Director - Astron-6
Cast - Astron-6
Country of Origin - Canada
Discs - 1
MSRP - $14.85
Distributor - Troma
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
The Film: 4/5
When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed up in 2007 for their exploitation extravaganza Grindhouse the results were decidedly mixed: although the double feature homage overflowing with hot babes, cool cars, and glorious gore made a lot of the viewers who didn’t leave the theater after the first feature confused very happy and impressed most of the nation’s critics it failed to earn barely half of its massive budget. The filmmakers were hoping the project would be a success so they could churn out future installments and lead to a resurged interest in the classic exploitation movies of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s that laid the groundwork for Grindhouse. In a way their bold cinematic experiment paid off: up-and-coming filmmakers began looking to the grimy, bloody, and sexy B-movies they grew up watching far from the prying eyes of their prudish parental units as inspiration for their own movies. In the years that followed video stores and the Internet were flooded with tons of low-budget genre films created to resemble the seedy flicks that once spooled through the stained, smoking film projectors of our nation’s scummiest theaters, right down to faking the print damage. These movies were not always successful: for every Hobo with a Shotgun that was everything a great exploitation flick should be, there were many more that failed miserably because they were little more than cynical, quick buck product churned out and sold off to low-rent distributors - which is ironically what most vintage grindhouse movies usually turned out to be.
Then there’s Astron-6, a collective of multi-media artists - Matthew Kennedy, Adam Brooks, Conor Sweeney, Jeremy Gillespie, and Steven Kostanski - who hail from Winnipeg and have been making short film homages to their favorite movies of the 70’s and 80’s for years. Their work got the attention of Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma Entertainment, who agreed to distribute their early shorts on this double-disc DVD set as well as help to finance their full-length feature debut Father’s Day, a sick and spectacular movie in the vein of bloody 1970’s revenge epics like Rolling Thunder and Thriller: A Cruel Picture. With Father’s Day hitting DVD and Blu-ray this month let’s take a look back at the extensive early films of Astron-6.
On Disc 1 you’ll find seven shorts: Cool Guys (29 minutes); H.I.Z. (Erection Der Zombi) (26 minutes); Punch Out (28 minutes); You’re Dead (6 minutes); Insanophenia (10 minutes); Sebastian & Alan (9 minutes); and Heart of Karl (19 minutes). In addition to that we get a music video for “Haunted” by the Canadian horror-hop artist Darkhouse directed by one of the Astron gents (3 minutes), a phony infomercial for “Krissmiss” (4 minutes), and an exclusive trailer for the forthcoming Father’s Day.
Disc 2 presents us with six short subjects: Lazer Ghosts 2 (9 minutes); Siam I Am (12 minutes); Inferno of the Dead (9 minutes); Ena Lake Blues (11 minutes); Nobodies (27 minutes); and Ghost Killers (10 minutes). We’re also treated to a fake grindhouse-style trailer for the non-existent revenge/slasher flick Fireman (2 minutes), a black & white cartoon called “Fat Adam” (2 minutes), and a collection of four shorts featuring Goreblade, a sword-swingin’ superhero styled after the badasses loosed from the imagination of Robert E. Howard who finds himself trapped in contemporary times (9 minutes).
I must confess that prior to receiving this DVD collection in the mail for review I had never heard of Astron-6. In fact when I saw that the title of the disc up for review I assumed it was another micro-budget indie science-fiction flick that wasn’t able to get even the most meager of distribution deals. Color me surprised when I popped in the first disc, launched the opening short - Cool Guys, a spoof of lunk-headed T&A comedies from the 80’s that takes some disturbing twists midway through - and found myself laughing harder than I had in a long time. Being born in 1979 I was obviously a child of the Reagan decade and was no stranger to the movies Astron-6 heartily lampoons on this set. I have fond memories of spending untold days and nights devouring every movie we could watch on HBO and Cinemax and scouring the shelves of our local video rental stores for the coolest-looking flicks we could find that our parents would let us see, with reservations. An adventure awaited me within every cardboard video box. Some were more memorable than others, much like the shorts in this collection, but most of them impacted me greatly well into my adulthood.
Running a few minutes shy of three-and-a-half hours, Astron-6 features short films parodying to just about every subgenre of cinema that was existed on the fringes of mainstream decades ago. We get high-spirited send-ups of titty comedies, coming of age movies, zombie and slasher horror flicks, revenge tales, and even a few nods to current popular genre trends like the found footage craze glutting up multiplexes on a monthly basis. The Astron guys clearly know their stuff here and they go out of their way to make each of these films look exactly like their timeworn inspirations, right down to the period-appropriate details including fashions, out of sync dialogue, and cheesy synthesizer music scores. They even designed an “Astron-6 Video” logo that plays nearly every short in this set and reminded me of every awesome video company logo from the heyday of VHS from Vestron Video to Media Home Entertainment. All the more ironic is that Astron-6 chose to pay their tributes to the kind of movies most people could only see thanks to the advent of affordable video cassette recorders during the 1980’s, whereas most young filmmakers prefer to deal in cheapie throwbacks to the movies that played drive-ins and grindhouses - alternative moviegoing venues that were forever snuffed from existence thanks to home video.
As mentioned before the quality of each short varies: some play great and are built upon solid concepts, while others play out like mediocre Saturday Night Live sketches that you pray will end fast. Fortunately the overall quality is fantastic and even the worst of the shorts carry some entertainment value. The acting from the Astron gang ranges from amateurish to serviceable but the love and enthusiasm these guys have for their movies and the movies they’re parodying is infectious enough to make you forgive their shortcomings as performers. Each short film makes you feel like you could be hanging with your hardcore movie geek buddies (if you have any - I know I sure as hell do). The films rarely suffer from poor pacing and the occasional gore effects are well executed with nary a trace of CGI; we’re talking practical effects here folks and they are amazing. You might be thrown off by Astron-6’s off-kilter sense of humor permeating throughout each short but that is what really makes this collection a keeper. Clearly these guys aren’t taking the content of their movies seriously, only the work that goes into their making. That’s a level of intelligence and professionalism many of Astron-6’s filmmaking peers can only dream of reaching.
Each short film and all of the extra video features are presented in a 1.33: 1 full frame transfer with English mono audio tracks. Given the homemade nature of these shorts the full screen aspect ratio serves them well and the soundtrack is fine with ample room for both the dialogue and music without one overpowering the other. No subtitles are provided.
Troma is usually more than generous when it comes to supplying their releases with lots of supplemental features but for Astron-6 they’ve given us the proverbial mother lode. You would need a few days to get into it all.
Starting things off we have Uncle Lloyd showing up for his customary Troma DVD introduction, this one running under two minutes. He rambles, keeps forgetting Astron-6’s name, mentions that gay marriage is now legal in Winnipeg, and then it’s all over. Want to go Lloyd, as always.
Almost every short film gets a extra feature or two. All in all we get ten audio commentaries from the Astron boys, six behind-the-scenes photo galleries, behind-the-scenes videos for “Fireman” and “Lazer Ghosts 2”, additional found footage for “Ghost Killers”, hidden footage for “Goreblade”, a bonus Spanish audio track for “Fireman”, and a few other extras of minor importance here and there.
Disc two also has an entire separate menu for bonuses not directly related to any of the short features on this set. Father’s Day gets pimped a little more with a photo gallery and a promotional video starring a hot naked woman directing us to Astron’s 6 website (www.astron-6.com) in an eerie and distorted voice. Another Astron feature Manborg is spotlighted with a 40-second teaser trailer and a gallery of posters featuring characters from the movie. A pair of early short films from the Astron-6 team before they came together are presented here: “Karl” (7 minutes), a weird, art-horror piece with stop-motion animated; and the Adam Brooks-directed “Addiction Is Murder” (21 minutes).
Disorienting testimonials from the likes of Uwe Boll (1 minute) and Astron’s fellow Winnipeg indie filmmaker Guy Maddin (2 minutes) and some easy-to-locate Easter eggs hidden in the disc’s sub-menus close out this extensive selection of bonuses.
Watching Troma’s Astron-6 collection is like taking an extended tour through the video store that only exists in the twisted imaginations of the creators of these short films. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, you’ll stare awestruck, you may even get pissed off and demand a refund. That’s the power of great cinematic art, a power than even high-quality trash can wield in the right hands. Astron-6 have crafted affectionate tributes to the crazy movies that defined their childhoods with a touch of the deranged humor you would expect from alternative comedy troupes like the Upright Citizens Brigade. This set is another winner from Troma that marks these guys as genuine talents to watch. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us with Father’s Day.