Friday, March 14, 2014

Neon Maniacs (1986)

... aka: Evil Dead Warriors

Directed by:
Joseph Mangine

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. Yeah, ok. While celebrating her 18th birthday at some park late at night, high school senior Natalie Lawrence (Leilani Sarelle) - or as her friends like to call her "the last virgin in San Fran" - and a group of her chums are attacked by a slew of mutants. And not just any mutants; these guys each have their own specific identity, gimmick and weapon. There's a samurai with a sword, a Native American with a spear and tomahawk, a "decapitator" with an axe, a hangman with a rope, a medieval knight with a crossbow, a soldier with a machine gun, a doctor, a robot, a little lizard monster, a biker, some kind of shirtless monkey-man and others. They quickly slice and dice their way through the teenagers; spearing a head, shooting an arrow into a back, cutting a body in half, hanging a guy over a tree and even decapitating a topless girl in the middle of giving a blowjob. Before all is said and done, everyone is dead except for Natalie, who manages to lock herself inside a van. By the time the police show up all of the dead bodies have disappeared and all they can find to corroborate Natalie's story is vehicle damage and puddles of mysterious, unidentifiable green slime. Only two people actually believe our heroine. The first is her classmate Steven (Alan Hayes aka the guy who got his crotch harpooned by Jason in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) and the second is a young girl named Paula (Donna Locke).

Paula is no ordinary girl, but a horror-movie-obsessed one who shoots her own camcorder horror films (much to the displeasure of her bitchy mother) and has monster masks hanging up all over her room. She learns from a friend about what happened at the park and knows she needs to be in on this. Since Natalie would rather just forget about it and refuses to discuss it, Paula decides to do some investigating on her own. She follows the slime puddles to underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and, after being scared away by the cops, returns later that evening armed with her camera. Though the footage of the mutants she shoots is ruined by a rainstorm, she does at least discover their only weakness: water, which is like acid to them. Natalie is suspended from school after getting into an altercation with the sister of one of the victims, but being home doesn't turn out to be such a good thing when one of the mutants shows up and she has a nightmare about it raining blood.

While they're out on a date, the mutants chase Natalie and Steven around through the subway and then try to get them on a bus. One shows up at Paula's home and tries to kill her too, but she manages to kill it in the shower. Since the cops aren't of any use, the three decide to hand out water pistols to everyone at their high school's annual "Battle of the Bands" in hope that the mutants will just randomly show up there. And wouldn't ya know it; in all of San Francisco, they do just randomly show up and start slaughtering everyone in sight. There's dismemberment, decapitation, hooks and all kinds of silly, fast-paced nonsense. The mutant doctor (played by Andrew Divoff in his film debut) ethers the security guard and cuts out his heart and then slashes a cop's throat with a scalpel. A biker drags a guy through the hallway with a chain. Paula breaks out a fire hose and starts hosing all the creatures down. For some reason, Natalie and Steven decide to stay in the school while everyone else is fleeing and are stalked by several mutants who then just kind of disappear and don't even do anything.

There are definitely some positive things going on here. For starters, Makeup Effects Labs' Allan A. Apone and Douglas J. White have done some fairly good designs on the bad guys and the sheer variety of mutants on display is interesting in concept. There are even some striking similarities between this and Clive Barker's later (1988) novel "Cabal." And then there's the "Battle of the Bands" scene, which is... well, maybe not technically a positive thing but I laughed, anyway. In one corner we have "The Outlaws;" a God awful "light rock" band singing love songs so corny they'd make Michael Bolton vomit. In the other corner we have "Jaded;" an equally-awful hair metal mess with a strutting, crotch-thrusting, prissy lead singer. Since the mutants crash the "battle" before it ends we never find out who wins, but I can tell you who loses: anyone watching with functioning eardrums. The final bright spot of this production is the enjoyable character of Paula and the delightful unknown actress who plays her. Now, on to the negative. That would include the direction, writing, editing, music, sound, most of the acting and pretty much everything else.

Considering the credited writer is Mark Patrick Carducci , who also wrote Pumpkinhead (1988) and the TV movie Buried Alive (1990), both of which were competent, I'd say his original concept got botched somewhere along the way. Mr. Carducci took his own life in 1997, but if he were alive today, I'd ask him the following questions:
  • Who are the mutants?
  • What are the mutants?
  • Where do the mutants come from?
  • Why do the mutants kill people?
  • What does that deck of over-sized tarot cards a fisherman finds during the pre-credits sequence have to do with the mutants?
  • How did the mutants end up living inside the Golden Gate Bridge?
  • How long have the mutants been living inside the Golden Gate Bridge?
  • If the mutants keep sneaking out and massacring everyone in sight, how have the mutants gone undetected for so long?
  • Why do the mutants only come out at night?
  • Why does water dissolve the mutants?
  • Knowing that water dissolves them, why would the mutants choose to stay in a city near the ocean?
  • Why are the mutants singling out, stalking and trying to kill Natalie?
  • What was the point of making an issue of Natalie's virginity when it has absolutely nothing to do with the plot?
  • How can the mutants locate various characters when they would have no way of knowing where they lived or where they'd be from one moment to the next?
  • Where the hell did all of the surviving mutants go at the end of the film?
None of the above questions are answered. The mutants are just there without purpose or reason; killing people, again, for no reason. Seeing how they went to great lengths to make each of the mutant designs so distinctive and elaborate, you'd figure they'd set aside a minute or two to provide them with an origin, an explanation or a mythology to make them, you know, actually interesting.

Neon Maniacs was filmed on a budget of 1.5 million dollars back in 1984 and took three years to get out on VHS here (through Vestron). I could find no evidence that it played in American theaters, but it was shown at a French film festival in the Spring of 1986 and seems to have been better-distribution in Europe than here in U.S.. The director (who passed away in 2006) was best known as a cinematographer and had shot such genre favorites as ALLIGATOR (1980) and ALONE IN THE DARK (1982) prior. Also in the cast are Victor Brandt as a detective, Marta Kober (aka the girl who got speared while having sex in Friday the 13th, Part II), Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, John Lafayette and Solly Marx (who played the killer in the 1984 slasher flick Silent Madness). There were numerous VHS releases in the 80s and a bare bones DVD from Anchor Bay in 2003. Code Red announced a blu ray release for later this year.



Kaijinu said...

weirdest slasher/monster hybrid I've ever seen...and I love every minute of it!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Wish I could share the enthusiasm but this thing was a mess. lol. Shame the director and writer have both passed away so now we'll never get to hear what their intentions were with this one. I'd be especially interested in what the writer had to say. Hopefully Code Red can dig some others up to do a commentary track for their blu ray later this year.

Unknown said...

It was shown in theaters. I saw it as a child in the Essex movie theater on the lower east side of Manhattan.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Thanks for the info. Some of these played VERY limited releases and some went straight to video so it's often hard to tell what went where.

Olskoolthingz said...

I know it played in the LA area as I have the original movie ad from the Times showing at least 20 theaters showtimes on it.

Those questions you would ask of Mr. Carducci are all ones I would like to know as well!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Thanks to you, too. Good to have some confirmation on that. Often times the script makes more sense than the finished product!

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