Review: Neon Maniacs (1986)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #711

 

 

Also known as Evil Dead Warriors
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: November 14, 1986
Sub-Genre: Slasher/Monster Movie
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $1,500,000
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Joseph Mangine
Producers: Christopher Arnold, Steven D. Mackler
Screenplay: Mark Patrick Carducci
Special Effects: Wayne Beauchamp, Allan A. Apone, Douglas J. White
Cinematography: Joseph Mangine, Oliver Wood
Score: Kendall Schmidt
Editing: Timothy Snell
Studios: Cimarron Productions, Kelly Park Associates
Distributors: Anchor Bay Entertainment, Castle Hill Productions Inc., Bedford Entertainment Inc.
Stars: Leilani Sarelle, Alan Hayes, Donna Locke, Andrew Divoff, P.R. Paul, Victor Brandt, Doyle McCurley, John Lafayette, Barry Buchanan Archer, Mark Twogood, Matthew Asner, Trish Doolan, Daniel Burrell, Scott Guetzkow, Robert E. Veilliux, Zac Baldwin, Douglas Markell, Allan Aperlo, Jerome L. Dennae

 

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

 

[1] Rick Bowles “Baby Lied”

[2] Whodini “Freaks Come Out At Night”

[3] Gene Kelly “Singing In The Rain”

 

I do miss the golden age of video. Back then, it mattered not what kind of middle-of-the-road dreck you were pedaling; so long as you had the cool cover art side of things covered, then they’d soon come a scuttling. I should know as I was one such scuttler; a whore for all things shiny and pretty and I soon learned my lesson in no time. Just ’cause it shines like bullion and is shaped like bullion; doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bullion. You ever see a golden turd? I have and its name was Zombie Nightmare. I should have known from the stink finger I contracted simply sliding Jack Bravman’s monstrosity into my toploader and the fact that it practically spat itself out 89 minutes later. I’d dropped my breeches far too readily just because I liked the shade of lipstick it was wearing and vowed never to do so again. Until the next seduction.

Anyhoots, two such date raping nasties emerged within twelve months of each other as the decade was getting thoughts about winding down. One was Robert Scott’s The Video Dead in 1987 and, needless to say, it had its vile way with me and never called me afterwards. To be fair, it wasn’t exactly a ruse, as a shady looking mob did indeed eject from static and they just about passed as dead. But it wouldn’t have had George A. Romero shitting irregular. However, the other felt a little harder to discount; even though pretty much everyone around me seemed to have no problem tearing it a new one. Let’s not grease the girder here, Joseph Mangine’s Neon Maniacs is some way from a good movie. But nowhere near the distance that many would have you believe.

You see, in the history of troubled shoots, few have been forced to weather anything like the frequent shit torrents Mark Patrick Carducci’s hugely enthusiastic screenplay endured during its thankless plight from page to screen. Four long years it sat on a dusty shelf, with funding not forthcoming and, during that time, the likes of Ken Wiederhorn (Shock Waves, Eyes of A Stranger) expressed a great interest in the project. Eventually, cinematographer Joseph Mangine took the reins for his directorial debut but the six-week shoot was no less catastrophic. The plug was pulled three weeks in and Neon Maniacs shut down for three months, during which time, the original DP made other commitments, leaving Mangine to double up on his duties. To compound his misery, all but one of the titular maniacs also moved on, meaning last minute casting to the power of twelve. In short, it was downright cataclysmic.

The fact that Mangine managed to salvage something even half cohesive from this fine mess alone is nothing short of astonishing and, while it categorically fails at fulfilling such a rich concept, there’s actually rather a lot to commend. Ultimately, it’s all about weighing up the rough against smooth and my scales were tipped the very second I first spotted its VHS sleeve art. William Lustig had already supplied my wide eyes to the tune of one maniac and, if Herschell Gordon Lewis could conjure up two thousand of the bastards, then thirteen seemed reasonably doable.

Do you know what? Say what you will about Neon Maniacs, scoff in its general direction and steal its milk money if it gets you off. But don’t go filling its head with guilt over not coming good on its quota as I had my abacus on hand and three of its beads slid across twice. Care for a quick meet and greet? Of course you do but, be warned, one of them must have had a hair appointment when the group hug was snapped.

“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”

 

The roll call is nothing if not ambitious and affords no less than thirteen Neon Maniacs the opportunity to mince about in the shadows menacingly. My personal darlings consist of Samurai – who dresses in traditional Feudal Era attire and wields a fearsome Katana; Archer – who can pick off any strays using his crossbow and dead-eye precision; Juice – whose entire body is coated in alloy and likes to electrocute his prey; Decapitator – who subtracts heads with his twin cleavers because he doesn’t possess one of his own; and Doc – who subdues his victims using ether before performing open-heart procedures.

Horror aficionados may spot the Wishmaster himself, Andrew Divoff beneath Doc’s surgical mask in one of his earliest ever roles. Meanwhile, the numbers are made up with Mohawk, Ape, Hangman, Slasher, Scavenger, Punk Biker, Axe and Soldier but it’s no easy feat keeping track if I’m honest.

“Did you hear that sick sound?”
“Yeah, it was creepy. Probably your mom howling out her anti-sex warning”

 

This baker’s dozen of pain and sorrow reside beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and only emerge from their cavernous hideout during nightfall. They don’t drink excessively, pick up cheap women from the boulevard, peddle crack or engage in lewd behavior in murky subways but they may just end you if you stumble into their thirteen-strong cone of vision.

Killing is their game and the Neon Maniacs play it decidedly well, as attested by their opening tally. Barely ten minutes in and a whole camper load of disposable teens are being hacked, slashed and hung, and that’s your two dollar rental paid for right there. Alas, it also highlights one of the movie’s chief downfalls as, while the maniacs themselves more than look the part, there ain’t sufficient bucks in the kitty for the audience to revel in their workmanship.

This is a most unsatisfactory turn of events for sole survivor Natalie (Leilani Sarelle), having just observed her entire social circle obliterated in one fell swoop. Worse still, these raging nutbags aren’t satisfied with leaving shit unresolved and this provides Natalie with a dozen and one reasons to look rather fretfully over her dainty shoulder. Many hands make light work, so she hooks up with classmate, Steven (Alan Hayes), and his first thought of one is to slide them straight up her blouse. Natalie just so happens to have in her possession one unbroken hymen and Steven needs to rule out all possibilities if he’s going to risk life and limb to fight for her honor.

Then there’s budding news hound Paula (Donna Locke) and fans of Corey Feldman’s Tommy Jarvis from Joseph Zito’s Friday The 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter will identity with this feisty little minor effortlessly. Like Tommy, her walls are adorned with horror-themed paraphernalia and she has the same kind of fire in her belly. Paula manages to get up close and personal enough to this rowdy rabble to spot a chink in their collective armor and live to tell the tale.

Amusingly, it turns out that these undesirables have one distinct weakness and said Achilles heel just so happen to be none other than good old H2o. Of course, this begs the question – why congregate beneath the Golden Gate Bridge where they’re prone to being splashed by suicide jumpers but clearly logic pays precious little part here as we’re just itching for some face off.

Considering Natalie has just witnessed her friends being slaughtered, she’s actually taking things remarkably well, while Steve’s main priority list reads Poontang 1, Escape certain death 2. Mercifully, in Paula, we have the kind of resourceful teen we need to latch on to through the numerous stretches of mild tedium that litter our trail.

It’s painful to watch at times, not because Neon Maniacs doesn’t fulfil the requisite for shenanigans, but because this could have been a minor classic if Mangine didn’t have so many darn plates to spin. I’m all for industrious endeavor but he simply doesn’t have the tools or know how to translate so many ideas to screen and his movie can never quite settle on a workable tone.

By the time we arrive at the climactic Battle of The Bands showdown, the once formidable Neon Maniacs have surrendered their fearsome edge as hordes of resilient high school students arm up with hose pipes and pump action squirters to fend this threat off once and for all. Now watching teens die horribly I can handle, but I’m not so keen on tuning in while they gain the upper hand and, after showing so much promise, our titular terrorizers wind up considered little more than nuisances.

Neon Maniacs has had to deal with some pretty rough treatment over the years and, while it never looks likely to maximize its potential, at least it had some to begin with. So much of the mid-eighties fodder was uninspired and here was a movie with grand designs, but no real clue how to put them in action. That said, if I were to bury a time capsule for future generations to discover long after I’m gone, then I’d clear some space for this amiable little time waster as there really isn’t another film quite like it. As for the motley crew of the title, well it looks like we may well have seen the last of them and that saddens me as they certainly had some presence.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers: If there was one thing that could have elevated Neon Maniacs from its lowly position, then it would have been grue. There’s no deficiency with regards to body count, but unfortunately, very little of it converts into bankable bloodshed and they deserved better from their one moment to shine. To be fair, the creature make-up is generally excellent and each of the thirteen are provided centre stage at some point. It’s just a shame they don’t appear to know how to make the most of it. Too many chefs, not nearly sufficient broth.

 

Read Night of The Creeps Appraisal
Read Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things Appraisal
Read Ghoulies Appraisal
Read Gremlins Appraisal

 

 

 

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