My week had been a relatively quiet one. Gort had been unusually illusive, giving me an inordinate amount of time on my hands. Enjoying the peace, I decided to dig into the DVDs that had been piling up from our Galactic Alliance intelligence briefings. I slid the top disc into the Mothership's DVD player and settled back with a bowl of popcorn...
"It ain't right, you know," Gort's metallic voice interrupted from somewhere over my left shoulder.
Once I had pried my fingernails from the ceiling, I asked what he meant.
"The film you're watching," he gestured to the DVD case, " 'Manborg'. Humans and robots breeding, it's just not natural.
"...You're dating a human..." I muttered from under a raised eyebrow.
"Helen doesn't count," he answered, "she has the cold, metallic heart of a robot death machine."
"That's almost romantic," I hesitantly suggested.
"Shut up and pass the popcorn," Gort answered.
Ah, the 80s: terrible hair, worse clothes, modern sensibilities, but not a jot of political correctness and then, suddenly, a direct line from any film-maker to their audience with the advent of home video. Nowadays, we can show up to a cinema for the latest Hollywood release and expect anything we watch to have high production values, make perfectly rational sense plot wise and star people who at least know what an acting coach is. So why do we all dream of the days when we could return from the video store clutching a scratched casette with a faded label and have at least a chance of ending up seeing something filmed in some guy's basement?
The reason is the same one that fuels Gort and my mission: in among the unfiltered stream of garbage that flows when quality control is relaxed, we find the greatest little nuggets of both genius and fun that would have surely been thrown out with the bath water if creativity had been stifled by ideas like good taste, cinematography and method acting. No garbage, no glory.
Steven Kozanski agrees. Like you, he remembers the good old days of bringing fresh rubbish home from the video store every weekend; like you, he loves the terrible, low budget, badly written, atrociously directed, woefully acted movies you rented twenty years ago; and he's doing something about it. Kozanski founded Astron-6, a production company dedicated to making cheap, cheerful movies that pay homage to the joys of straight-to-video entertainment. His second offering, following on from Father's Day, is the beautiful film, Manborg.
Humanity has accidentally opened a portal to hell, and blood-drinking Nazi demons have invaded and conquered Earth using their evil android warbots. A mystery benefactor retrieves a human soldier's corpse, he has the technology to rebuild him and so creates the ultimate weapon. Teaming up with a group of survivors forced into gladiatorial combat, the man now known as Manborg fights to save humanity. Something similar happened on the planet Gorgan Zola 8, but we don't like to talk about it.
In truth, our synopsis makes the film sound significantly more linear and well constructed than it is. Like all the best B-movies, the plot is merely a framework on which to hang a string of ridiculous setpieces and silly jokes. The demonic commandant of the gladiator arena has a crush on the film's, rather lovely, heroine and the eyeless, shark-teethed, mutant bumbles and stutters his way past her prison cell. Manborg has no control over his built-in machine gun and ends up Three Stooges-ing around on the floor trying not to hit his comrades. He redeems himself by facing down a 20-foot tall, skull-headed android death machine, brought to life in glorious claymation by the contents of a child's Play-doh set. Best of all, there's a delightful repeated motif of characters smiling and throwing a thumbs up to the camera.
Where Manborg's $1,000 budget (seriously) succeeds and Tarantino/Rodriguez' Grindhouse Hollywood budget, for example, fails is Manborg looks so much like a grainy, thrown together 80s B-movie that you could easily be convinced it was a lost classic, complete with hand-drawn computer interfaces and Manborg running new software through a cassette deck in his chest. That is, of course, until Kozanski gets bored and starts throwing in anime attack freeze frames; a chop-socky, dubbed-over martial artist who looks like Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat; and a guy shrunken down to half size with perspective for no reason at all, as he has no dialogue. We can only be thankful that modern technology allows film geeks to green screen scifi sets in behind their drama school friends in their mother's basements.
Best of all, Manborg sticks a finger up at modern cinema convention by coming in at a 60-minute run time, so the joke never wears thin. Don't worry though, value for money is added by an extended, fake post-credits trailer that will actually have you in hysterics. Thankfully, they do make them like this any more.
Manborg is released in the UK on 4th February