First published by TheHorrorShow
At the centre of François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell’s improbable New Zealand-Canadian co-production Turbo Kid is a toy: a vintage 3D optical View-Master showing images of a T-Rex. “They got killed out by this big explosion,” explains the Kid (Munro Chambers) to his chirpy new friend Apple (Laurence Leboeuf). “Kind of like what happened to us.” This film’s characters feel like an extinct species not just because they have mostly been wiped out in a global disaster, but also because the post-apocalyptic dystopia that they inhabit belongs to a retrofuturist 1997 constructed from the cultural detritus of ’80s straight-to-video schlock, so that watching their BMX-bound adventures is the cinematic equivalent of looking at dinosaurs through a viewfinder.
“It’s like a museum of coolness in here!” exclaims the irrepressibly effervescent Apple as she surveys the Reagan-era gizmos that decorate the Kid’s bunker home – but she may as well be describing Turbo Kid itself, geared up as it is with Walkmans, headbands, action figures and other castoffs from a childhood spent in the Eighties – while Le Matos’ synth score and a plethora of IBM computer graphics and bloody practical effects all similarly evoke the bargain basement end of that era. Modelled less on George Miller’s The Road Warrior (1981) than on the countless cheap-n-cheesy ripoffs that followed in its wake, Turbo Kid pits the Kid’s and Apple’s essential goodness against an army of badasses led by the eyepatch-sporting tyrant Zeus (Michael Ironside!) and his skull-masked sidekick Skeletron (Edwin Wright) – who spins circular saws the way a DJ spins records.
Originally submitted as an entry for one of producer Ant Timpson’s ABCs of Death anthologies, but then expanded to feature length, Turbo Kid is, along with Jason Eisener’s Hobo With A Shotgun (2011), Lowell Dean’s WolfCop (2014) and David Sandberg’s Kung Fury (2015), a loving postmodern pastiche of Eighties excess, setting (with hilariously daft incongruity) its extreme sadism and gore alongside a great deal of sweetness and genuine charm. As we watch the Kid don a hero’s costume and transform from boy into man, we also bear witness to an ensemble of filmmakers not quite able to put away the childish things that made them who they are – and the results take us on a knowingly nostalgic trip right back to the future.
The Kid may in one scene use a pile of old VHS tapes as kindling for his fire, but it is from such materials that Turbo Kid has itself been forged – and much as the apocalypse survivors here drink water that has been extracted from human corpses, this is a film that cannibalises other films (not least Soylent Green, whose title is evoked by a cereal product named ‘Soleil vert’). And so Turbo Kid feels like a long-lost toy, recently rediscovered in pretty good nick, and used by those who, though still just big kids at heart, bring a new, knowing self-mockery to their resumed play (with the ’80s wasteland as the playground). It is infectiously fun, if at times, like so many other grindhouse parodies, a little one-note.
© Anton Bitel