I don't think people appreciate how much artistry goes into deliberately making a movie that is so bad it's good. Sure, you can make a shitty movie that is accidentally awesome. But Canadian indie Manborg, out now on VOD, is the rare scifi satire that intentionally morphs cheesiness into greatness.
Styled like a cross between a 1980s movie and a 1990s videogame, Manborg is the stirring tale of the only cyborg on Earth who can challenge the techno-armies of Count Draculon. The terrifying Draculon has taken over Winnipeg, or maybe the world, using robot armies of the undead who look sort of like what would happen to the Hellraiser demons in a Venture Bros. episode. Like the recent Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Manborg is clearly an homage to crazy 80s movies like Cyborg and Robot Jox, cheese masterpieces full of moussed hair and spandex. Because the future looks like an aerobics class! With lasers and monsters!
Manborg — who makes sure to say "I am Manborg!" several times, in case you are stoned — is the remnant of a human soldier who once stood up to Draculon. His body was rescued somehow, and anti-Drac rebels of the future have rebooted him Robocop-style with super cool implants that make him ultra-strong. Plus he even has a cyber-goatee on his chin for reasons that are never entirely clear.
The rebels are led by Tough Australian, Knife Chick, and Kung Fu Guy (whose voice is dubbed just to give you that authentic bad movie feeling). Among the rebels, there's a lot of "We're doing this for family!" and "Manborg will save us!" It's the kind of movie that has nothing to prove, other than its insane love for other incredibly ridiculous action movies. The fight scenes, complete with Xanadu-esque laser colors and stop-motion, are exquisitely silly. There's a great Manborg vs. everybody scene, where he has to battle against an increasingly bizarre series of guys and robots in Draculon's version of Thunderdome.
And then there is Draculon himself, who is basically the mashup you never knew you wanted of Satan and Skynet. His nerdy henchman has a crush on the imprisoned Knife Chick, so we get a lot of awkward conversations between an eyeless skull face and the defiant rebel. My point is that this is the kind of comedy that actually has comic relief.
But I meant what I said earlier, about real artistry going into Manborg. Director/FX supervisor Steven Kostanski's effects are loving, terrific recreations of 80s-era effects, and the plot is so bizarre that it's entertaining even if you've never seen a single scifi movie made before The Matrix. The truly important nugget at the core of this movie, though, is tone. Many have tried and failed to make movies that imitate the so-bad-it's-good feeling of a Donald G. Jackson movie. Manborg's success in this regard has a lot to do with actor Matthew Kennedy, who plays the super cyborg with a kind of dorky pathos that's ripped straight out of a more innocent time in our pop culture history. The scenes where he trades extremely lame barbs with Draculon are just priceless.