Neon Maniacs

NM1

When the Neon Maniacs come out to play things tend to get a little messy, something teen Natalie learns first hand when she and her friends party a little too close to their Golden Gate hideout.

For the life of me I will never understand why people love San Francisco so much. It’s dirty, it smells horrible, every place that’s worth going to requires you taking your life in your own hands like the shadiest of Detroit alleyways, and don’t even get me started on how fucking full of themselves San Franciscans are, and yes, they actually refer to themselves as San Franciscans. Seriously, you’ve never seen real pompous arrogance until you’ve visited San Francisco. I grew up forty five minutes away from the place and can tell you from firsthand experience how awful it is. Yeah, it was fun to visit every once in a great while, but usually by the end of the day I was ready to get the hell out of there. There’s only so much time you can spend around a group of people so full of themselves you wonder when they’re going to burst. San Francisco does have one thing going for it though if you’re among the living dead, it’s rather large and extremely aggressive homeless community. Now, please don’t think for a moment I’m demeaning homeless people, I’ve been there before and it sucks harder than a toothless hooker at a Duck Dynasty convention, these people have to be aggressive because San Franciscans are so wrapped up in themselves that it’s hard to drag them out of their self-important stupor so you can ask for some spare change. The reason that works out well for the living dead is that we don’t have to try very hard for our food there. A zombie can shamble up to a San Francisco native and they won’t notice until we’re sinking our teeth into them, and anyone passing by either won’t care or won’t notice themselves. They’ll just assume we’re another homeless person looking for change. It ends up working in a zombie’s favor. Sad thing is, I’d rather go hungry than go hunting if it meant having to troll The City by the Bay. Pompous asshole has a bad flavor to it.

Our film begins with a fisherman walking along the base of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco where he finds a cow skull full of cards depicting strange, disfigured men. Personally, if I had found a weird animal skull full of horrific cards in a strange place I would have left it alone, but that’s just me. It seems my choice would have been the better one too seeing as the fisherman’s curiosity is rewarded with an axe to the back of his skull. We then switch gears a bit to a group of you standard teenagers, all sexed up and ready to party. They head on over to Golden Gate Park so that the fun can commence, but only a short while into the festivities a loud, inhuman scream rings out and we get our first glimpse of the films titular charters, the Neon Maniacs, the same characters that were on the cards the fisherman found earlier. While the group is startled by the sound they aren’t quite startled enough to end the party, a decision that leads to their downfall as the Maniacs proceed to slaughter every last one of them. Well, all except for virgin good girl Natalie because as the horror gods did sayeth long ago, the virgin shall live while the sexually active shall die. Natalie hides herself inside of the group’s van while the Neon Maniacs try their hardest to get at her, tearing apart the van in the process. Just as all seems lost the Maniacs vanish as quickly as they came and a terrified Natalie is rescued by two cops who take her down to the police station. She tries to tell her story but no one believes her, thinking it a prank her and her friends are trying to pull. Things don’t fare much better at school the next day when Natalie is attacked by the sister of one of the missing boys who demands to know where her brother is, only the intervention of love struck Steven keeping her from a severe beat down. Paula, a young amateur director, has heard Natalie’s story and wants to know more about what really happened in the park last night, so she does some exploring herself, tracking the Maniacs back to their Golden Gate Bridge lair where she learns of their weakness to water. While Paula does her investigations Steven takes Natalie on a date to try and get her mind off of the night before, but the pair are tracked by some of the Neon Maniacs who have come to claim the one that got away, refusing to leave her be until they’ve taken her life. Natalie, together with Steven and Paula, is going to have to come up with a plan to stop them once and for all before she ends up as another one of their victims.

NM9

{What any area of Golden Gate Park looks like at night}

You have to love 80’s cinema. Only the 80’s could have birthed a title like Neon Maniacs. What the hell is a Neon Maniac? I know the first thought I get in my head at such a title is a serial killer with a thing for neon, but that’s just a ridiculous thought, everyone knows serial killers prefer pastels. The beautiful thing about 80’s cinema is that a serial killer with a fetish for neon really does sound more ridiculous than a group of undead maniacs living underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and murdering kids just for the fuck of it. That’s why this zombie will always be grateful to be a child of the 80’s, nothing was ever too ridiculous or out there and made for some off the wall movies. That was true of 80’s zombie movies as well, the cinematic zombie was all over the place for that decade and Neon Maniacs is a great example. It’s definitely not your typical zombie flick, in fact, when I first found mention of it in a list of zombie films I had trouble even reconciling how this film counted as a zombie flick. They kind of seemed more like bridge trolls to me, but after watching it with a close eye I can kind of see where it might have been considered slightly, kind of, sort of a zombie movie in that all of the Neon Maniacs do appear to be among the undead and come closer to the zombie type than they do any other type of undead. Of course, with the amount of cocaine that was flying around Hollywood at the time it’s entirely possible that this was supposed to be a vampire movie. Either way, it was a fairly decent movie that had some ups, and some downs, one of which happens to be the absolutely awful ending that I’ll be mentioning a little later. I’ll add it after the info drop at the end so that those of you who would rather not have it spoiled for you can avoid it, but first things first, let’s talk about the film’s star attractions, the Neon Maniacs.

NM4

{Cocaine was responsible for a lot of things in the 80’s}

I was really impressed with how much thought and imagination they put into these undead creations, each one is entirely different so that no two are at all alike. The design variations showed some serious creativity behind them, and I loved how much effort went into making sure each Maniac is an original. They all seemed to have come from different periods in history and different walks of life as if each one was brought back to this world slowly as time went on. There is a 50’s greaser, a cave man, a samurai, a medieval archer, and a Native American warrior. There’s also some that are harder to pin down time wise but seemed to have obvious professions like an American soldier, a farmer, and a surgeon (played by Wishmaster’s Andrew Divoff in his very first role). The two that I was most interested in though were unlike the others, a figure that reminded me very much of the embodiment of death and a one eyed mutant/alien with a meat hook. The reason I was so interested in them was because I could have seen either one of them being responsible for the creation of the Neon Maniacs (what they are is never fully explained). Death could have seen to their individual resurrections over time with his power over one’s life or the one eyed bugger could have used some kind of space tech to bring them back from the dead (he’s also always shown using his meat hook to haul bodies away and has a confusing bit at the end that I won’t ruin here, I have my spoilers below for that). Though how the maniacs came to terrorize the City by the Bay is never explained I still enjoyed how interesting they all looked. Sadly, I think most of the effects budget went entirely into the Maniacs because if something happens that doesn’t focus on them you don’t see much. The movie has a fairly high body count, but you don’t get to see the way many of them actually die. You get to see the implications of those deaths but not the deaths themselves for the most part. There are a couple of good death scenes were you get to see the entire sequence of events that leads up to a person’s untimely end but usually it’s just the Maniac lifting up a weapon, the camera panning away, and the camera panning back to little bits of a mangled body or a body being dragged away. I’m very happy with how the Maniacs turned out, but I would have liked to see a bit more of the how they killed people.

NM7

{Looks like Death with an upgraded weapon to me}

NM3

{Alien or Mutant? You decide}

Beyond the makeup part of what made the Maniacs work so well were the actors portraying them. This is doubly impressive considering that some of the Maniacs were portrayed by two different actors. When the filmmakers ran into some difficulties during the shoot they were forced to halt production for a bit. When they resumed filming some of the Maniacs had to be recast due to the long break. Still, they all managed to infuse what could have simply been shambling psychopaths into individual characters with their own personalities and mannerisms. I think that while the makeup and creative designs would have been impressive in and of themselves, the Maniacs would have been nowhere near as great if it weren’t for the actors behind the makeup. Our human players do a good job as well (though the character of Paula gets on one’s nerves early on in the movie). They aren’t great performances, but they work for the film, so I don’t mean to demean them, but it was the Maniacs’ performances that made the film as fun as it was.

NM5NM6

{They were able to articulate facial movement too which was awesome}

While I enjoyed the movie throughout, there were a lot of things that happen during the film’s course that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s true that this is a cheesy 80’s film not meant to be taken seriously but certain things just bugged me as shoddy writing, things that I couldn’t understand why no one thought to change when they realized how little sense they made or how outright dumb they were. I’ll give you a few examples:

  • I get that the police think that Natalie and her friends are trying to pull some kind of a prank but they don’t take the situation at all seriously, writing the whole thing off almost immediately. There are a group of missing teens and the one survivor was found completely terrified inside a van that had been torn apart. I’d think that maybe they’d at least wonder if something had happened.
  • After Natalie is dropped off at her house once her police statement has been taken, the first thing she decides to do is go relax in her pool where she promptly falls asleep. Personally, if I just watched all of my friends being slaughtered by a group of grotesque beings who then came after me I might be a little more freaked out.
  • Once the Maniacs weakness to water is discovered Steven comes up with a plan to trick them into coming after the trio during a battle of the bands event where he will have given everyone squirt guns. That’s all well and good but they forgot to let anyone know that when the freaky dead guys show up and start murdering people to use said squirt guns on them. They basically just set up a slaughter where most of their classmates are going face a horrible death.
  • Speaking of squirt guns, why did the trio not load themselves up for the battle of the bands? Natalie, Steven, and Paula each carry one little squirt pistol a piece, that’s it. I would have loaded myself up.
  • And lastly, if the Neon Maniacs can dissolve in water why are they living in the Golden Gate Bridge? That’s like if the Wicked Witch of the West decided to take up residence next to the Emerald City Water Park.

I wish I could say that those are the only ones that I noticed but there were several more that I caught. I could fill up a few pages of just the things that should have been rewritten to make more sense. It didn’t ruin the movie by a long shot, but it did cause a lot of groaning and eye rolling.

NM10

{Don’t think the sword is going to protect against rain}

Even if it has its problems, Neon Maniacs is still a fun flick to watch that reminded me of why I loved 80’s cinema so much. I’d recommend giving it a watch if you get the chance.

 

The Undead Review

 

Directed By: Joseph Mangine (Smoke and Flesh)

Starring: Clyde Hayes (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, The Gingerbread Man), Leilani Sarelle (Basic Instinct, The Harvest), and Donna Locke

Released By: Cimarron Productions and Kelly Park Associates

Release Year: 1986

Release Type: Theatrical Release

MPAA Rating: Rated R

 

 

 

Spoiler Alert

You’ve Been Warned

You Still Here

Okay Here Goes

 

Alright, so here’s the amazingly awful ending that nearly killed the film for me. Natalie, Steven, and Paula have finally managed to convince the police that something is hiding in the Golden Gate Bridge that needs to be dealt with, so a massive force of police and firefighters are gathered together to take out the Neon Maniacs, only nothing happens. The police chief gets upset and sends everyone home while he explores the tunnels by himself for some stupid reason, meeting a horrible fate when the one eyed mutant/alien drags him inside of an abandoned ambulance emitting a bright, white light. As Natalie, Steven, and Paula drive away Steven asks if they still have their squirt guns because “the rain won’t last.” Roll credits. It was so abrupt and sudden that it felt to me like they might have run out of money and had to wrap it up quick. It seemed so rushed and unplanned that it made for a “Is that really the end,” moment. The movie was rolling along nicely and then out of nowhere it just ended. They were building up to this climactic ending by having so many people there, including the firetrucks to hose down any Maniacs that tried to escape, and then nothing. It was extremely disappointing, even more so considering there was almost a hint that the mutant/alien thing might have something to do with where the Neon Maniacs came from by the way the film portrayed it dragging the police chief into a space that was all white light and noise that appeared out of nowhere. Just disappointing.

NM2

{Who needs an ending when they can simply drive away from the problem}

About The Undead Review

When I was alive I was an asshole and after I died remained pretty much the same, if not a little worse. You’d think becoming a member of the walking dead would mellow a person out, no more worrying about awkward small talk with people, no more having to be politically correct, and the entire world is your upright, bipedal buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell to be a zombie, just somewhat irritating at times, especially those times you have to watch a lame movie or read a lame book. Thankfully, when I am forced to watch these films or read those books, I’ve got places like The Undead Review to bitch and moan to my heart’s content. {When he’s not devouring the living or sinking his teeth into a good film The Undead Review (Andy Taylor) spends his time writing his own stories or hunting down the paranormal. Oh, and did we mention his blind dog once saved the world?)
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