Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick… Joseph Mangine’s Neon Maniacs.
While Neon Maniacs feels like a very familiar type of film to connoisseurs of late 80’s pseudo-slasher flicks, it’s a bit of a hard one to describe. Let’s just start at the beginning. A group of sex-crazed teen stereotypes gather at the local park to get drunk and party. While a few of the couples go off to get their groove on, Natalie (Leilani Sarelle) and one of the other girls stay by the van to talk and joke about how Natalie is still a virgin. When the titular maniacs show up they begin to pick off the teens one by one. To the surprise of absolutely no one, virginal Natalie is the only survivor.
This may sound like a major spoiler, but believe me it’s not. While most slasher flicks would use the above premise as the backbone for a full movie, Neon Maniacs instead runs through that story in the first fifteen minutes. What follows is Natalie and her new boyfriend being stalked by the maniacs while nobody believes her about what happened. This all sounds like familiar territory, but the pacing for this film is weird and kind of awkward. While the bait and switch at the beginning is kind of a refreshing surprise, it feels like we need to start the movie completely over once we’re past that. Later on, the last act has almost the same issue. We get to a point that feels like the movie is leading to a climax, and instead it stops dead in its tracks and then goes somewhere else entirely.
You may have noticed a severe lack of any explanation as to who or what these maniacs are, and that’s because the film doesn’t give us any. They’re strange mutant creatures that live under the Golden Gate Bridge, come out at night, and can be hurt by water. Who are they? What are they? How did they get there? What do they want? Why does water hurt them? None of this is ever explained. On the upside, they look really cool. They remind me of grown up Garbage Pail Kids mixed with some Class of Nuke ‘Em High alum. Each one is totally different and unique, with their own fighting style and weaponry, and the makeup effects are really fun. Nothing here is too amazing, but for a cheesy 80s low budget flick, it works wonders.
What really works about this premise is just how straight they play it. There’s so much weirdness going on. The movie is absolutely absurd, especially with how out of place the maniacs are and all of the imagery that comes with them being hurt by water, but the tone of this movie fits in with any other late 80’s horror film. The high school setting, the sex-comedy jokes, the kids knowing what’s up while nobody believes them, the virginal survivor, and the silent killer(s) are all right at home here. Hell, they even take a sidestep away from the plot for a musical number without directly winking at the audience for a second. This is the cheesiest of 80s horror, so when they all grab a bunch of tiny brightly colored squirt guns to combat the vicious monsters, it’s absolutely hilarious.
The cast here is about what you’d expect. Sarelle is likable as the lead, though the way her character just goes about her business after seeing all of her friends murdered is a bit weird. I realize she’s got a new boyfriend that she’s pretty smitten with, but it hasn’t even been 24 hours since the attack and she’s acting way too cheery. Speaking of which, those two fall madly in love seemingly overnight. They even stop dead while hiding from the maniacs at one point to get rid of Natalie’s V-Card. I guess nothing gets a girl in the mood like a rabid ape-man trying to find and kill her. Weird.
Neon Maniacs is a conflicted movie. On the one hand, it’s incredibly formulaic for that time period. The characters, the setting, and the basic plot structure are all the kinds of things that will be immediately familiar to you if you’ve watched any other late 80s horror movie. On the other hand, the maniacs themselves are an anomaly. They are completely unexplained and absurd, just popping up to stalk Natalie and kill people here and there. On top of that, a lot of the writing is ridiculous and characters act about as stupidly as you would expect. Then there’s the ending. Oh god, that ending. Most of this is irrelevant. The maniacs look cool and for a bad cheesy movie it’s wildly entertaining in spite of its many many flaws. The only thing I can think of that would honestly improve its watchability is some better and more over the top death scenes, but the ones we do have are fine. If you can find this, it’s worth a watch. I’m honestly kind of shocked that more people don’t know about it.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.