Neon Maniacs (1986)

First off, a heart felt thanks to Josh Gregal of The Ungodly Warlocks Horror Podcast for including NEON MANIACS in his IAHTKY post and spurring me to track it down.

I don’t understand a lot of stuff so if I only liked stuff I understood, I wouldn’t like much. That’s no way to live. What are Neon Maniacs? I have not a clue but I am certain that I am fortunate that they exist at least within the boundaries of this film. From what I can gather they are terrible monsters that want to kill everybody. They all have distinct personalities and I will not be the first to describe them as a cross between cenobites and The Village People. They have one hackneyed weakness that even M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN wouldn’t try to get away with except, he did in SIGNS. Yes, water is kryptonite to the Neon Maniacs, which is a dumb idea until you realize they can be fought with squirt guns which is kind of cool. You might want to squirt them fast though because some of them have machine guns. From what I witnessed humans are still way more allergic to bullets than Neon Maniacs are to water so keep that in mind.

Eighties Movies! What is it about them? I refuse to believe their marvelous nature is due to nostalgia and the joy of snickering at past fashion and music tastes alone. That can’t be all there is to it! I’m going to loosely claim that eighties movies tend to hit the perfect note of not taking themselves too seriously while still taking themselves seriously enough not to resort to cynicism and condescension. I love that NEON MANIACS has a near GOONIES fuzzy-adventure spirit and yet still wants to decapitate a lady while she’s going down on a guy in a park. I guess that’s what you’d call an uneven tone but what a way to keep the viewer on their toes. The only consistency is the consistency of inconsistency and if you don’t dig what’s going down, just wait five minutes and the entire framework of this universe will change. There’s plenty of inexplicable ineptitude but that doesn’t stop a subway chase scene from being surprisingly energetic and that doesn’t stop a phone call from a frantic parent whose child has gone missing from being LYNCH-level eerie.

A hefty reason this movie can get away with shrugging off the concept of communicating something you might understand is that it has a highly likable cast. Their acting skills are a moot point because there is no way anyone can authentically respond to the situations this movie dishes out. LEILANI SARELLE (BASIC INSTINCT) as Natalie, has the steepest hill to climb because she must act like someone who watches all her friends get murdered and then goes to school the next day but only after relaxing in a pool. CLYDE HAYES (Who may be one of the most boring FRIDAY THE 13TH victims ever, see PART 4) mutates from slobbering dork to chivalrous love interest to primping rock star within the space of an hour and somehow makes it work. Speaking of FRIDAY THE 13TH, keep your eyes out for MARTA KOBER who you may remember getting skewered while doing the nasty in F13 PART 2. She’s not around nearly enough but her presence is a little extra eighties gravy.

Nobody but nobody steals the show quite like the charming DONNA LOCKE, who portrays confounding uber-scamp Paula. Paula is an amateur filmmaker whose bedroom is decked in horror memorabilia. She enjoys riding her bike through graveyards (causing PHANTASM flashbacks) and sleuthing about like Harriet the Spy. Perhaps her most amazing trait is that she is meant to be around the age of twelve or fourteen while LOCKE the actress is clearly a good decade older than that. Her stunning age reversal is accomplished by wearing a baseball cap jauntily to the side of her head (a Nostromo ALIEN hat no less!). I’m only sad that the director didn’t go that extra inch and insist she wear overalls with a slingshot in the back pocket too. Watching Paula interact with her peers, her parents and the “older” teens is as dear as it is bizarre and adds yet another layer of absurdity. LOCKE has appeared to have fallen off the face of the Earth, which is a shame because I would happily watch her in anything.

On the down side, things do end up being wrapped up in a ruefully unsatisfying way which is surely due to mishaps and restrictions behind the scenes. It’s not enough to undo the fun that has been had though. I hate to ever throw out the lazy “So bad it’s good” line and in fact, I don’t think it applies here anyway. NEON MANIACS is too imaginative and spirited to be called “bad.” It’s more accurate to say that it is a giant mess that never comes together properly. Does that sound like faint enough praise? Truth is, if this movie gelled better it would not be as entertaining, so maybe it found its proper form in the end anyway. Sure, nothing is explained but what possible explanation would suffice? What missing line of dialogue could magically sew this crazy quilt together? Do we really want that missing logic? Is logic worth the drudgery it brings? Not in this case. NEON MANIACS is truly maniacal and it glows with slimy eighties florescence; it fails colossally hard then cluelessly yells,”Ta-dah!” Poor me, I can only color myself a fan and applaud.

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Amanda By Night
Amanda By Night (@amanda-by-night)
9 years ago

Hey Unk,

I haven’t seen this movie since the way early 90s, but you are making me want to revisit Neon Maniacs! I remember thinking it was OK, but I might have a better taste for it now, since I’ve seen a lot more (and various kinds of) horror since I first rented this on a whim.

I had no idea Marta Kober was in it either so that’s reason #2.

Thanks for this review. It’s on my list of Must See Movies now!

Chuckles72 (@chuckles72)
9 years ago

Where can I get me some of those cool Neon Maniacs trading cards?

Amanda By Night
Amanda By Night (@amanda-by-night)
9 years ago

You are right, I want to marry Baby Lied!

Thanks for posting!

Eric Eddy
Eric Eddy (@fb100000792125902)
9 years ago

lol… “Hills Have Axe-Face.” If I’m not mistaken by the pic, he just happens to be Michael Berryman to boot!

I have not seen this masterpiece yet, but I will if I get the chance.

I’m really surprised Donna Locke hasn’t been in any more films. She was such a cutie! (Seeing pics of her from 2006 suggests that she still is, too!)

If I could get some high res images of those cards, I can make them (graphic designer working in a print shop).

JGregal (@jgregal)
9 years ago

I’m so glad you fell for NEON MANIACS the way I did so many years ago! You are very spot-on with your appraisal; the movie is a big enough mess to be thoroughly entertaining. Anything more or less would ruin the whole thing.

Man, I’d kill for a set of those cards! I’d frame them and hang them up next to the glorious Neon Maniacs movie poster I have hanging in my house!

jessciaface (@jessciaface)
9 years ago

Apprently A. M. Esmonde has penned a sequel in memory of Mark Patrick Carducci.

Jeff Allard
Jeff Allard (@fb1328455442)
9 years ago

I remember reading about NEON MANIACS in Fango way back when and being so jazzed to see it and being absolutely sure it would be my new favorite horror movie. But then it never came out in theaters. Or came out on video as far as I could tell. Every so often I’ll think about it but I’m always reluctant to seek it out at this late stage because I fear that it just won’t be all that but this post has encouraged me to finally take that leap. Thanks Unk!