If Halloween is about dressing up in strange costumes and creating questionable, gory entertainment, the zero-budget movie Manborg may be your best haunting season choice for 2012.
After all, dressing up and acting out is what the local film collective Astron-6 is all about. The five multi-hyphenates of Astron -- Steve Kostanski, Adam Brooks, Conor Sweeney, Jeremy Gillespie and Matt Kennedy -- already unveiled one feature film this year, the delirious psycho-exploitation pastiche Father's Day, which played at Cinematheque in March and was released on DVD by the horror-comedy genre specialists Troma a few months later.
Don't assume Astron whipped up Manborg in the interim. Sure, it's another retro-flavoured genre-movie parody. But if it was inspired by the cheap knock-off cinema of the '80s, the film itself represents three years of labour for Kostanski, the 26-year-old Astron vet who directed it.
"I started writing and building stuff for the movie early 2009," says the former Fort Richmond Collegiate student.
"We shot for about a year in my parents' garage and the basement of Superblinds on Pembina. Then it was two years of post-production.
"Father's Day started in 2010, so there was lots of overlap," he says. "Thankfully, by that point, all the work on Manborg was just me sitting at my computer, so I was the only one burdened with it. The movie was almost entirely shot on green screen, so the post-production process was a time-consuming nightmare," says Kostanski, who built and filmed all the movie's miniature sets himself.
As with Father's Day, the resulting film is hilariously reminiscent of genre films in the heyday of the VHS video store, of which Kostanski, like all his fellow members of Astron-6, was a chronic habitué.
"When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at Video Plus which had pretty extensive action, horror and sci-fi sections," he says. "I would rent anything with a cool cover like The Eliminators, Robot Jox, The Guyver, I Come in Peace, Nemesis, Cyborg, etc."
"It was while watching The Eliminators with fellow Astron member Jeremy (Gillespie) that I decided it was time to make my own cheap, schlocky sci-fi action epic."
The Eliminators was a 1986 film featuring a group of heroes (including a cybernetic "mandroid," a ninja, and the obligatory beautiful blond woman) banding together to fight an evil scientist. It's as cheesy as a double cheese pizza, and just as delicious, as least to Astron's sensibilities.
"The appeal of these low budget knock-off type films (was) they were always littered with crazy cool ideas to try and make up for the lack of money," Kostanski says. "They'd always figure out ways to be inventive with what they had, and that's a logic that I think Astron-6 can sympathize with."
Bizarrely, the Manitoba Film Classification Board rated Manborg 18A for "brutal violence, gory scenes" although the film's violence is cartoony and benign, especially compared to the sex, violence, and sexual violence of Father's Day.
"I'm definitely the PG guy of the group, which I guess is ironic because I love making gore and disgusting effects," Kostanski says. "I think my tastes have more of a basis in fantasy, even when it comes to violence, and I'm not really interested in offending anyone or pushing any sort of taboos."
"I feel like whatever charm that kind of exploitation filmmaking may have had in the past has long since dissipated. Father's Day is the exception of course, because it's awesome. But I'd rather go the Harryhausen route of coming up with crazy creatures, and worlds for them to populate," says Kostanski, referencing Ray Harryhausen, the godfather of stop-motion model animation.
Kostanski's immediate plans in the filmmaking realm are tied to his current career in creating visual effects in his new home base in Toronto. Kostanski took an advanced makeup effects correspondence course with Oscar-winning effects artist Dick Smith (The Exorcist) and is now "immersed" in F/X work in Toronto.
"So I haven't had lots of free time to work on personal projects," he says. "It's definitely not like the good old days when we all lived in Winnipeg and had nothing better to do than make movies all the time."
Steve Kostanski will introduce screenings of Manborg Friday and Saturday night at Cinematheque.