[Action / Sci-Fi / Horror / Comedy]
Directed by Steven Kostanski
Written by Steven Kostanski & Jeremy Gillespie
Starring: Matthew Kennedy, Adam Brooks, Conor Sweeney, Jeremy Gillespie, Ludwig Lee & Meredith Sweeney
Synopsis: A soldier, brought back to life as a cyborg, fights alongside a band of adventurers against demon hordes in a dystopian future.
Astron-6 are a Canadian independent film production company that consists of Steven Kostanski, Jeremy Gillespie, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, and Adam Brooks. Together, they’ve made a number of low budget short films and are currently preparing to premier their third feature film at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival, the second biggest and most prestigious film festival in the world) next month. As their second (and so far, best) feature, Manborg perfectly distills what makes great schlock cinema into one dynamite package.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually incredibly difficult to make successful schlock cinema. In truth, many who try to embody the low budget efforts of the 70s and 80s often result in creating pale imitations and just plain bad cinema. When you consider that even veteran filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez can fail to encapsulate their cheesy movie loves with their own Grindhouse project, anyone can blunder.
It is remarkable that Astron-6 have managed to strike gold on more than one occasion with their movies. Manborg is an ecstatic fusion of perfectly pitched performances, hilarious dialogue, impressive green screen effects, and a sublime electronic soundtrack that harkens back to the best 80′s videogames and low budget tropes – it’s essentially Far Cry: Blood Dragon the movie, even though it was made two years before that seminal throwback game was released.
Manborg begins where all great films begin: World War 2 – except the armies of the Nazis have been replaced by Nazi vampire demons from hell, bringing with them a whole host of undead beasties, and all lead by the insidious Count Draculon. Highbrow art it ain’t.
Matthew Kennedy plays the eponymous role; a soldier who is killed in World War 2 and brought back to life as a cyborg in a dystopian future metropolis, long after The Count’s forces won the war and took over all of humanity. Confused and out of place, Manborg stumbles his way through the city, taking in his surroundings and trying to decipher them.
Merely using green screen and his garage wall, Kostanski has created a startling scope to his Metropolis. Highways, towering monoliths of industry, factories, and of course, a gladitorial arena are all rendered with impressive detail. Considering that the budget for Manborg was equivalent to the catering budget for most small Hollywood films, Kostanski and co. have achieved something special. It’s a testament to the skills and ingenuity of Kostanski’s special effects that he is now working in Hollywood, involved with big budget productions such as Pacific Rim, and The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones.
Once Manborg ventures into the city we get to meet the rest of our heroes. The varied cast includes Ludwig Lee as the delightfully named “Number 1 Man!” (seriously), a loving rip off of Liu Kang from the Mortal Kombat series, complete with iconic flying kick, and terrible dubbing reminiscent of classic kung fu movies.
Conor Sweeney plays Justice, an illiterate punk rocker kid who models his look on Billy Idol, who also sports a ridiculously awful Australian accent. Meredith Sweeney rounds out the group as Mina, a beautiful woman and brave fighter who looks like she’s stepped out of a Final Fantasy game. While she may not be the most engaging character in our group of heroes, she is responsible for some of the funniest moments in the film, mostly in relation to when fan favourite character The Baron (one of Count Draculon’s senior henchmen), falls helplessly in love with her at first sight (despite the fact that he has no eyes).
If it all sounds absolutely bonkers, that’s because it is, and it’s to Astron-6′s merit that they manage to keep every element of the film under tight control. For such a low budget, the special effects – the foundations of the entire film – are remarkable and serve well when it comes to submerging you into Manborg’s dark and grim world. For something that is just a collection of junk stuck together in a myriad of ways, the costume design is strongly executed and convincing. There are some cool creatures to be found within, all lovingly rendered with serviceable stopmotion animation. What’s even more impressive is the fight choreography is remarkably well done, packed to the rafters with trashy blood and gore that will satisfy bloodthirsty audiences. All in all, it fares a lot better than many of the straight to DVD action films that litter video store bargain bins.
Certainly, Manborg is not a film for everyone. There are a lot of discerning film fans out there that won’t understand the appeal of well made schlock cinema, but for those who do, Manborg begs to be devoured multiple times, never failing to elicit laughs or entertainment value. At a brisk sixty-two minute clip, it never outstays its welcome, and what’s more once the film is concluded there is a superb short film to be found in the credits called Bio-Cop, which contains all the hilarity of the previous hour condensed into five phenomenal minutes.
In terms of revisionist schlock, Manborg is a modern masterpiece and almost without equal, so if you’re looking for a new infinitely quotable film to become regular viewing in your household, you could do a lot worse than this.
“It’s not about the killing, it’s about…family”