In the post apocalyptic world of the future (1997) the remnants of the human race fight and scavenge to survive. In this world lives our hero, obsessed by comic books and other relics of the past that he finds during his many trips into the Wasteland. When the evil Zeus kidnaps his mysterious new friend Apple, our hero must find the courage within him to take on the forces of evil and save the girl.
The Film4 FrightFest is my favourite festival that I never get to attend. It’s not that I don’t want to attend or that it doesn’t appeal – it absolutely does – it just happens to always coincide with one of the busiest times of year for my day job, when any attempt to book holiday time is treated with the same level of mirth as a lost Bob Monkhouse notebook. So it stands that usually my attendance is usually limited to one or two films that stand out from the lineup to my warped sensibilities. In 2014 it was WOLFCOP, a Canadian film which I had followed since it first raised its head as part of the CineCoup competition. It appealed to me for its practical effects and retro sensibilities as well its sense of humour. This year I knew I would only be able to take in one film and it turned out to be another Canadian film that I’d followed since its early stages of development. Which also has CineCoup ties. Hm.
TURBO KID stated life as an idea originally submitted to the ABC’S OF DEATH horror anthology. Titled T IS FOR TURBO (available here) it ran for a brisk 5 minutes and featured prototypes of many elements that would survive the leap to the feature length entry. Le Matos provided the score, and character bases can be seen, as can a few of the ‘gag’ deaths that occur during the film. If anything the short feels even more like a product of the 1980s than the eventual film it spawned, although I’m not sure its tone would have made for an enjoyable feature film. Whilst T IS FOR TURBO failed to secure a slot in the ABC’S OF DEATH, it did shine the spotlight on its creators Roadkill Superstars at the Sundance and SXSW, and highlight their prior body of work. Fast forward 4 years and T IS FOR TURBO is now TURBO KID, and after a Sundance debut and various film festivals around the world it became part of the opening night lineup at 2015’s Film4 FrightFest. It was the second film of the night (following the poorly received CHERRY TREE) and filled out 3 screens of the Leicester Square Vue with a raucous crowd of horror fanatics who were ready to be entertained. If the reaction of the occupants of the Arrow Screen were anything to go by, I think the majority left happy.
TURBO KID is unashamedly a B-movie saturated in trappings of the 80s, mixing heady doses of Teen adventure movies (THE GOONIES, THE EXPLORERS, MONSTER SQUAD, BMX BANDITS) with the splatter gore that occupied the shelves of video rental stores across the world. Whilst many have compared the film to MAD MAX and its sequels, to my mind it owes as much to the Italian post-apocalyptic films that imitated George Miller’s classics. Titles such as WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD, THE BRONX WARRIORS Trilogy, EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000 all came to mind whilst the film played out on the screen in front of me. The acting walks a fine line between straight and deliberate scenery chewing. The young leads have a natural chemistry on the screen that shines, and the surrounding wasteland is occupied by vibrant and memorable characters like the chain-smoking Frederic the Arm Wrestler or the mute psychopathic Skeletron. Then there is Michael Ironside, arguably the biggest name in this film as the tyrannical Zeus. Not a single second of him on screen is wasted, and he is clearly enjoying being on a film that despite being both a low budget and a definite B-movie is being produced with more passion and ingenuity than many bigger Hollywood films. His role, far from fulfilling a stereotype of the post apocalyptic wasteland, proves to be integral to the entire arc of the film including the character development of our hero and the world around him.
Whilst many aspects of this film would be at home in the PG-12 rating bracket, one area where it is 18 rated all the way is the gore department. The blood is bright, viscous and spilled with abandon throughout the film. Not a single death on screen could be considered pedestrian or normal, and a character’s demise was often greeted with applause and/or laughter from within the darkened cinema. Roadkill Superstars have in the past worked for Lloyd Kaufman, providing storyboards for kill scenes in POULTRYGEIST, and if any influence of Troma shows through it is here. There is a perfect balance of hyperviolence and humour that resonates well with the tone of the rest of the film and never feels out of place. It’s often said that a lot of audiences went to see the latest FRIDAY THE 13TH to see what new ways Jason would carve up his prey. If that is the case then Mr Vorhees needs to sit down with TURBO KID and take notes before gracing the screen again.
The score by Le Matos is beautiful. Whilst it may sit a little high in the mix for some ears the warm synth tones and driving rhythm are an exceptional match for what appears on screen. Add to that an opening number by Stan ‘The Touch’ Bush and suddenly I’m wanting to dig out my own Viewmaster and rainbow strapped elbow and kneepads before going on a BMX adventure. In a year filled with some amazing soundtrack releases (IT FOLLOWS, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, NIGHTBREED, ALIENS, SHAUN OF THE DEAD amongst others) I think that TURBO KID has now leapt to the top of my list as most anticipated release of the year. A release is due from Death Waltz Records before the end of 2015.
What can I say that is critical of the film? Not much to be fair. There are some aspects of the film that are simply limitations of the budget they had available, but at no point did anything occur to cause my enthusiasm to dip for more than a few seconds. The three headed dragon that is RKSS divide the work up well, each taking responsibility for a different aspect of the filmmaking. Whilst this could make for a disjointed movie by trying to follow three separate visions of a film, what it actually allows them to do is focus on their particular task. It’s for this reason that it doesn’t feel like a single dollar of their $400,000 budget is wasted. I suppose if I was going to be especially nitpicky then I could say the first five minutes could be tightened up a bit in terms of pacing and infodump. That’s it, really.
I know this film will not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. I’m aware that last year many people (including us) built WOLF COP up onto a pedestal that made it a disappointment for some when they eventually saw it. I hope I haven’t done that with TURBO KID, but I genuinely struggle to find serious fault with this film. If you accept that it is a low budget film and that its tone and social etiquettes are firmly embedded in the mid 1980s then it may well work for you.
Turbo Kid is available to rent on Vimeo in some regions right now, and will be available in Digital HD in the UK from September 28th. For those of you that want a physical copy in the UK, you can get a copy on DVD or Blu Ray from October 5th.