2012/ d. Steven Kostanski
It’s a very rare occasion that I give a perfect score to a film. Very few movies are perfect and being the cynical, picky bastard that I am, I can usually find something to complain about. And to give such a high rating to a Canadian film made for less than $2000 and shot in a garage on borrowed high school equipment, well… I suppose you deserve an explanation.
Manborg opens with an epic battle scene where we learn that humanity is rapidly losing the war against the nazi-like denizens of Hell, led by the supremely evil Count Draculon (Adam Brooks, Father’s Day). One human soldier, in a futile act of bravery, faces the Count in an attempt to save his brother. He is shot full of lasers for his trouble and is dragged away, presumably to his death. An opening credits montage complete with a pulsing 80’s electronic score brings us into the future using a Robocop-meets-Universal Soldier-esque transformation scene. Humanity has lost to Count Draculon and the remaining citizens are rounded up for experimentation, torture and gladiator style death matches. Our titular hero (Matthew Kennedy, Father’s Day) bursts out of a crate, confused and seeking answers. He quickly runs afoul of the Hellspawn and is captured (after a chase with laser hover boards!) along with #1 Man (Ludwig Lee), a mix of Liu Kang and Chong-Li, complete with a badly dubbed voice (Kyle Hebert). The two are thrown in a prison with laser bars where they meet 80’s Australian stereotype Justice (Conor Sweeney, Father’s Day (noticing a trend yet?)) and his inexplicably accent-free, anime-style ass kicking sister Mina (Meredith Sweeney, yup, she’s in Father’s Day too). The group is sent to the arena and handily dispatches a group of demons in hover cars with help from Manborg’s arsenal of hidden weaponry. The plot is fairly easy to predict from this point with escape and eventual revolt against the oppressing forces but depth isn’t really the point.
Originally conceived as a sort of demo reel for aspiring filmmaker (and Astron-6 alum) Steven Kostanski, the sheer scope of Manborg is something to behold. Shot almost entirely on green screen with miniature sets and some brilliant stop-motion animation to help flesh things out, this movie looks, sounds and feels far bigger than its nearly non-existent budget. Full Moon Video, even in their heyday, would have been hard pressed to create a world so convincing with so little. One of Manborg’s greatest strengths is its absolute refusal to let anything get too serious. Where camp was simply a by product of low-budget filmmaking for Full Moon and other 80’s straight to video producers, Kostanski (much like Lloyd Kaufman) revels in it. Gore is plentiful and the fight choreography (by Ludwig Lee) is excellent. The gags are nearly constant, from the aforementioned badly dubbed #1 Man to the evil Baron and his awkward crush on Mina. The nods to 80’s movies are just as frequent with references spanning sci-fi, horror and action genres but Manborg never feels like pastiche. The references are presented with a wink and a nod, acknowledging influence and taking the viewer back to a time when manual tracking controls and worn out tapes were a greater concern than plot or cinematography. If none of this appeals to you than perhaps my rating might seem extreme. But if, like me, you’re thoroughly enjoying the recent “rewindhouse” revival of 80’s movies that never were, you won’t find a more satisfying film than Manborg. Given Kostanski’s recent makeup effects work on Resident Evil: Retribution, Silent Hill: Revelation and Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming Pacific Rim, we may not see another movie like this from him for a while. I sincerely hope that isn’t the case.