Earlier this year, I purchased two Blu-rays of backyard film productions from Toronto as a means of sending financial support to a podcaster I admire. Of Justin Decloux’s two directorial credits, I was much more enthusiastic about the more recent feature, Impossible Horror – an uncanny slapstick splatter comedy about loneliness & outsider art. It’s an incredibly dense, ambitious picture for a no-budget horror on its scale, one that adapts Sam Raimi-style exaggerated camerawork to tones & themes that aren’t typically tackled in its Regional Horror genre. Decloux’s earlier film, Teddy Bomb, is something much more typical to the backyard horror aesthetic: a practical gore splatter comedy that aims more for over-the-top camp & gross-out hyperviolence than anything nearly as sincere or ambitious as what the director would later accomplish in Impossible Horror. However, even as a relatively average backyard horror comedy (with a few moments of genre film splendor in isolated gags), I do think there is a very specific circumstance in which catching up with Teddy Bomb is practically mandatory: if you’re at all a fan of last year’s sci-fi body horror Upgrade.
I was a huge fan of Upgrade myself; it made my Top 10 films of the year list last year and became a favorite of mine to rewatch with friends who hadn’t yet seen it as the year went on. A major part of the film’s appeal was the way it reimagined the basic outline of RoboCop (possibly my favorite sci-fi film of all time) as a satire on modern fears of self-automated technology instead of a satire on the privatization of law enforcement that was already on the horizon in the 1980s. I was a little surprised, then, to see a microbudget filmmaker from Toronto claim that their own work was direct, unacknowledged inspiration for Upgrade, a film already so undeniably indebted to RoboCop. Having now seen Teddy Bomb for myself, I totally get it. In the film, a bumbling beer delivery boy is in over his head when he steals what appears to be a cute teddy bear but is actually a high-tech weapon of mass destruction. Like with the STEM tech in Upgrade, the teddy bear telepathically communicates with his unprepared user, instructing him on how to kill the terrorists who wish to repossess the cuddly weapon. He often closes his eyes while the “teddy bear” does the nasty work of disposing of baddies, which is the most consistently rewarding gag in Upgrade as well. It’s all uncannily familiar.
Since I’m talking about two films that follow well-worn genre templates, it’s difficult to parse out exactly what’s parallel thinking vs. what’s unacknowledged “inspiration.” Besides Upgrade’s obvious debt to RoboCop, it’s a film that also saw its own uncanny parallels in a bigger-budget descendent with last year’s Venom, just months after its own release. Teddy Bomb itself feels like it borrows elements from other horror properties wholesale: Sam Raimi’s live-action-cartoon camerawork, George Romero’s signiature zombie disembowelings, the 8-bit romance of Scott Pilgrim, etc. The difference is that Teddy Bomb is very upfront about where it pulls its ideas from, even setting several scenes in a video rental store where Decloux himself appears as a side-character store clerk who practically points to the titles that most influenced his work. If Upgrade pulled direct influence from Teddy Bomb (and there is some convincing evidence it did, despite this being a microbudget splatter cheapie), it’s a shame that it didn’t do the same in turn. The titular weapon is Teddy Bomb’s most distinctive, exciting invention – one that adds to the genre film conversation instead of merely echoing it – so it’s frustrating to see it “borrowed” for a better-funded work without proper credit. I still believe Upgrade’s satirical vision of a self-automated future is distinct & funny enough on its own terms to justify its praise among similarly-styled works like RoboCop, Venom and, apparently, Teddy Bomb; that’s what telling stories within a genre template is all about. Still, it’s only right to acknowledge your direct influences, especially if you’re appropriating inspiration from self-funded artists far below your weight class who could use the boost.
If you want a concise comparison of the two films side-by-side, this tweet from Decloux lays out a fairly convincing case in two minutes’ time. Fans of Upgrade should really check out Teddy Bomb in its entirety to make up their own minds on the parallels, though. If nothing else, the back-to-back viewing experience makes for an interesting look at what two genre films following the same story template look like on drastically different budgetary levels.