Director Spotlight: The New School of Horror Schlock: Astron-6

Now that upcoming film The Void is making the rounds on social media, I thought it would be perfect to highlight the filmography of Astron-6. Two of the five members of the group, Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski directed The Void.

Manborg (2011) Sometimes you just want to kick back with your friends, make some popcorn and laugh your ass off at a silly, fun flick. If a cyborg man fighting hordes of vampire Nazis in a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk future sounds like a good idea to you—we should be best friends. Now don’t get me wrong, Manborg isn’t gonna win any Oscars. However, it is aware of this fact and revels in being as awesomely terrible as possible—tongue planted firmly in cheek. It’s a bit of an homage to another campy masterpiece called Eliminators (1986) that has a human robot hybrid in it (and also a ninja, but that’s neither here nor there).

The plot sounds like it was ripped out of the notebook of a twelve-year-old boy: demon vampire Nazis from Hell overthrow the Earth and a reincarnated cyber-soldier known as Manborg is the only person/borg who can stop them. The main villain’s name is Count Draculon (how kick-ass is that?!). This isn’t Shakespeare but it fits the theme perfectly and with a sixty minute runtime, it never drags. The most impressive part of this film is the look they chose for it.  It looks exactly like a FMV from an old Sega CD game, video compression and all, and somehow this looks amazing.  It bears more than a passing resemblance to the original Mortal Kombat game, with the heavily digitized characters and muted color pallet.  All the special effects and costumes look homemade but in an ingenious way, I was very impressed, especially upon discovering it was made for about one thousand dollars in a garage.  The music sounds like it was ripped directly from a Sega Genesis game and it complements the action perfectly.  If that’s not cool enough, there is stop-motion claymation too. Sweet. The dialogue is hilarious and well-written--I was taken by surprise by how witty it was.

I really like watching good low-budget films because it forces the makers to be more creative with their ideas and the implementation. We should support film makers like these if we want to see more of this type of thing produced. There definitely needs to be more Manborg in our lives.

The Editor (2014) Astron-6 (there are only five guys in it though, go figure) have become one of my favorite creators of horror films in the past few years. They work with miniscule budgets to produce some of the most creative and hilarious indie shlock films to grace the screen. Continuing the tradition that Troma started in the ‘80s of shocking and gross comedy/horror, Astron-6 is one of the last bastions of exploitation cinema in an increasingly bland genre. Their earlier work was geared more towards ‘80s homage with Father’s Day (2011) and Manborg (2011) representing different styles in that era of horror. With their newest creation, The Editor, they are tackling an incredibly specific style of horror: 1970s Italian “giallo” slasher/supernatural films.

We follow the plight of a once renowned film editor named Ray Ciso (Adam Brooks) who after an unfortunate accident is maimed. He is now only able to edit low-budget trash flicks as a result, but things start taking a deadly turn on his newest film project. Now, one of the main tropes of Italian horror is style over substance. Most of the time the plots don’t make any goddamn sense, but everything looks so sophisticated that the audience doesn’t care. The Editor pays homage to this by having a ridiculous and nonsensical storyline (that is played for laughs) though it does have some character development and twists and turns. It has echoes of the surrealism in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981) but with the macabre murder mystery style of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977).

The look of the film is perfect at emulating that bright and oversaturated color palette of ‘70s Italian cinema. There are lots of primary colors used in each scene (especially blues and reds) and the lighting is excellent with great use of lines and shadows. The gore work is brilliant with loads of practical effects used for each kill. Giallo films are known for having “beautiful death” which means that though each kill is indeed grisly, it still maintains its art and splendor. The Editor doesn’t take this concept seriously, but in the end some parts of it are still gorgeous. I watched this with someone who was not familiar with the films that were an inspiration to this one, and I did notice that most of the references went over his head, which I think impeded his enjoyment of the film. That can be a problem with making a film homage, the viewer needs to have working knowledge of the genre as a whole. In this regard, The Editor doesn’t really work as a completely stand-alone film.

One of the most hilarious aspects of this film is the sound design. Everyone that talks has been dubbed over (with their own voices) and the lips and the sounds don’t quite match up. It’s exactly like watching an old Italian VHS copy of the film and had me laughing all the way through. The musical score is amazing as well with cheesy orchestral string synth work a la Fabio Frizzi or Riz Ortolani. Like everything else in this film, it perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of the time period. Being a fan girl of giallo films myself, I was digging this movie hardcore, but I could see how someone who wasn’t “in on the joke” could find it to be exasperating to watch. So, if you like this kind of stuff then I highly recommend it, but if this is your first foray into Italian horror then I would try to watch some of the classic films in the genre first.

Father’s Day (2011) Exploitation, cult and B-movie fans often have to go into hiding. I don’t know how many times my taste in movies has been questioned because I like to watch what has been deemed as crap by movie connoisseurs.  You can divide bad movies into two groups: movies that are terrible and movies that know they are terrible and are in on the joke. It’s like there is a whole lot of invisible nudging and winking going on with the audience—we know they are taking the piss and we love them for it. These types of movies are rare but when it works, it’s magical. Father’s Day is a perfect example of how “good” a bad movie can be.

From the first frame, you know you are in for a crazy good time, with lots of blood and guts galore.  This movie probably has some of the most gratuitous, shocking, over the top gore I have ever seen.  When there aren’t severed limbs flying about, there are boobs, and when there aren’t boobs…well, there are intestines. It’s pretty awesome. The story doesn’t make a lick of sense, but the writing is really funny and it doesn’t drag at any point.  It has a really kick-ass 80s style electronic soundtrack wrapped around all the depravity making everything seem that much cooler. It’s not politically correct at all--be prepared to be offended, especially if you don’t watch these types of films often. You might want to have a beverage or two, if you catch my drift.

Fans of Troma films that are nostalgic for a bygone era will find that these guys scratch that itch quite nicely.

--Michelle Kisner