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Do you remember how low-budget movies from the 80s never really lived up to their VHS covers? Except for maybe “The Eliminators,” of course. I was often duped into renting a flick simply because the box art was so enticing. Sometimes I still dream about a magical video store where all of the movies are as terrifying as their hand-drawn artwork. Be sure to have a quick laugh before you slowly realize that I’m not kidding.
Director Steven Kostanski’s 2011 action farce “Manborg” looks like VHS art come to life. Granted, the special effects are wonky and everything appears to have been shot in front of a green screen, but the filmmakers still managed to make it happen. And while the film is certainly entertaining in its own weird way, it doesn’t come close to matching the team’s previous effort “Father’s Day.” Then again, that would be a hard film for anyone to top.
“Manborg” tells the story of a soldier who is killed while battling the demonic forces that were accidentally unleashed from the depths of Hell. Unfortunately for all of mankind, the humans ultimately lose the war. The end result is a dystopian future ruled by a legion of grotesque monsters that are hellbent on squashing what’s left of their adversaries. Of course, none of them anticipate the arrival of Manborg, a half-man, half-cyborg killing machine who is having some difficulty coming to terms with what’s left of his human life. Our hero soon overcomes this understandable learning curve with some help from his friends.
The hero soon finds himself competing in organized fights against the minions of Hell in an effort to take down their leader, the villainous Draculon. Our hero quickly takes up with a group of freedom fighters who appear to have been lifted straight out of a Japanese fighting game. The end result is certainly entertaining, though it honestly feels a little overlong at only 60 minutes. However, watching Manborg grow from a goofy cybornetic creation into a demon-slaying killing machine is a hell of a lot of fun. I only wish he had been taken more seriously.
My biggest complaint about “Manborg” has nothing to do with its presentation. In fact, I kind of dug the picture’s no-budget asthetic and its stop-motion monsters. Unfortunately, the film is littered with lame jokes that makes everything feel too tongue-in-cheek and overly self-referential. As such, the movie is probably 15 minutes too long. The flick would have been much stronger had Kostanski and co-writer Jeremy Gillespie removed some of the uneven humor. I get that the movie is supposed to be goofy, but this could have been achieved without lame throwaway jokes about a demon falling for a beautiful fighter. These moments often feel forced and tacked-on, and it kind of derails the overall experience in the process.
Negative comments aside, there is a lot to like about “Manborg.” If you’re a fan of Astron 6’s work, then you should have no trouble digesting what Steven Kostanski and company have created. For those of us who long for the days of hand-drawn VHS artwork, it’s a dream come true. Unfortunately, the filmmakers attempt too many silly things with the story. Had they taken the material more seriously, “Manborg” could have been a much stronger effort. It’s definitely worth a watch, but I doubt you’ll want to revisit it anytime soon. Unless, of course, you just love Astron 6. Even as a fan of the cast and crew, I’d rather just watch “Father’s Day” again.
Steven Kostanski (director) / Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski (screenplay)
CAST: Matthew Kennedy … Manborg
Adam Brooks … Doctor Scorpius / Draculon
Meredith Sweeney … Mina
Conor Sweeney … Justice
Ludwig Lee … #1 Man
Jeremy Gillespie … The Baron
Andrea Karr … Shadow Mega