Sometimes things that seem great in theory are actually, in practice, a bit tiresome. A movie in which Count Draculon and his Nazi zombie horde attempt to take over the world, with only Manborg and his ragtag group of 80’s VHS misfits to stop them, sounds great. And it is great, at first. For about ten minutes. It’s at this point you realise that this is a thing that actually exists, and even though it lasts just seventy minutes, it seems like much longer. Then depression sets in.
It’s been greeted by such enthusiastic reviews and named alongside such cult luminaries as Troma and the throwback cinematic stylings of Larry Blamire that it seemed like Manborg could do no wrong. The story, with Count Draculon and his undead Nazis, is a great pitch. Who couldn’t fall in love with this Terminator meets Power Rangers (with added Nazis) concoction? Well, anyone who watches it.
It’s not terrible, and would in fact be extremely enjoyable in the right setting. It’s easy to see how it got such a great reception at the London Sci-Fi Festival, with it’s in-jokes and knowing style specifically and scientifically engineered to play to that crowd. It’s an ironic popcorn movie with a million dollar imagination, but a thousand dollar budget.
To give Manborg it’s due, the film certainly makes the best use of what it’s got. Crummy effects are hidden behind fuzzy VHS camera-work, or deliberately rubbish green screen. The make-up and creature work on the undead Nazis is extremely impressive, much better than one would expect, and the gore scenes work well both visually and as part of the story.
The story’s not really the focus though, and in a way, that’s the biggest problem Manborg faces; much bigger than the hordes of Draculon. All of the effort has been put into the look of the film, leaving the story, dialogue, and acting predictably wooden. This can be explained away as a part of the genre that Steven Kostanski is parodying, but it feels more like a crutch than a choice. This is a key difference between this film and Larry Blamire’s work, which also skirts across this line with abandon.
Manborg will appeal to cult sci-fi junkies with a hankering for the VHS nasties of the early 80’s, and not really anyone else. It plays like a weak Troma film, and the only really impressive thing about the whole production is how little it cost to make.