Whilst on this journey of collecting Hidden Gems sometimes you need a little help to point you in the direction and that exactly what I got from friend of The Snooty Ushers, Phil Grenyer. In a time of need where my potential Hidden Gem watches were waning a true hero appeared to me and offered up Manborg (Steven Kostanski, 2011).
From the get go you know exactly what your getting yourself into. Manborg opts for the purposeful cheap aesthetic and lashings of 70’s/80’s style dialogue, story telling and one liners.
Count Draculon (Adam Brooks) and his Nazi vampire forces seek to take over Earth during the Hell Wars. A soldier (Matthew Kennedy) is killed attempting to fight the Count, then transformed into Manborg and his body is fitted with robotics. After Manborg becomes active in Mega-Death City, he meets with resistance fighters against Count Draculon. Justice (Conor Sweeney) is a gunfighter who is joined by his sister Mina (Meredith Sweeney) and martial arts expert #1 Man (Ludwig Lee)….seriously.
I feel Manborg just meets Hidden Gem criteria for the sole fact that it sits in a line of similar films but turns the dial up to 11 in all areas; cheap visuals, crazy story, bad acting and cliches. In the same vain as films like Hobo With A Shotgun (2011), Kung Fury (2015) and Turbo Kid (2015) to name a few, but much further down the scale. This film is going to sit well with b-movie enthusiasts who love a low budget romp, I even think calling this film low-budget is an understatement as it cost a mere $1,000.
The film is a real labour of love for director Steven Kostanski, he relied on favours from friends, long shifts, unpaid work and a MacGyver style of genius when it came to assembling something from nothing. Taking this into account, the film retains a real charm.
With a run time of an just over an hour it’s probably worth your time and even without being clued up on what the film actually is you will get some sort of enjoyment from it, but I went in fully knowing what to expect and a wealth of knowledge on cheesy faux old school films. There are numerous moments where the viewer could think, how many bad movies can a film rip off without becoming a bad movie itself? The answer to that is quite subjective. As Manborg really lays it on thick with references coming from every part of the film.
Manborg features no known actors and that only adds to the films charm. The performances of note come from Conor Sweeney as Justice, an over the top Australian gunslinger with an odd Billy Idol type persona and Ludwig Lee as #1 Man, voiced by Kyle Hebert. This is one of the most entertaining roles of the film as it is him who brings the characters together, he has a kick-ass training montage and has some of the best lines in the film. There’s a strangely enjoyable disconnect with the character as his voice sounds completely different to how the character looks and acts.
The film can proudly sit at the higher end of the low budget film scale simply because Manborg is kept afloat by its sincere but self-aware love of 80’s cinematic schlock. It helps that a majority of the films cliches are cut with humour and the film also has a very confusing subplot of a demon/human schoolboy crush like romance in which an ugly demon is trying to get with the obligatory hot-girl and ultimately fails over and over again, which leads to him throwing insults at himself after each pick up attempt.
The film comes to an end with a brilliant display of stop motion animation as Manborg comes to face to face with Draculon and a few other of his grotesque looking demon friends in a fight to the death. It obviously has to end on a very cheesy note and a proper cringe-worthy last couple of lines but it all goes hand in hand and perhaps its leaves the door open for a sequel sometime in the future.
At the end of the day, there’s something about the whole retro b-movie look that’s slightly crazy but kind of irresistible. You can clearly see that Kostanski and crew are having fun with the genre and its difficult not to enjoy that. Manborg is available to buy now and if you can find it I implore you to check it out and get involved, as there’s a deep well of similar films you can get into.