Pulp Fiction lit a fuse that blew up sometime around Grindhouse. Bouncing from the ma-cheese-mo of the 80’s flavoured Expendables, to the pure red 70’s marinated Hobo with a Shotgun and Super 8 somewhere in between, we’re getting riffs, recreations, reflections and deconstructions of film era underbellies, slowly creeping up to the present day. Now, with Manborg, we’re right up somewhere ‘round 1998, presented with what is meant to recreate that VHS tape you found misplaced in the corner concert film section of a pawn shop. In a world being rapidly flooded with these rehashed nostalgia bombs, Manborg is challenged to represent a new era/aesthetic of re-re-re-rehash, and to be more entertaining than many of the other films in the running.
Thankfully for Manborg, it is half man, half cyborg, all Manborg.
In the future, mankind is has been desolated by an army of nazi-robot-vampires. One soldier watched his brother die at the hands of Draculon, master of this evil armada. This soldier, killed to the point of death, eventually wakes up in the crazy-techno future, discovering that his body is now… look, listen, okay people, this film is called Manborg. I don’t really know why I’m explaining this plot to you. I didn’t see it for the plot. You aren’t going to see it for the plot. Me describing the plot isn’t going to change whether or not you will ever see the film. It’s a non-factor.
So here are the factor-factors that I’ll let rain.
First off, the word “shenanigrams” is used twice in the film. Specifically, it is used by “Justice”, a jean-vested, war-painted gunslinger with an incredibly fake Aussie accent and an inability not to crap-boogie dance while killing things. He lives within an entirely green-screened world where all the humans look like unlockable Mortal Kombat skins and all the monsters look like Napalm Death t-shirts. Steven Kostanski, make-up and effects artist on most Astron 6 films and director of Manborg, said his main inspiration were those corny FMV cutscenes found in old 3DO, PS1 and PC games. While Steel Harbinger may have been what he was going for, I would say the end product is more in-tune with those feature films GWAR released for their fans. Trashier than gross, cornier than grotesque, but revelling in garbage like so many smiling synchronized swimmers in a glamorous Hollywood soundstage pool.
Laser noises are relentless, and individual characters seem to carry their own ridiculous aura of tropes, like Mina’s Ninja Scroll-like action gestures or #1 Man, a Liu Kang-looking fighter overdubbed by Dragon Ball Z narrator Kyle Hebert, and The Baron, who is a Cenobite looking fellow who’s more preoccupied with a secret crush than speaking without syntax like the rest of the cast. Manborg does not give up, and its schlock is of a flavour that has yet to be exploited in the bulk (but oh, I bet it will be soon.)
All that said, Manborg isn’t a perfect recreation of the poopy pastiche. It’s more like a mixtape, highlighting elements of crap like sleazy synth, muddy action and crude TOOL-esque claymation, instead of just becoming it. It’s too tongue-in-cheek, too self-aware and even dare I say it, too smart, but unlike so many other films in this recent post-post-modern subgenre, not simple self-gratification. The only time the veil of crud really obscures enjoyment is when some lines become inaudible over the warped fuzz, which may be a joke within itself, but is one of the rare flat ones if the case.
In 2008, Kostanski directed the short Lazer Ghost 2: Return to Lazer Coast, which, with the exception of going without green screen, is exactly what should be expected from the more-than-trailer film, Manborg. If you felt Lazer Ghost made its ten minutes worthwhile, then there’s good reason to suit up in some used hockey gear and strap it down with duct tape, because Manborg is only six times longer.