Review: Manborg / Cert: 15 / Director: Steven Kostanski / Screenplay: Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski / Starring: Matthew Kennedy, Adam Brooks, Meredith Sweeney, Conor Sweeney, Ludwig Lee / Release Date: January 7th
Missed the Eighties the first time round? Never mind, because they're back, in the shape of Manborg, a loving evocation of the cult Troma and Full Moon movies of that hallowed period. Led by Count Draculon (Brooks), hordes of demon Nazis have risen from Hell. A soldier (Kennedy) perishes in the conflict, only to be fashioned into the ultimate cyborg warrior by unknown hands. Awakening sometime in the future to find the Hellions in charge and mankind crushed into submission, he's captured and forced to fight in a deadly arena, along with a handful of other hardy human survivors. Poor guy, how Tromatic (see what we did there?).
The plot is back of a matchbox stuff, but director Steve Kostanski throws everything he's got at it, which you might not think would be very much considering that the budget was allegedly a laughable $1000 (which can't really be true, surely, you couldn't lay a patio for that). That, though, is to reckon without the movie's elevation of a cheapo, straight-to-VHS look into an aesthetic. The result is undeniably eye-catching, and you certainly won't have seen anything quite like it.
We're not just talking about a grainy finish, murky definition and blurry, over-saturated colours – although these are all present and correct. There are also other touchstones of the era, such as OTT prosthetics and stop-motion animation, all cobbled together against green screen backdrops with the aid of (presumably very inexpensive) CGI – and all cheerfully foregrounded in a surreal, comic book style which borrows from old arcade games as well as from '80s sf flicks.
On the whole, it's an approach which works miraculously well. Manborg himself is a bit craft projecty, but the Hellions are quite a sight, with their bald pates and stitched up mouths, and there are some surprisingly visceral set pieces, including a nice hoverbike chase. Among the genre-based laughs is a good joke regarding Manborg's squeaky servos, and an on-running gag about Asian martial arts expert #1 Man (Lee), who speaks in an overdubbed baritone as though inhabiting his own chopsocky movie.
Admittedly, it's not all comedy gold, and there are more than a couple of cringe-worthy moments in Manborg's one hour running time, but this is still a very lovable piece of homespun movie-making. You also get a wonderful bonus – Biocop, an hilarious mock-trailer about a grotesque, indestructible fountain of goo who is obliged to patrol the mean streets while really wanting nothing more than an end to his misery. “Have you got a death wish or something?” wonders his partner after Biocop tries sucking on a gun barrel. “Yes!!!” Biocop slobbers. Gut-bustingly funny.