As I believe I may have mentioned before, I’m of an age that meant I was too young to actually attend any grindhouses in their 70s heyday, though I’m old enough to remember them. When I did come of age in the 80s, the VHS and Beta war was in full swing, video rental stores were sprouting like mushrooms, and the hunger for product on the shelves, any product, was insatiable. Those were the days when people actually rented VCRs, and Mom-and-Pop stores proudly offered the likes of Microwave Massacre, Screamers and The Beast Within for rental. This was the era of distributors like Key Video, Magnum, and many, many more, all with processed cheese computer graphic logos.
And this is where the joys begin on Astron-6: Year One. This is a DVD compilation of short works by a group of young Winnipeg filmmakers. Each piece opens with the Astron-6 logo, which, from its deliberate grain and scratches to its single-chord synth theme, is a dead-on recreation of those delightfully scuzzy formative years of home video. Beyond that logo lies a wealth of demented entertainment.
A few examples: “Siam I Am” is the tale of conjoined twins, one of whom takes out a contract on the life of the other. The story is played straight, as if this were the most sensible premise in the world, and we were watching a stark, wrenching drama.
“Goreblade.” There are three shorts here, each whose opening credits promises bargain-basement sword & sorcery mayhem along the lines of Ator, The Fighting Eagle or Albert Pyun’s The Sword and the Sorcerer. Instead, we have hero Goreblade engaging in banal conversations or annoying a cyclops with trivial e-mail and phone calls. The result is certainly as funny, and considerably more entertaining, than the originals. And we still get a giant flying eyeball at one point.
And speaking of Pyun, he is paid backhanded tribute again with “Lazer Ghosts 2: Return to Laser Cove.” Yes, the two different spellings are deliberate, and no, there is no “Lazer Ghosts 1.” This short takes the form of an extended trailer, purporting to be from 1991, that revels in the slapdash production values and industrial settings of the likes of the Nemesis franchise (I use the word “franchise” loosely). The thing is, in and amongst the laughs, the special effects are quite superb, especially given the essentially non-existent budgets we’re talking about here.
This is especially true of “Insanophenia,” wherein unfortunate exterminators (sporting deliberately off dubbing and dealing with a drill-sergeant of a supervisor who is as gung-ho as he is … affectionate) encounter more than they bargained for in basement tunnels. The monsters have the glorious jerkiness of old-school stop-motion animation, and interact seamlessly with the actors.
I could go on, but the point is that you should head over promptly to www.astron-6.com. Many of the films on the DVD can be seen there and on YouTube, but the disc is well worth picking up in its own right. What we have here is a triumph of imagination over budget, not to mention creative freedom over good taste (and I mean that as a compliment). Where these filmmakers go from here I wouldn’t hazard to guess, but that they are going somewhere is, I think, beyond question.