“Neon Maniacs” is one of those movies you’ll think you’ve seen before, even if it turns out you probably haven’t (see, it’s the next morning and I’m still not sure this was the first time). If that were the only thing that made the viewer feel a little puzzled, then we’d be okay, but sadly it isn’t. It was also difficult to shake the idea it was one of those Italian-made genre ripoffs, even when everyone was American and they used the actual Golden Gate Bridge in the background of one shot, just because it has that feeling to it. You know the feeling (well, you will if you’ve watched as much garbage as I have).
The first shot of the movie is a cannon-fodder character picking up what looks like a series of trading cards of the villains of the movie, a group of mutants of different shapes and sizes, such as Samurai, Archer, Soldier, Ape, Axe, Juice, and Hangman. You might think they’d want to keep their identity and location a secret, but then…nah, I got nothing. I guess we can at least say the maniacs look decent, like the person who did the effects for them knew what he was doing and was given a reasonable amount of money? Anyway, this fool dies and we’re onto the main part of the movie.
Right away, “Neon Maniacs” shows us it’s not quite like other movies by killing off the group of horny teens you assume will be the faces of the entire thing. Of course, it’s Natalie, the sweet virginal one who survives (Leilani Sarelle, “Basic Instinct”) who survives, but because the maniacs mostly clean up after themselves, there are no bodies to be found, only some neon-coloured goo on the ground. As an aside, she gives up almost immediately when faced with danger, and is such a useless Final Girl that we get another one (more on her in a few minutes).
No-one believes Natalie, thinking it’s a prank. Is this filmmakers really having no idea what teenagers are like, or did this sort of thing happen a lot in the 80s? “Let’s all pretend we were slaughtered by a gang of mutants and hide out for a few days!” The cops seem really really casual about all this and it annoyed me.
I’ll stop just recapping this nonsense in a minute, but after witnessing the murder of her friends and then not getting believed by a bunch of dumbass cops, Natalie decides to lounge around in a bikini before going for a dip in her pool, while being witnessed by one of the maniacs. Wait, what? Did they steal her address book? Did they implant a GPS tracker in her body? This happens multiple times throughout, with several different characters. Who cares, right?
A gang of sorts forms to fight the maniacs. There’s Natalie, who recovers remarkably quickly; the guy who’s initially too scared to ask her out even though she’s not particularly cool and he’s the handsome lead singer of a cheesy 80s synth band, Steven; and nerdy wannabe filmmaker Paula (Donna Locke). A word about Paula – she’s got real nerd cred, wearing a Nostromo hat and jacket (from “Alien”) and a cool Star Wars shirt, back in the day when those things couldn’t be ordered on a million websites.
So the mutated Village People act gone wrong just keeps finding our heroes, until eventually they figure out the rather enormous weakness they have and come up with a plan. Despite the piling up of missing people, and weird green goo that no-one can figure out, the cops just kick back and relax until it’s way too late – my notes are full of “cops are the dumbest” and “that was the stupidest plan ever”. The monsters appear able to go wherever they like and do whatever they like with no-one spotting them, taking pictures of them or reporting to anyone else what they saw. There’s a guy who works the turnstiles on the subway who sees them all and just goes “eh” and carries reading a newspaper whose pathetic inaction costs several lives.
After all this criticism, I sort of liked it, most of the way through. It felt like Steven Spielberg trying to do a wacky horror movie, with his lightness of tone and plucky teen protagonists, only with grotesque goo-monsters on the other side. But then everyone’s so unforgivably stupid, and the ending is so perfunctory (they might as well have had the cast wander into shot, mutter “will this do?” and for a big “The End” thing to scroll up) that you won’t be comparing it to Spielberg at all. Except to say “Spielberg was really good. This totally sucked”.
This was one of only two directorial efforts for one Joseph Mangine, better known (barely) as a cinematographer. Perhaps the actual director for this mess pulled out and he took over at the last minute? The writer, Mark Patrick Carducci, also made the Plan Nine From Outer Space documentary, so good on him.
I hesitate to call it an interesting failure, really, because of how rotten the ending was. Best just to call it a failure, expunge it from our memories, and move on.
Rating: thumbs in the middle