Back in the early 1990s, a young Canadian auteur set out to make a low-budget, feature length SF film. Negotiations with a backer to fund the film fell through, so she decided to shoot it on her own, with a budget of $250.00, borrowed and donated equipment (she worked for a local cable station), and friends and family as volunteer actors.
In the era before Youtube, it picked up its cult following through local cable broadcasts and SF Cons. It finally found its way to an actual theatre in 2016, and in 2017, a remastered version made it onto DVD.
The plot concerns an alien bounty hunter named "Greg Dapp," who tracks a "Phobe"-- a militarized alien creature-- to earth. Apart from being named "Greg," his species looks exactly like us, save for yellow eyes, which he can cover up with the most conspicuously weird cheap sunglasses in cinematic history. He speaks English. His Outer Space Bounty Hunter ID is in English. And, coincidentally, the mullet is also in fashion on his planet. Fitting in, then, will not be a problem.
But can he capture the renegade Phobe? Will his new-found associates, a thirty-something high school cheerleader and her nerdy friend, be able to help him? And should he complete his mission? Because the aliens who sent him have some dark purposes of their own.
The spaceships consist of obvious, early-generation CGI and a high-school-project model. The titular Phobe is a guy in a ghillie suit (donated by a local sporting goods store) and a home-made mask and helmet. However, the raygun battles rank with anything on the original Star Trek series, and the pyrotechnics look pretty good. We also get an actual lightsaber battle, which is convincing, if derivative.
The story features a fair bit of padding. Elements get introduced and then ignored. What happens to the Phobe egg? What happens after the police arrive? Why does the film waste so much time transitioning from one point to another? People walking is not intrinsically interesting. We also get a musical interlude when Dapp and his newfound cheerleader friend, Jennifer, deke into the local pub to hide from the Phobe.
And yes, the film clearly shows that she attends high school, even though she looks to be about thirty. I have no idea why certain characters have been identified as teens. The teen dialogue in the school sequence sounds awful– as in, the CW's Riverdale actually delivers more plausible teen dialogue–, and Jennifer's supposed age adds an awkward (let us say) element to the relationship that develops with Dapp. Then again, they may do things very differently on his planet.
As for the acting, even volunteer amateurs should be better than this.
And yet, Phobe isn't a waste of time.
The fact that they made this thing at all impresses me., That it's not actually that bad is just a bonus. Yes, they filmed on the fly using low-budget equipment and effects, and you can tell. You can really tell. But the direction and camera-work are actually pretty good, and the final product proves charmingly watchable. We even close with deliberately goofball closing credits that compare favorably with Monty Python and the Holy Grail and "Bambi Meets Godzilla."
If you're a fan of SF, outlier films, or just fun, fringe curiosities, seek out Phobe. After all these years, it proves surprisingly entertaining.
Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments (1995)
Directed and written by Erica Benedikty
John Rubick as Sgt. Gregory Dapp
Tina Dumoulin as Jennifer
Lyon Tenbroeck as Rob
Jerry Dumoulin as Jerry
Kelly Ewtuchovich as Tolkien
Richard Ewtuchovich as Commander
Dan Shugan as Tim
Merv Wrighton as the Phobe