I loved the 80s.
That era encompassed the tail end of my grade school years, all my high school years, my first job, my first girlfriend and countless movies I saw for the first time on cable. So it goes without saying it’s my favorite decade when it comes to collecting movies.
There aren’t a lot left from then that hasn’t reached DVD and/or blu-ray nowadays, so most of those “memory movies” have already been relived and stored in my video cabinets, but every once in a blue moon something from back then suddenly rears up and gets released for the first time on disc, and I always have a blast reliving one of them when it does.
Fangoria covered Neon Maniacs back in issue #47 and I owned that issue at one time. Still wish I did. Saw the movie on cable back in the mid-80s. I can’t remember if I liked it or not. I might not have since when Anchor Bay finally released it on DVD I never bought it. Although, many years later I remember kicking myself for not doing that (it went out-of-print eventually), so it may have been more of a case of not wanting to spend the money at the time.
An opportunity arose a few years ago where a Facebook friend had the DVD and asked me if I wanted him to burn me a copy of it. I gave him an enthusiastic, yes. My memory of it at that time was that it was weird and creepy in parts. It was winter when I got the disc and that night I settled in and watched it. I remembered more of it as the movie progressed and just got a kick out of the memories of the 80s it dug up.
For those who have never heard of this movie I want to start off by saying this is one of those that embraces ambiguity to it’s hilt. And I don’t say that like it’s a bad thing. I suppose it all depends on how the filmmakers handle the mystery elements. Ambiguity can make a flick. Look at Tremors (1990), the worm’s origins were never definitely explained. You had many theories put out there during the course of its running time, the most sound one obviously came from the seismologist, but that movie doesn’t suffer one bit because you don’t know how or where or why these worms were there eating people.
The “Maniacs” of this movie’s title are 13 “supernatural beings” all with some kind of gimmick. You’ve got an Indian, a samurai, a slasher, a Vietnam vet, some midget-sized monster with one eye, an ape-man and so forth all with various demonic visages, but not once during the movie is any explanation given as to what they are, where they come from, or what their motivations are beyond random murder. Their “lair” is at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, in some kind of “maintenance shed,” if you want to call it that. It’s behind these big, steel doors. They come out every night, kill people and then go back. About the only thing you learn about them is that water is their enemy. Whys is their enemy? Again another plot point that’s never explained. Immerse them in it, squirt them with it, throw a bucketful of it on them and they dissolve.
In the very beginning a fisherman finds a set of oversized trading cards of the Maniacs wedged between those metal doors, in an animal skull. As he peruses the cards the Maniacs creep out and kill him. No explanation given as to why a group of supernatural killers would need or want their faces imprinted on some cards. It’s a nice touch though.
This whole movie kicks off after they slaughter a bunch of high schoolers in a local park. The sole famous face of the teens, the sole survivor in fact, is Leilani Sarelle who plays Natalie. No matter what Sarelle did, or does in the movies, she’ll always be remembered for playing Sharon Stone’s jealous lover in Basic Instinct (1992).
The movie has got a solid premise. Holed up in the van Natalie only happened to survive because a thunderstorm broke out as the Maniacs tried to get her. The flee taking their slaughtered victims with them (why? Again, no clue), which leaves the cops and the victim’s families scratching their heads as to why their sons and daughters have gone missing.
Natalie’s account of these weird creatures being the culprits gets her ostracized at school, an eventual suspension, and the cops thinking she’s crazy. Enter Steven (Alan Hays) and Paula (Donna Locke); Steven’s the lead singer in a band and has a crush on Nat, and Paula is the female equivalent of Mark Petrie from Salem’s Lot. She’s a hardcore horror movie lover, collector and also into making homemade horror flicks.
Seeing as Natalie escaped the Maniacs they are still on the hunt for her, and anyone else in her vicinity, which puts Steven in their cross-hairs since his crush turns into actual reciprocated romance as they evade and combat the Maniacs throughout the movie. Paula hears of Nat’s experience with some “monsters,” gets the skinny on where it happened and takes a video camera down to see if she can see them for herself.
Staking out those doors, she sees them and sees one of them slip in a pool of water and get his hand dissolved. They also see her. Now she’s on their shit list, too.
This movie culminates at a Battle Of The Bands dance one night at the high school where the Maniacs track their victims and pretty much end up killing anyone they can get their grubby mitts on.
An interrogation afterwards by the police leaves them convinced something supernaturally untoward may have indeed occurred and with the knowledge of where these beings are hiding they take a swat team and the fire department down eager to wipe them out with their hoses. This is where we finally get to see what’s behind the doors and, yes, it does look like nothing more than an old maintenance shed with an old time truck stored within.
But the cops find nothing. It’s not until the lead cop goes back in to have one last look around that we get a hint of where these beings may have come from. The back of the truck opens, light pours out, one of the Maniacs grabs the cop and pulls him in.
A parallel dimension?
An alternate reality?
When I first watched this I was naturally waiting for the rest of the movie to unfold, wondering what Nat, Steven and Paula were going to do next, how were the Maniacs going to retaliate now that the law had discovered their lair, etc, but this film does not have a proper ending. The pissed off cops take the kids back to their van, rain starts falling and as they drive away, Steven says, “this rain can’t last forever.”
That’s right. That’s all the movie you get.
Neon Maniacs obviously has all the ingredients for a bad movie, and in some respects, yes, it is a bad movie, but for me I dug the 80s vibe, the characters and how they related to one another, and those moments that reminded me of times I spent out late at night either with a girl or hanging out with friends. The “beings” they’re up against are odd enough to not be a turn off, too.
Because of all these unexplained developments and unresolved characters the movie has a very nice “dream-logic” plotting about it, which may also explain why I like it so much.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.78:1 high definition—English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio—No subtitles
As I mentioned before Anchor Bay initially released it on DVD back in 2003; that DVD is now long out of print. Code Red has now gained the rights to it and has converted it to blu-ray and I have to say the transfer looks damn good. AB had the aspect ratio at 1.85:1.
- Interview With Allan Apone (12:55)
- Isolated Music Track
- Theatrical Trailer
Allan Apone was one of the make-up effects artists on the movie and if you were ever curious as to why nothing is explained in the movie and why it just ends the way it does give this interview a watch. For starters he says horror was not late director’s Joseph Mangine’s genre and the makers of this flick were only interested in making money. Continuity and explanation didn’t matter to them. As he states they were just making a widget, something to make money on, and they never finished the script they set out to make, which goes a long way in explaining that abrupt ending. Also there were money issues to the point where people weren’t getting paid and production was shut down because of it several times. (Note: the interview is not anamorphic).
Only 1,200 units were pressed. Occasionally it gets restocked on Code Red’s online store.
Trivia: This is Andrew Divoff’s first film. He played the Doc maniac. You’ll know Divoff from Graveyard Shift (1990), Xtro: Watch The Skies (1995), Wishmaster (1997) and Wishmaster 2 (1999) just to name a few. He’s been in a ton of movies from small parts to main characters.