STONY FORK, Pa. — Everything about Mark Polonia screams “everyday nice guy," except that he’s planning to decapitate two people with a rusty scythe once he finishes his root beer.
Polonia is 51, a father of two who lives in the Rockwellian town of Wellsboro in Tioga County. He works as a video production specialist at nearby Mansfield University but took the day off to behead some friends. He gets giddy when he talks about how cool that will look. No one in Pennsylvania has killed more people, more creatively.
“We’ve never really gotten hassled, but occasionally cops will drive by and slow down and see it’s us and just move along,” Polonia says. “We did make the mistake of leaving a severed head by the side of the road once.”
That’s the way life goes for a prolific B-movie director. Polonia has offed people with sharks, ghosts, Bigfoot, and even some sort of shark-Frankenstein hybrid. On this humid summer afternoon in the middle of nowhere, he’s going back to his roots, letting unhinged rural folks do all of the murdering on the set of Return to Splatter Farm, his 64th film. He’s killed himself more than a few times. His wife, Maria, died at least once.
“I think it was in Black Mass [not the one with Johnny Depp] or Army of Wolves,” she says. “I can’t really remember.”
Polonia was born in Johnstown and moved to rural Tioga County as a kid. He caught the movie bug when he was just 5, stuck inside on a rainy Saturday afternoon, watching Mothra vs. Godzilla.
“I saw that movie and I was, like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ Me and my brother went to the library and get every book we could on script-writing and making movies,” he said.
Polonia made nearly all of his movies with his identical twin brother, John, and they made a name for themselves as the Polonia Brothers in the niche world of cheap horror. John died suddenly, in 2008, after a flu spiraled out of control. The latest film, Return to Splatter Farm, is the sequel to Splatter Farm, which the brothers made with a VHS camera in 1987 when they were 17.
“We were basically the same person," Polonia says of his late brother. “... We had the same bad taste.”
Polonia says his parents were supportive of their hobby. Sort of.
“I mean, they never told us we couldn’t do it,” he says. “And we were doing some weird stuff, like blowing up heads in the backyard. If my kids did what I did, I would not be happy about it.”
“No one sets out to make a cult film,” Polonia says. “It’s up to others to make that call.”
Some Polonia Brothers films are still available in America’s dwindling video rental stores, and others can be watched on Amazon. Getting on Netflix would take the Polonia name to a new level. He released seven films in 2018 alone, according to the International Movie Database. He said Sharkenstein, from 2016, is one of his best-reviewed.
“Wow this movie sucks! I love it,” one commenter wrote on the YouTube trailer for the film.
Polonia, who writes most of his own feature-length films, says he isn’t trying to make bad movies, either. People may laugh. They may cringe. But no one hates a Polonia Brothers movie.
“I guess if you break it into the most simplistic form, you have to ask the question ‘Were you entertained?’ And if it’s yes, we won,” Polonia says.
His budgets, “if you can call them that,” are almost always under $10,000, and he says they are often self-financed. He has shied away from fund-raising, and has free rein to do what he wants. Polonia says he wouldn’t know what to do with a $150 million budget.
“I mean, I wish I had that problem,” he says.
A dilapidated farmhouse off a steep dirt road in rural Stony Fork in Tioga County was the setting for Return to Splatter Farm. A family donated the house for a few days. This was the third day of five planned days of shooting, and Polonia says he’s never gone over budget or schedule. Before lunch, he knocks off a handful of scenes that would take weeks to film in Hollywood, moving actress Danielle Donahue through various scenes of growing dread.
“Is it the camera or is this house crooked?” he asks, looking through a small digital camera. "There’s not a straight angle in here.”
Polonia is easy-going at the helm, ready to listen to any suggestions anyone in the room offers up. When the shot calls for a night scene, the crew tapes black cardboard to the windows, and that looks just fine to him. He’s also the comic relief.
“The flies are not props. They came with the house,” he says.
Donahue, the heroine in peril in Return to Splatter Farm, has appeared on the Amazon series Beginnings and plays patient roles for West Virginia University’s school of medicine. She died in Polonia’s Halloween Night.
“I was burned to death in a shower,” she says.
One of the crew members flew from New Jersey to Texas just to catch the Polonia Brothers night at the Alamo Drafthouse, a cinema in Austin. Polonia began inviting him to sets afterward, and he’s killed him on film, too. Nico Bryant, a Germantown native who attends Mansfield University, was doing camera work on the set. He also died.
“I was a hobo who got my jugular ripped out,” he said.
Polonia says his movies often “even out” financially, but it’s never been about money.
“Directing is fun," he says. "It’s fun to do this. If I died today, I’d be happy with my career.”