“When the world is ruled by violence, and the soul of mankind fades…the children’s path shall be darkened by the shadows of the Neon Maniacs.”
Directed by: Joseph Mangine
Starring: Alan Clyde Haynes, Leilani Sarelle, Donna Locke, Bo Sabato
In a Nutshell:
Samurai Maniac, Surgeon Maniac, Soldier Maniac, Biker Maniac, Caveman Maniac… gotta catch ’em all! Neon Maniacs is a slow and incredibly bumbling attempt to cash in on the slasher phenomenon of the 80s by putting together a whole team of novelty killers. It also seems to have at least one deformed eye on launching a line of collectible merch… there is even a pack of Neon Maniacs trading cards in the cold open. Unfortunately, if the iconic bogeymen of the 80s like Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees put together a rogue’s gallery soccer team, none of this shuffling bunch of freaks would even make the bench.
San Francisco, mid-80s… a man comes back from fishing near the Golden Gate Bridge and spots a door propped open with a cow skull. Investigating further, he finds a pack of Neon Maniacs trading cards wedged inside. Before he has chance to fully admire the artwork, he falls victim to the eponymous killers themselves…
Now we meet virginal goody-two-shoes Natalie (Sarelle), cruising around town in a van with her girlfriends and their douchebag jock boyfriends. They briefly stop to say hello to Steven (Hayes), a likeable guy who the jocks hate, before it’s off to the park beneath the Golden Gate for an evening of smoking, drinking, horsing around and having sex.
We all know by now that sex equals death in this kind of movie, and as the group separate into pairs to get it on, they don’t notice a group of hideously deformed killers shuffling towards them. Carnage ensues, all the friends are horribly murdered, leaving Natalie as the lone survivor.
Despite the disappearance of her friends, the cops don’t believe Natalie’s story. Her high school isn’t very sympathetic either, sending her home so she won’t disturb her classmates with her insistence that the other kids are dead. Home alone with her folks touring Europe, it turns out that the Maniacs aren’t finished with her yet…
Teaming up with Steven and Paula (Locke), a younger teen who is obsessed with horror movies, the gang must find a way to defeat the Maniacs before they finish the job. Or something.
The acting in Neon Maniacs is mostly pretty dreadful, but the central trio of Sarelle, Hayes and Locke are fairly likeable. Sarelle does a decent job of impersonating someone traumatised by a horrific event, but the half-baked screenplay does her few favours. Later, she seems to forget all about the Maniacs during her own plan to lure the freaks to a high school dance and kill them. Hayes is an easy-going hero, handsome, kind and self-deprecating.
Best of the bunch is Locke as Paula, a spirited and sarcastic kid whose enthusiasm for horror pushes her to solve the mystery of the Maniacs. Also, I’m not sure if I’ve seen someone wear a baseball cap at this angle before, with the peak at a 45 degree angle like the Fresh Prince, but also slanted to the side like a comedy cartoon Frenchman wears his beret.
Generic 80s pap, and both songs in the climactic, everlasting high school “Battle of the Bands” are absolutely godawful. There is a lot of neon in this scene though, which is one of the better things about the movie – it is so ridiculously, gloriously 1980s.
Blood, guts and T&A:
We get the obligatory tit shot out of the way early during the opening massacre. For the era and the genre, this is disappointingly brief and not as gratuitous as you might expect. The Maniacs really go to town on those kids, though, with their array of swords, crossbows, hangman’s nooses, fishhooks and bike chains, and it is satisfyingly brutal. The highlight is one of the girls losing her head while giving head…
There are further murders, but none quite live up to the first bloodbath. Possibly the most gruesome is Surgeon Maniac thoughtfully etherising a security guard before opening up his chest cavity and removing his still-beating heart.
The biggest problem with the movie as a whole is how ridiculously fucking easy it is to kill the Maniacs. Their weakness is – strap yourself in – water. Not holy water, as Paula initially surmises, just any old regular water out of a tap. This gives us some nicely gloopy special effects when they’re melting away, but you have to wonder – if water has this effect on them, why do they live in a lockup under a bridge next to the San Francisco Bay?
Later there is an extremely chaste sex scene when Natalie decides the best time to lose her virginity is while hiding from a deformed killer who helped murder all her friends. As you do.
I watch a lot of trash, and Neon Maniacs is easily the worst movie I’ve seen since The Giant Spider Invasion. As far as really lame 80s horror goes it ranks a little lower than C.H.U.D, which also has shambling, non-threatening monsters. The Maniac’s designs are a lot of fun, but we spend far too much time focused on the teens, so some of the killers only have blink-and-you’ll-miss-them screen time.
I liked it that they remained an enigma, but so much of the movie’s running time is padded out that it would have been cool to find out something else about them. Who are the Maniacs? What do they want? What compels them to kill? Why do they live in an abandoned bakery truck in a lockup under the Golden Gate Bridge? Do they, as many other reviewers have suggested, have some relation to the Village People?
Sadly, thinking about the film Neon Maniacs might have been is far more fun than actually watching it. Still, we’ll always have that title. Just say it to yourself… Neon. Maniacs. Neon Maniacs. Doesn’t that alone make you feel like everything is right with the world?