For those of you who are not familiar Astron-6 Video is a collective of five filmmakers who met at a short film festival and decided to pool their limited resources to create a production company that specialises in horror and comedy with their targets set on lampooning a lot of the straight to VHS dreck they enjoyed in their childhoods.
Their first feature Father’s Day has had a lot of buzz at film festivals and was released by Troma earlier this year. Their website seems to hint at a lot of films we haven’t seen so far with titles like Punch Out, Cool Guys, Gore Blade, Insanophenia and Lazer Ghosts 2. You know what Jason Eisener did with Hobo with a Shotgun that has become an aesthetic choice? Yeah they do that…all the time…..
Their second film to get a proper release of sorts is Manborg which has been delighting or annoying audiences at film festivals for a year or so. Manborg is a lampoon of those ridiculous straight to video titles we were subjected to in the wake of the success of The Terminator and Robocop which often featured an ageing B movie actor or a no name martial artist as a cyborg of sorts that was occasionally a cop or ex-soldier or something.
The plot concerns a war which humankind has been fighting with the legions of hell and has lost leaving earth to be controlled by all manner of demons who dress like Nazis. At the beginning we see Matthew Kennedy playing a soldier killed by the legion commander Count Draculon and then some years later he re-awakens as a cyborg in a lab calling himself Manborg. Problem is Manborg is actually useless, he doesn’t know how to fight and isn’t really in control of his weapons system so he gets captured which is where he meets some fellow freedom fighters.
Here is where director and writer Steven Kostanski gets things strangely accurate. The characters Manborg meets are dead on archetypes for what would have made up a fighting resistance force in an 80s Z movie. You have the plucky, desirable heroine who is good with knives, the strong constantly half-naked Asian martial artist and the denim wearing punk rebel who is flash with the guns. If you grew up watching this stuff then you’ll get it, however it is not always clear whether Kostanski is spoofing this nonsense or is actually aspiring to create something that is on a par with the crap he was watching in his youth.
The effects work for one thing strikes an odd tone, the film is mostly green screen with barely a real location ever glimpsed so we have blatantly fake backgrounds which occasionally impress in terms of scope. Added to this is the decision to have the knife wielding heroine spring into action with speed lines and anime sound effects of the period which has only really become a thing in western cinema in recent years. These modern things are at odds with the stop motion creatures that are littered throughout Manborg and would have been state of the art for 1975, and the actually good make up job on the arch-villain Count Draculon.
Manborg is not a good film but whether it was meant to be is anyone’s guess, for some reason I was engaged by it, always entertained at the next ridiculous scene or piece of hammy acting and at barely an hour long it makes a nice entrée to something more epic but equally ridiculous. It’s not as good as the Rodriguez/Tarantino Grindhouse films or Hobo with a Shotgun but then isn’t overblown like Iron Sky. I suspect much like The Toxic Avenger, it will be the best film you have ever seen if watched after six or so beers. Worth sticking with the DVD through the end credits too for a hilarious copyright notice and a trailer for something called Bio-Cop which looks amazing!
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