Turbo Kid (2015)
François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
Munro Chambers (The Kid), Laurence Leboeuf (Apple), Michael Ironside (Zeus), Edwin Wright (Skeletron), Aaron Jeffery (Frederic), Romano Orzari (Bagu)
"This is the future. The world as we know it is gone. Acid rain has left the land barren and the water toxic. Scared by endless wars, humanity struggles to survive in the ruins of the old world. Frozen in an everlasting nuclear winter, this is the future. This is 1997." - opening narration
The film Grindhouse by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino was a turning point in low-budget horror cinema. The two directors created an irresistibly charming set-up: a double feature of trashy low-budget exploitation films featuring Rodriguez's Planet Terror, a throwback to Italian and Roger Corman-produced zombie films of the '70s and '80s and Tarantino's Death Proof, a slasher-like film that doubled as a love letter to various car crash films of the drive-in era, and a series of fake trailers directed by Rodriguez, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, and Eli Roth.
The film was released in 2007 to virtually no fanfare and flopped hard, yet the fact that few people went to the theaters to actually see Grindhouse (and nobody would actually be able to see the full double feature theatrical version until it was released on blu-ray years later, the two films being split up and released separately without the fake trailers and Death Proof being padded out with deleted scenes that completely kill its flow) because the very idea of the film had already captured the zeitgeist.
The name "Grindhouse", a euphemism for the low-rent theaters on New York's 42nd Street so-named because tehy were often converted from old Burlesque houses, came to represent a certain trashy low-budget throwback type of horror film. A lot of the movies that capitalized on the trend were made by people who originally submitted fake trailers to Tarantino and Rodriguez as part of a contest to be featured in the final film (the winner, Jason Eisener's Hobo With a Shotgun was featured in some theatrical screenings and does not appear on the Grindhouse Blu-ray.) But even when attaching the word "Grindhouse" to one's film became as unfashionable as making a zombie movie, many film-makers simply removed the word and continued to strive for that throwback gold with varying degrees of success.
Rodriguez doubled down on his success of Planet Terror (not the best, but unquestionably the most entertaining of the two films) with an adaptation of his fake trailer, the Danny Trejo-starring action movie Machete only to dip too far into parody and lose the magic in the sequel Machete Kills. Jason Eisener adapted his Hobo With a Shotgun trailer into a feature-length film with Rutger Hauer in the lead role. David Sandberg created the insanely over-the-top short film Kung Fury (now being adapted as a feature film starring Michael Fassbender and Arnold Schwarzenegger.) The Canadian film production company Astron 6 created the brutal rape revenge film Father's Day, the Italian horror spoof The Editor, post-apocalyptic action film Manborg, and John Carpenter throwback The Void. Eli Morgan Gesner created Condemned, a film very much in the mould of Street Trash, Slime City, and Basket Case among other New York-set exploitation films.
Among all these films that received various levels of disdain and acclaim rose Turbo Kid. The film won tons of acclaim at the South by Southwest and Sundance film festivals, the trailer became a viral video, and boasts an impressive 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is good but so are a lot of bizarre independent genre films, so what makes this one special?
Turbo Kid started life as a rejected short for one of The ABCs of Death movies called T is for Turbo. The short's three writer/directors then took the germ of an idea from the short, that of a young man finding a suit that gave him superpowers in a post-nuclear wasteland and using it to protect the innocent, and expanded it into a gloriously violent and goofy good time.
This film's detractors will state that this movie really coasts on nostalgia. I won't deny that the synth-pop music and the straight-to-VHS aesthetic activate the pleasure centers of anyone who enjoys genre pictures of that era but its not so much the familiarity of Turbo Kid's aesthetic that works as it is the wish fulfillment.
Turbo Kid is unquestionably influenced by The Road Warrior as well as other filmed-in-a-quarry pictures like Deathsport, Exterminators of the Year 3000, and The New Barbarians. There are also nods to more kid-centric movies of the era such as Solarbabies, BMX Bandits, and Roller Blade but with the cartoonish gory slapstick violence of films like Riki-oh: The Story of Ricky and Peter Jackson's Dead-Alive.
Turbo Kid is certainly a nostalgia sponge, the movie even goes so far as to set itself in a retro-apocalyptic 1997 so that it comes across as some lost 80s video store cult classic, but it gets what works about this sort of film. Turbo Kid plays its silliness straight, neither winking at nor mocking the trappings of movies of the era it's aping. It decides to be the movie you imagined when you watched the trailers for those movies rather than the movie you actually saw afterward.
The plot is a patchwork of a lot of post-apocalyptic movies. Our main character is The Kid (Munro Chambers), an optimistic and fairly innocent young man living by himself in the wasteland (represented, as in all great low-budget post-apocalyptic movies, by a rock quarry) riding his BMX bike around scavenging for junk to trade for an ever-dwindling supply of fresh water and an escape into comic books about his favorite super hero, The Turbo Rider.
Kid is befriended by a pixie-esque young woman with a distressingly sunny disposition named Apple (Laurence Leboeuf, no relation to Shia.) When Apple is kidnapped and taken into the danger zone, Kid flees and soon finds the suit of the real Turbo Rider complete with his energy-weapon gauntlet. He then travels into the zone to confront local warlord Zeus (Michael Ironside) and his sawblade-shooting henchman Skeletron (Edwin Wright) and get Apple back. They are joined by a local arm-wrestling Kiwi cowboy (Aaron Jeffery) who really seems to be in the film to fill up some excess run-time, but he's a lot of fun so I don't fault the film-makers for adding him.
Everything about the film is over-the-top and that includes the performances, though it's worth noting that even when Michael Ironside is directed to play unhinged he still doesn't approach the "eh, fuck it" lunacy of his performance in Highlander 2. Despite the fairly generic plot and over-cranked tone, the movie actually manages to land a pretty solid emotional through-line.
Through all the nonsense and gratuitous violence there's a child-like spirit of hope and friendship that runs through the movie. It's no mistake that The Kid enjoys superhero comics because the candy colored hues and childish approach to violence and the horrors of humanity are as reverent of old comic books as they are of drive-in era movies. The movie punishes The Kid for thinking he can neatly save the day without undue bloodshed but it's still clearly in his corner at the end of it all.
The stand-out of the cast is unquestionably Laurence Leboeuf's Apple. She comes off at first like a sort of manic pixie dream girl type and seems like she'll be insufferable but it turns out there's a reason for Apple's child-like demeanor and she's a lot more smart and capable than she seems. Even if you want to go into this movie hating Apple, Leboeuf's deceptively nuanced and charming performance make it impossible to not come away loving her.
I would be remiss to not mention the soundtrack here. '80s-sounding synth tracks (often described as Carpenter-esque) are becoming as played out as the descriptor "Grindhouse", but the soundtrack by composer Le Matos really works well on its own even without the nostalgia element. It's the best indie genre-picture soundtrack of its type this side of Drew Bolduc's scores for The Taint and Science Team.
I should also mention the cinematography. When it comes to indie-films the difference between looking like a movie and looking like something a bunch of people filmed on a long weekend is in how it's shot. While it's clear that there was a very limited quantity of money involved in making Turbo Kid, the movie looks professional and the crisp cinematography of Jean-Philippe Bernier (longtime collaborator with Turbo Kid's three director/writers) is to thank.
So what's the reason that Turbo Kid was such a runaway success. Some of it can certainly be owed to luck, post-apocalyptic movies were just reaching their zenith at the time and people stumbling around trying to fill that Mad Max Fury Road shaped hole in their heart certainly would have been able to find some charm in the film's spiritual second-cousin and budgetary antithesis.
But largely Turbo Kid's success can be put on the meticulous craftsmanship that went into making a movie that seems tossed off. Sure, the plot could have been a bit more nuanced or original but that may ruin the magic trick that Turbo Kid is performing. Many have tried to do what this movie does with seemingly no difficulty and that airy '80s-tinged sense of fun and joy that comes from watching this ultra-violent sophomoric nostalgia-bait is very difficult to replicate. It's not one of the drive-in classics you remember, but it is the kind of movie you wanted to see back then.
T is for Turbo (2011)
François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
François Gadbois (Turbo Kid), Yves Corbeil (Zeus), Anouk Whissell (Shandella), Francis Ouellette (Skeletron), Lauren Ashley Jiles (Shandella - voice)
As I stated above, this was a rejected submission for one of the ABCs of Death movies. I'm not sure whether it lost out to Lee Castle's gonzo stop-motion animated T is for Toilet in the first film or the Soska sisters' T is for Torture Porn in the sequel but it's a shame this wasn't incorporated in either movie as it is a very effective and well-made short film.
All the goofy charm of Turbo Kid is encapsulated here in this short run time. There are prototype versions of The Kid, Zeus, and Skeletron as well as many of the action beats and gore gags that ended up in the final movie.
Of course, everything looks a lot cheaper because it was and the movie has the typical shitty abrupt ending that is the hallmark of nearly all the ABCs of Death shorts. It still serves as a dynamite proof-of-concept of what would eventually be the feature-length movie.
Wonderfully, this short is featured on the Special Features of the Turbo Kid blu-ray/DVD and serves as a nice after-dinner mint once you've finished the movie.
No Tomorrow: A Turbo Kid Tale (2016)
François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
Laurence Leboeuf (Apple), Jean-Simon Leduc (Apple's Friend), Stephane Demers (Cult Leader), Marc-André Boulanger (Mutant Barbarian)
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS FOR TURBO KID
Speaking of after-dinner mints, this short-film/music video prequel to Turbo Kid is a nice strangely touching way to come down from the main movie.
The story concerns Apple's time with her previous traveling companion (seen as a skeleton in a motorcycle helmet in the main film) before she crossed the wasteland to meet the kid. Apple's traveling companion dies suddenly and she decides to make the best of it by keeping a vigil next to his decomposing corpse as a group of silver-masked cultists led by a mutant barbarian with a flame thrower close in.
No Tomorrow is absolutely disgusting. Turbo Kid's gore is brutal but slapstick and cartoonish enough that it's more silly and fun than anything. Conversely, the corpse of Apple's friend is distressingly realistic looking. You can practically smell him, the effects are so well-done.
But Apple is an extremely disarming character and it's hard not to find a charm and innocence in everything she does and the song No Tomorrow by Le Matos is rather poppy and sweet. So shots of her feeding the bloated black corpse canned soup or brushing his rotten teeth have a strange tenderness despite the juxtaposition of the absolutely putrid display on screen.
Ultimately it's a tender look at Turbo Kid's best character that establishes the traits that make her so enjoyable. Both her unflappable kindness and her capability in adverse situations. My only complaint is that this short is not on the home video version of the film and as far as I know can only be found on Youtube.
Next Time on Doomsday Reels
" Actually, I don't mind having one eye. It's easier for me. 'Allows me to concentrate on just one thing at a time, you know?"