FEBRUARY 6, 2010
Before I give some mild praise to Peter Rottentail, let me assure you that this is not a very good movie. It’s amateurish, awkwardly paced, cheap beyond belief (a guy supposedly gets cake thrown at him - and we don’t even see the cake), and doesn’t have nearly enough kill scenes. But it’s still enjoyable, partly because at the end of the day it’s still about a killer anthropomorphic bunny, and because filmmakers John and Mark Polonia have no pretense that they are making high art.
And that is why I always encourage folks to check out the commentary tracks when they are available. You could turn on any five minutes of this movie and come away thinking its one of the worst movies ever made. But if you listen to these guys talk, you know that they are just having fun - they still work their day jobs and make movies when they can, and they use what little money they got from the last one in order to fund the next. And the commentary is full of self-mockery (when a homeless guy opens a trash can, one of them quips that their other movies are in there) and, more importantly, a lack of bitterness in their tone. Sure, they still chalk up the film’s faults to a lack of money or resources, but not in a defensive way; they are merely providing an explanation, without the usual slams on Hollywood and the studio system that many independent filmmakers resort to on their commentaries.
Now, before you call hypocritism (not a word) - a reader claimed that Splatter Movie (which suffers from many of the same faults yet I didn’t like it) is also the result of a group of folks who are having fun. Now, I am sure to some extent that is true, but I think that if you’re going out of your way to hire Debbie Rochon and Tom Sullivan, and rent locations, and set up a website with the viral marketing “this was a real movie that had a tragedy” nonsense, then I think you’re taking your film at least a little bit seriously. These dudes shot this thing in their house (and it actually looks better than Splatter Movie to boot despite being 5 years older) for 400 bucks.
But again, this isn’t some lost gem. Only someone who has A. made similarly goofy movies himself with his own friends and B. has seen far too many pretentious indie horror films can probably enjoy it, and even I had problems at first. But after like 20 minutes or so (of the 70 minute film, 5 of which are the slowest crawling end credits I’ve ever seen) I became sort of charmed by the film’s good natured silliness and complete lack of pretension. The bunny has a few one-liners and kills someone with a carrot, and the characters he encounters seem to think he’s just a guy in a bunny costume, so again, it’s not like they are asking us to buy into any of the nonsense. And near the end of the film, a lonely girl who lives across the street from the hero is inexplicably smitten with him and takes him to bed, which of course allows for an epilogue where she gives birth to a baby bunny (who can already talk).
Also, this killer rabbit movie has a character named Lenny. Come on, that’s awesome (even if it’s the wrong spelling - Steinbeck’s rabbit-loving character was Lennie with an “ie” instead of a “y”).
However, none of it is gratuitous. There’s not a lot of blood, the language is PG-13 at best, and there isn’t any nudity. So instead of Jack Frost or a Troma-type thing, you get this goofy movie with a practically PG approach. I just assumed it was a budgetary decision, but the directors claim on the commentary that they simply don’t like splatter and hardcore horror, and I believe them (though the idea that it would potentially “limit their audience” is a bit hard to believe - how wide is the potential audience for these movies anyway?). It goes along with the film’s breezy charm, and I would like point out that this makes the 2nd laid back horror movie in a row I watched, after yesterdays Blood Of Dracula’s Castle. I’m all for these sort of films - if you know of any others, send ‘em my way!
Some of the cheap work-arounds are just inexcusable though. I mentioned the cake already (and that’s in the first minute of the movie), but there’s also a scene where a girl is watching what I guess is supposed to be a sitcom but is clearly just a looped clip of 3 people giggling, which inadvertently makes it the creepiest part of the movie. And the Polonia brothers’ editing skills leave much to be desired, particularly during conversation scenes, where they constantly cut on each line, instead of holding on someone’s expression while the other talks, or cutting to a master (it’s particularly jarring on phone call scenes). And (as alluded to on the commentary, as if it wasn’t obvious) they film several scenes without all of the actors present, which makes the scenes awkward and disjointed, something that could be avoided with a bit of “scheduling in advance” magic. Plus it seems like everyone is either a drama student or a family member - film on Sundays after church! No school, no work, family’s all together...
The sound effects need to go too. They play this same BOING! sound every time the bunny jumps or takes a step, and also what sounds a lot like the opening drum/synth notes to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” every time the bunny appears. I know it’s goofy, and it’s fine at first, but they get really grating after a while, but not to the point where they become funny again. Less is more!
Along with the commentary, there’s a 12 minute interview reel with the directors and some of the actors, box art for their other films (this is their 20th film!) and the trailer. Co-writer John Dalton also provided a commentary, but I just don’t have the time for two tracks on Peter Rottentail. But the track with the Polonias is a must - both for the laughably “no shit” moments like when he points out that the non-actor kid is his own son (and then praises his performance!), and for the enthusiasm (but not the blind kind) that the two share as they discuss this and their other films (which they tend to address as if we have seen them all - though I guess if you are watching a commentary track for Peter Rottentail you’re either a die hard fan of these guys or are an OCD sufferer watching a horror movie a day). And they reveal that despite being shot in 2003, the actor who is seen playing with an original Gameboy and then later an 8 Bit NES system wasn’t given props - the scenes were shot in the actor’s actual house and filmed “as is”. I love it.
One final note, as I went to the IMDb to check the spelling of their name, I learned that one of the brothers (John) passed away from an aneurysm in 2008, at the age of 39. Not only is that depressingly young, but as someone who has an otherwise irrational fear of dying of an aneurysm (when I get a shot, the piercing of my skin and possibility of it snapping off inside are the least of my concerns), this made me sad. Assuming that their films are more or less all the same in terms of technical prowess and resources, I may not ever have loved any of the films that they made, but I like the idea of guys making movies on their own, more or less as a hobby, in this day and age of so many indie filmmakers doing what they do for no reason other than to cash in on crazes (see, or not, all of the god awful Saw/Hostel wannabe movies of the past 3-4 years) or something. I hope that Mark continues on in some capacity, even if it’s just giving advice or even producing films for other aspiring filmmakers in his area (Pennsylvania - sort of the capital of truly independent horror filmmaking thanks to Romero), so long as they share his enthusiasm.
What say you?