Friday, July 11, 2008

Neon Maniacs (1986)

Neon Maniacs is a delightful, though flawed, film that’s a mix of Nightbreed, Monster Squad and Street Trash topped off with a helping of green Ghostbuster-like slime. It’s no where near as good (or even half as good) as any of the previously mentioned film I’m so loosely comparing it to, but I did find myself enjoying this very guilty pleasure.

While fooling around in the park one night, a group of high school students is systemically slaughtered by a group of deformed monsters, the titular Neon Maniacs. A lone girl named Natalie (Leilani Sarelle) survives the attack after it starts to rain and the monsters mysteriously have to flee. Though she witnessed all her friends being butchered, the cops find no trace of violence or any bodies…except for random patches of green goo. No one believes Natalie and thinks the kids’ disappearances are just a silly prank. No one, that is, except for a spunky young freshman named Paula (Donna Locke) who hears about the attack and approaches Natalie at school to offer her help and support. Natalie brushes the young girl off, so Paula decides to investigate on her own. She’s an aspiring horror filmmaker, and damn if she wouldn’t like some REAL monster footage for her latest film. Following the green goop from the park, she tracks the monsters to a lair under the Golden Gate Bridge. She returns that night with a video camera and lies in wait for them to make an appearance…and sure enough they do. The monsters spot Paula, but not before it starts to rain and she gets away. Apparently water destroys the suckers, and now she knows their one weakness.

Meanwhile, Natalie is getting cozy with Steve (Alan Hayes), the resident geek and boy-next-door type. They go on a date, but it is interrupted by the maniacs, who are after Natalie because I guess they just can’t leave survivors well enough alone…One of the maniacs also goes after Paula, but she’s ready and quickly dispatches him with a wet dip in the bathtub.

Natalie, Steve and Paula join forces and devise a plan to lure the maniacs to a cheesy costume party/battle of the bands dance (be warned: there is horrible, horrible music!) they are having at the high school. They arm everyone with squirt guns, but when the maniacs show up everyone forgets their purpose and runs helter-skelter. Steve-o turns a fire hose on the maniacs and melts quite a few of them, but not before the maniacs kill a handful of kids and police officers.

The police begrudgingly believe Natalie’s story and go to the lair of the maniacs armed with squirt guns and fire hoses…but find nothing there…until the main detective decides to go back alone and take another peek…

In all honesty, Neon Maniacs is a horribly bad movie. Bad acting, bad directing, poor special FX and a nonsensical story line…but I loved (almost) every second of it!! It’s a definite B-movie (perhaps even C or D quality), but it’s still entertaining and fun.

The film is washed out and pretty rough around the edges. There’s not much flair to the direction or cinematography, but that doesn’t mean that it’s unwatchable. As for the story, it’s is pretty flimsy and not well developed at all. The neon maniacs (emphasis on the “maniacs,” as I saw no “neon” in this film), who melt if exposed to water, live in one of the dampest, foggiest places in California – San Francisco! Not to mention they chose a lair that overlooks the San Francisco Bay…which, last time I checked, was full of water! Where they came from was never explained at all either. Are they deformed humans? Are they monsters that like dressing in different outfits? Do they like to sing “YMCA” when they aren’t out tearing people to shreds? It’s not a coincidence that the maniacs have been called the Village People of horror villains!

The maniacs were all pretty cheesy, and not in the least scary. Besides their rubber masks, they’ve each got a strange motif going (like I just said, Village People!): one is a Native American, complete with some weird feathered headdress going on, another one is a cheesy-looking soldier, one’s like a hairy Neanderthal/ape-man, yet another is a surgeon and so on…and there are about twelve different maniacs! There’s one in particular that seems completely out of place (yes, more than the other ones) and looks like one-eyed dinosaur. Was that guy even in the right movie?? He looks like he should be in that Dinosaurs TV show, not as a part of the Neon Maniacs’ gang. Though the maniacs’ origins aren’t explained in the film, if I had to take a guess I’d say that a gay nightclub (hey, it is set in San Francisco) was exposed to radioactive chemicals and that’s how these freaks were created.

As for the other characters, they are all pretty annoying. Natalie just seemed like a whiny, stupid prima donna who couldn’t take care of herself. After all her friends are butchered by crazed, deformed monsters and she barely escapes death, she decides to take a dip in her pool…at night! She also goes to school the next day like nothing happened and finds time to fall for geeky Steve. When the Maniacs are butchering more people at the attack on the school, she and Steve also find time to devirginize her. Natalie sure does have her priorities screwed up! Basic rule of horror movies is that you wait until after the big baddies are for sure dead before gettin’ it on! The only endearing character out of the bunch was Paula. Her nosy demeanor and ambitious indie filmmaking (though she was filming a vampire film in broad daylight) really won me over. Her room was filled with horror memorabilia and filmmaking equipment to make any fan drool (though one has to wonder how much that editing equipment and camera cost back then!!). I also like the fact that she was a strong, independent girl who was into the macabre – not everything you see everyday in films!

The special FX in the film weren’t too bad. This being the 80′s, they were all practical. in the first 10 minutes or so we see a whole group of high schoolers get offed by the maniacs, and this really kick starts the film. Though the actual monster outfits were cheesy, it was pretty neat to see them melt when they came in contact with water. There’s not a great deal of the red stuff being flung around, but there was enough to keep me happy. Be warned, though, this movie is pure cheesy fun so don’t go looking for anything too realistic!

Neon Maniacs is for sure a guilty pleasure! If you want to have some campy, cheesy fun without having to think about silly things like a cohesive plot, Neon Maniacs comes highly recommended!

Find it on Amazon!

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