Thursday, May 22, 2008


Ah, NEON MANIACS; they just don't make 'em like you anymore. And anyone who's grown up on '80s horror like myself will know that's both a shame and a relief. This 1986 release from director Joseph Mangine (cinematographer of such cult faves as SQUIRM and ALLIGATOR, who hasn't directed since) is a perfect time capsule of Reagan-era fright films; even the title is well-suited, both nonsensical yet fitting it precisely. If the hairstyles and dialogue didn't tip you off that this was decidedly a mid-'80s film, the synthesizer score would've been a dead giveaway; and let us not forget the Neon Maniacs themselves, a motley crew of creatures that could've only sprung from a coke-fueled pitch meeting.

What exactly are the Neon Maniacs, you ask? That's a good question, so good that the movie never bothers to explain it. The DVD description refers to them as zombies, hence their inclusion here, but out of the dozen or so Maniacs, only two or three could really be called such (fortunately, that's enough, even if their screen time is minimal). They're more like a hastily-sketched series of creatures ready-made for franchise purposes--which might've been an intriguing prospect if any of them possessed a shred of personality, or were in any way interesting. Instead the screenplay, by future PUMPKINHEAD scribe Mark Patrick Carducci, focuses more on the quantity of its monsters rather than quality, so that all of them feel rushed through their paces.

NEON MANIACS sets off on a promising note, as Leilani Sarelle--years before she shacked up with Sharon Stone in BASIC INSTINCT--survives a massacre in Griffith Park by the titular menaces (who, without explanation, live in the structure beneath the Golden Gate Bridge). Though this early set-piece features plenty of latex monsters and a high body count, Mangine's ham-fisted direction robs the sequence of any power; and lacking any real bloodletting, it can't even be enjoyed on a purely exploitive level.

From there it's a long--very long--series of scenes as Sarelle, along with a shy but hunky love interest and a precocious pre-teen horror buff, try to figure out exactly what's going on, with the occasional interference by the police. In a movie rife with myriad problems, this midsection is possibly NEON's worst; the story feels arbitrarily plotted, segueing from one scene to another without any discernable reason. And since we have no idea what the Neon Maniacs are, or what motivates them, it's impossible to get involved. I'm sure Carducci's script is partly to blame, but Mangine's lackluster work behind the camera sure doesn't help. Check out the stupid and uninspired subway sequence and you'll know what I mean.

After keeping its creatures in the wings for most of its running time, NEON MANIACS finally culminates with a showdown between the leads and the monsters in, of all things, a high school gymnasium (while the worst-ever Battle of the Bands rages on--really, the music in this fucking thing's more frightening than the Maniacs). As before, Mangine choreographs the action so lazily that it's just as laborious as the rest, throwing in that hoariest of cliches: the monster that's vulnerable to water. Yes, all it takes to relieve your Neon Maniacs problem is a garden hose and a functioning spigot. (Which begs the unanswered question: if water's all it takes to do them in, why in the blue fuck do they live under a bridge?)

NEON MANIACS sports all the earmarks of trite '80s horror: gratuitous, gruesome dream sequences (that use more fake blood than the actual events of the story), female protagonists who are never too traumatized to slip into a bikini for a dip in the pool, obnoxious party-minded teens--yet fails to deliver even the cheapest of thrills. (What, couldn't have one of the Maniacs made a lame wisecrack before killing someone?) Dull and forgettable.

Look sharp for a pre-WISHMASTER Andrew Divoff as one of the Maniacs.

No comments: