The don't make cheesy movies like they used to, in part because it's actually quite difficult to fake the sincere awfulness of your average MST3K-worthy gem. Those films are cinematic artifacts of their time and, by and large, their makers didn't intend for things to turn out so rough. Too many cheesy movies today are either too much a product of the now or, even worse, they're made with an awful wink.
So I had low expectations going into 2012's "Manborg." The film sets itself up as a celebration of bad 80s/90s VHS sci-fi, which is of course exactly the sort of nostalgia trip I go for. But would they be able to pull off the look and feel of films like "The Eliminators," "Mutant Hunt" and "Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone?" Would it be too self-aware, inducing cringes with every wink and one-liner?
On the first count, it's hard to say "Manborg" really looks like any of the films it celebrates -- not exactly. It has a wondrous visual vibe, balancing cheap cheese and obvious passion in a way that reminds one of outsider folk art. The filmmakers make great use of green screens, crude stop-motion monsters and practical effects. It's wonderful to watch, but unlike 2011's "Hobo with a Shotgun," it never quite looks like it came from the same shelf as its inspirations.
But the spirit is there, combining cyborgs, demons, cenobites, martial arts, bikers and futuristic cities in a way that really conjures the sort of narratives a 13-year-old me dreamed up during visits to the video store.
And the humor? I am pleased to say the film had me chuckling in places. It kicks off with a fairly serious (though still cheesy) tone, but the laughs work their way in as the film progresses. Oh, you'll cringe at some of it, but I was really surprised at how well-crafted and subdued some of the moments really were.
"Manborg" is absurd, low-budget and barely an hour long. But it's action-packed with passion and a self-aware humor that actually works. If you're like me and your idea of a good time is an old episode of MST or a Charles Band film on Netflix, then this one's well worth your time.
Robert Lamb is a senior writer and podcaster at HowStuffWorks, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind with Julie Douglas. He has a love for monsters, an aversion to slugs and a hankering for electronic music.