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.


Vicious Lips (1986)

... aka: Lunar Madness
... aka: Pleasure Planet
... aka: Red Moon

Directed by:
Albert Pyun

A futuristic sci-fi / horror / comedy / musical with space mutants, sleazy band managers, three-titted alien babes, spastic music video editing and a New Wave score? Only in the 80s, I tell ya. Sometime in the distant future, the Vicious Lips are an all-female synth-heavy glam rock band. They're having trouble holding on to their primadonna lead singer Ace Lucas (Angela O'Neill), who wants to leave to join some other band called the Cruikshanks, but thankfully that's all taken care of when she's run over and killed by a car. Desperate to fill the vacant slot so they can fulfill a gig, weaselly, cigar-smoking band manager Matty Asher (Tony Kientiz) goes to a high school talent show and immediately drafts squeaky clean Judy Jetson (Dru-Anne Perry) to fill the lead singer spot. He renames her Ace Lucas so he doesn't have to change publicity materials, fits her with a wig that looks like something scraped off a busy highway and introduces her to the other members of the band. There's tomboy bass player Bree Syn (Gina Calabrese), disillusioned, "Martian herb"-smoking keyboardist / drummer Wynzi Krado (Linda Kerridge), who frequently changes her look and identity, and chain-smoking lead guitarist Mandaa Uueu (Shayne Farris), who's so tough she gouges out a peeping tom's eyeball with her fingernail. And when a band mate refers to Mandaa as being "fried" they're not just talking about her hair. That may also explain why she's so apprehensive about the new addition to the band and doesn't hesitate to let her know she's only a temporary replacement.

While the band performs at the lowly, smoky dive called The Spaceport Lounge, Matty gets a call from make-em-or-break-em music promoter Maxine Mortogo (Mary Anne Graves), who offers them "a chance at super-galactic stardom" by filling in for a band who got killed in a spaceship crash. The gig is to take place at her club, Maxine's Radioactive Dream, and it's just the exposure the band needs to make the leap to the big time. The problem? The club is all the way on the other side of the galaxy and no one has a ride. Matty immediately cuts the girls' Spaceport gig short, takes them to a launching deck, steals a spaceship and they're off. On the way, they run into trouble in the form of asteroids, which send them hurtling down to an unknown desert planet ("Does that mean we're, like, gonna die or something?" / "Probably." / "Shit."). Now stranded with destroyed communication equipment, can the band manage to make it to their once-in-a-light-year gig at Maxine's, or will they be stranded forever in sandy hell? To complicate matters further, the ship they stole also happens to have some kind of long-haired Venusian mutant (Chris Andrews) on board, which manages to escape.

A product of Charles Band's Empire Pictures, Vicious Lips ended up being a flop. It was never issued on VHS or DVD in America during the 80s, 90s or first decade of the 2000s. In fact, it wasn't widely released here until after it was nearly 25 years old. Knowing that going in, I was expecting the absolute worst, so imagine my surprise when I found myself actually enjoying it. The budget futuristic design, the big wigs, the bad acting, the bold, colorful neon lighting, the music and just the outlandishness of the whole thing was somehow hitting my B movie sweet spot. Sadly, the fun doesn't last. Once the girls have crashed on "Passion Planet" the movie likewise has nowhere else to go but down. From then on, there are lots of boring scenes of the girls sitting around fighting and arguing on dreary sets before things take a turn for the senseless once Judy exits the ship and enters into some kind of maze of tattered sheets full of punk mutants. Like many other films that try to be quirky and crazy, this whips out the old "It was all just a nightmare" act at the very end, but by then the filmmakers have already lost us.

While a mixed bag at best, you can at least see where this was attempting to go and what points it was trying to make about how bands need to stick together through thick and thin in order to succeed and such. For the highly enjoyable opening 30 minutes, garish trash-heap smoky futuristic art direction filtered through a tacky 80s aesthetic, some surprisingly good songs (especially "Save Me;" with great vocals from Sue Saad [see below]) and the occasionally amusing dialogue (Judy: "I'll do anything to make it, Wynzi... anything!" / Wynzi: "Would you have sex with a Fungi Dwarf?" / Judy: "Gross! No way." / Wynzi: "I did... that was really a low point."), I'm giving this a higher rating than it probably deserves, but hey, this is 80s cheese we're talking about here. I can't totally hate this stuff. Besides, the music is way better than other girl band horrors like THE BLEEDER (1983) and PAGANINI HORROR (1988). The special effects and makeups were from John Carl Buechler, Everett BurrellJohn Vulich, Greg Cannom and the Chiodo Brothers, among others.

Though Vicious Lips remained unseen in America for a long, long time, it did receive foreign distribution. In Australia, it was called Lunar Madness; in reference to a song played at the very end. In France and Japan, it was issued as Pleasure Planet; trying to play up the brief T&A during scenes where Matty is shuffling through the desert like Ratso Rizzo and encounters a couple of topless sirens dressed in rags. The film was also released on VHS in Italy, Brazil and Germany. The official U.S. DVD release came in 2013 through Shout! Factory, who included it on their "Cult Movie Marathon: Volume One" release. The other titles on the 2 disc set include The Devil's 8 (1969), Unholy Rollers (1972) and Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973).

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