Saying Goodbye To Astron-6

An obituary for the Canadian filmmaking collective.

It’s always hard to say goodbye to the things we love - especially when those things have produced a collection of films as memorable yet criminally underappreciated as Father’s Day, Manborg and The Editor.

This past week saw the release of Astron-6’s Divorced Dad Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. The disc contains all seven episodes of the web series of the same name, including two previously unreleased installments. Divorced Dad along with Chowboys: An American Folktale, a short film included on the disc, seem to be, by all accounts, the end for the Canadian filmmaking collective. In interviews surrounding the release of Chowboys, the filmmakers acknowledge that their commitments to family and work have made it harder to continue to make films together and Chowboys has been promoted as the final film from Astron-6. 

Goodbye, sweet princes - you will be missed. 

Founded in 2007, Astron-6 consists of Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matt Kennedy, Conor Sweeney and Steven Kostanski. The five met at the Winnipeg Short Film Massacre and quickly released an outpouring of short films that were loving tributes to the genre movies of their youth. Exploitation, beach parties, European horror films, a horribly insensitive yet tremendously funny The Dark Knight parody - you’ll find a smorgasbord of influences in the collected work of Astron-6. The connective tissue through all of them, though, is a fantastic knowledge of the DNA of whatever they’re homaging, plus the creative wit to create something new and exciting from the past. 

In 2011, the team released two films almost simultaneously. Manborg is a 70 minute science-fiction film about a cyborg soldier (Kennedy) who recruits a group of rebel fighters to battle Count Draculon (Brooks) and his Nazi vampire army. Robocop by way of Street Fighter, but set on the borders of Hell, Manborg is a hysterical DIY gem - with all the over-the-top genre madness you could hope for in a movie called Manborg.

Manborg premiered at Fantastic Fest in September 2011 and, about a month later, Astron-6’s Father’s Day would premiere at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Father’s Day, featuring a slightly larger budget than Manborg, was produced and distributed by Troma Entertainment - a fact that would later prove to be a double-edged sword.

Father’s Day stars Brooks as Ahab, an eyepatch wearing vigilante on the hunt for Chris Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdock), a serial killer who gets his kinks raping and murdering fathers. Yep, it’s that kind of movie. Blood prophecies, trips to Hell and Lloyd Kaufman playing both God and the Devil follow. If Manborg is a jaunty celebration of pop culture fetishm, Father’s Day is a true shining star of low-budget adventurism. 

Father’s Day is a movie that didn’t know what its own budget was. Reaching far beyond what you’d expect its limitations to be, the movie features tremendous action, special effects and shockingly funny comedy coming mile-a-minute. The result is a movie that is almost undefinable - funny, disgusting and oh-so-wonderful. In a perfect world, Father’s Day would have launched Astron-6 into the next level of their career, paving the way for them to become beloved heroes of modern genre filmmaking. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. 

Beset by piracy issues (some of which can be traced back to the fact that Kaufman was selling bootleg copies of the movie while touring the film during its theatrical run), Father’s Day never found a wide audience and a planned documentary about the making of the movie titled No Sleep, No Surrender still remains unreleased. 

Three years later, in 2014, Astron-6 would release The Editor, a homage/parody of giallo films starring Brooks as a film editor who finds himself the lead suspect in a series of murders on the set of his latest project. The film is at both a loving tribute and a send-up of the films of Mario Bava, Dario Argento and the rest of their contemporaries. Spoof has become a dirty word thanks to the outpouring of terrible movies in the early ‘00s but The Editor is a great reminder that spoofs can, when done right, be a living tribute to what makes a genre so great.  Released by Scream Factory, The Editor would end up being their most mainstream release, yet still only obtaining a limited theatrical run before being released on home video. 

In the years that followed, the various members of Astron-6 would work on a variety of other projects. Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie would establish themselves in the world of special effects and art direction on many major studio releases, including some of your favorite films. The two would co-direct the gross-out horror film The Void and Kostanski would contribute a segment to The ABCs of Death 2 (“W is for Wish”) as well as directing last year’s Leprechaun Returns. In addition, members of the group have shown up in other Canadian films, such as Another Wolfcop.

While the group have kept busy with various other projects - such as Brooks’ fantastic paintings and Kennedy’s work in commercial video production - they have still kept the occasional collaboration going. 

Divorced Dad, co-created by Sweeney and Kennedy, was meant to run as a web series before running into issues with YouTube in which they were temporarily banned for an episode that had an ISIS gag. While only seven episodes were produced, the series is a perfect encapsulation of Astron-6 - bold in its reach, weird as hell and rewatchable as heck.  Dreamlike in its approach and shot on video, the series is a send-up of low-budget cable access programming, in which an unnamed divorced dad hosts a show that frequently devolves into nightmarish breaks with reality.

If Chowboys: An American Folktale is to indeed by the final project from Astron-6, it’s a hell of a way to go out. The nine-minute short features the entire group back together again and was filmed over the course of three years - a testament to just how difficult it became to gather the team together. Set on a cold, desolate night in the American west on Christmas Eve, the short sees three cowboys succumb to horrors of all kinds as they learn the true meaning of Christmas. 

It’s not like any of the members of Astron-6 have died and they will, I’m sure, continue to contribute their art to the world in various, personal ways in the years to come. It’s just a shame to see the group call an end to their ride. 

I’ve worked at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema as a programmer for eight years and one of the first events I was involved in was a theatrical screening of Father’s Day. In the years since, I have proudly screened Manborg and The Editor as well. In a lot of ways, I associate my time with the Alamo thus far with Astron-6. Their films are the exact kind of fun, genre-bending weirdness I love to share with the guests at my theaters. I’ve been proud to have had an opportunity to contribute to the prothletising of Astron-6 over the years and I’ll continue to spread the good word. In writing this obituary for the group, I have decided to program a retrospective of their films as part of Graveyard Shift, the weekly horror series I program in Houston, later this year.

If you’ve made it this far into the article and you’ve not yet enjoyed the sweet, sweet nectar that is their work, stop what you’re doing and check out their films - both short and feature-length. Troma released a two-disc set of their short films and all three of their feature length films are available on DVD and/or Blu-ray. Astron-6 is gone but their work lives on and it’s up to us to ensure that they will not be forgotten.