emailed Mark these questions a few hours afterwards. True to his famous work ethic, he had them answered the next morning.
Polonia Bros. recently received a tribute at the prestigious Alamo Draft House Cinema. Tell us about it.
The Alamo Draft House experience was awesome! I was invited down by the fine folks at Bleeding Skull and we showed CHURCH OF THE DAMNED and FEEDERS to a packed house. Most people got the vibe and they had some interesting questions later during the Q&A session. It wasn't until I watched CHURCH OF THE DAMNED on the big screen that I noticed a sign we painted for the film, Brotherhoods of Darkness was mis-spelled. Talk about embarrassing. And on a 20 foot screen.
What are some of the biggest hurdles that you've encountered in film production? How did you overcome them?
When you make a micro-budget movie there are many hurdles. Time, money, daylight, money, etc.....but you have to work in the moment and look at everything as a challenge. There are no problems, only solutions. And that's what gets you through the day on a set. The minutest issue can bring a film to a halt. It's like working on top of a house of cards sometimes. Being positive and flexible are a MUST!
Which Polonia Bros. films bring you the greatest sense of achievement?
I think when I look back at my career I can see real growth in films like BLACK MASS, REEL MONSTERS, AMITYVILLE DEATH HOUSE. But even early films like SPLATTER FARM and FEEDERS are really milestones as they were parts of our career that made splash and moved us forward to a degree. I look at the films I made like my children. They may not always turn out the way you want but you love them all just the same.
Movie shoots don't always go according to plan. Share with us a wild story about a production.
Good question. I run a pretty tight ship and try to leave as little room for error as possible. On the very first day of production of a current film scheduled for release, I had a good days schedule planned, outdoors. The movie takes place on an island. I wake up to prepare for the start of the day and it's snowing....bad! My heart sank, but just for a moment. I realized I can re-arrange the schedule and use the snow to our advantage, so that's what we did. A scene late in the movie now benefited from a seasonal change I hadn't planned for and gave the movie scope as we now had "Winter" scenes in the movie! Oh, and once a careless person on our film nearly burnt down my porch during filming of HALLOWEEN NIGHT.
What was your most frustrating film, and why?
Any film, if you've spent a great deal of time on can be frustrating in one way or another, but you hope it doesn't get to the point where it affects the show. On my films, I'd say HELLSPAWN was very frustrating due to so many schedule conflicts and script changes due to time and budget. It really did alter the vision of the movie and cause some issues, but there's still some good stuff in there.
What do you feel you've gained as a person through your decades of filmmaking?
Most of all, I think I've gained a sense of accomplishment. I mean, so many people go through life dreaming or talking about what they want to do, and I've done it and continue to do it. How could you ask for more? Living a fulfilled life in every aspect is more than anyone can wish for, but it takes determination and passion and perseverance to make it all work.
Most of your work has been horror and sci-fi. Why do you enjoy those genres?
I enjoy these genres because there's such a wide tableau to let your imagination run wild. You can be so creative with these genres and they are my personal favorite.
Which of your films would you like to see amass more of a following?
Honestly, I'm just glad people are interested in the brand of film we offer. I've made 61 movies to date so there is something for everyone. It's up to the viewer to decide which ones to latch onto and run with.
To what do you attribute the enduring popularity of some of your early films, such as Splatter Farm and Feeders?
I believe two words......Shock and camp. Those 2 movies will be known for those attributes and for the large release they had. I've made much better movies that go by unnoticed but these two always come up. I also think people see them and say, "Hell, I can do better than that", and maybe it inspires them to give it a try. That's nice too.
What's your favorite Polonia Bros. film?
I enjoy them all, well most of them, but I would have to say my personal favorites are AMITYVILLE DEATH HOUSE, BLACK MASS, AMONG US and HALLOWEEN NIGHT for one reason or another.
If you were to issue a word of caution to aspiring filmmakers, what would it be?
Be patient, be passionate and be true to yourself. Never give up, never stop, and keep making movies. Sooner or later it will lead somewhere..........I'm still waiting myself. Hahahaha!
What's your favorite memory of working with me?
That is printable? Hmmmmmmm.........I'll always remember when we were shooting PETER ROTTENTAIL, and we were doing the montage of the rabbit kicking your face rapidly, and you mimicking the hits. We did it over and over and you finally said, "If I do this one more second my head will explode". Also, the time where we were winging scenes for THE DINOSAUR CHRONICLES and you and John were outside firing toy guns at off-screen monsters and you both couldn't stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.
Thanks, Mark! It was great meeting up with you again.
You can stream Polonia Bros. classics such as Night Crawlers, Bad Magic, Feeders and more on Amazon Prime.
Finally, look for Mark gracing my little production, VectorZone.