Those belonging to what one day may be known as the VHS generation (Betamax and V2000 never really got a look in) will hopefully remember with tremendous fondness coming home from the video shop back in those heady Be Kind Rewind days of the mid 1980s with the latest Charles Band Empire production. In the UK, these micro-budget science fiction pictures were released by the mighty Entertainment in Video company in oversized colourful boxes that probably cost more to make than the films they contained. Movies like Band’s own Trancers, and Peter Manoogian’s Eliminators kept a generation of 1980s teenagers entertained with their colourful comic-book style plots, witty dialogue (often courtesy of Empire in-house screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo) and the use of a whole cadre of unemployed character actors and stars-in-the-making like Tim Thomerson, Andrew Prine, Helen Hunt, Denise Crosby, Roy Dotrice and Jennifer Aniston. Empire Pictures wasn’t around for long (Charles Band resurfaced with Full Moon Pictures a little later) and their greatest financial and critical success, Stuart Gordon’s Reanimator, wasn’t even made in-house. but if nothing else, in its short life Empire achieved two things, one being that all those British kids renting the movies helped make Entertainment in Video into the massively successful independent British company that eventually released Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings pictures in this country twenty years later. It also gave those of us of a certain age an unashamed love for a certain type of low-budget entertaining futuristic SF adventure picture that sadly no longer gets made.
But wait! What’s this coming over the hill on a wing and a prayer and not much else to hold its shot-on-video micro-budgeted frames together? Yes, it’s Manborg. Producer-Director-Co-writer Steve Kostanski was obviously one of those 80s kids, and his love for Empire Pictures is evident throughout the sadly brief running time of this hugely enjoyable, frequently hilarious hymn to Charles Band’s often tatty SF endeavours. It’s probably best not to go into the plot too much as hopefully the above will have already sold you on this or made you turn and run back to the comfort of your Twilight box sets while the rest of us get little chills at the prospect of an apocalyptic future where Nazi-type creatures under the control of the evil Count Draculon rise from the ‘bowels of hell’ to take over the planet. Matthew Kennedy is Manborg, a soldier ‘blasted into oblivion’ only to be rebuilt as the android of the title. He quickly (this is only a seventy minute film after all) recruits a ragbag of misfits to aid him in the fight against evil, including Billy Idol lookalike Conor Sweeney and Ludwig Lee as Number One man, a martial arts expert so hilariously redubbed by Kyle Herbert that every line of dialogue becomes comedy gold. Will Manborg defeat Draculon? Will he discover his origins? Will there be a sequel to this? The future may well be in your hands. Certainly if you get a blast out of this this, make sure you hang around after the credits for the trailer for BioCop (a one man bioweapon ready to lay down the law), which, if anything, is as much a tribute to 1980s video trailers as Manborg itself is a tribute to 1980s video features. If you still haven’t had enough, then keep watching and eventually the copyright notices will appear, which are a little bit of entertainment all to themselves. Only a certain kind of movie fan will love Manborg, but let’s hope there are enough out there to ensure Mr Kostanski and his friends are encouraged to do another one of these.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
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