My neighbor’s older brother lived in Santa Monica during the mid-80s. While there he payed the bills by working on movie sets as a security guard. He got to meet and hang out with the likes of Arnold and a handful of other famous 80s actors. He was a real likable guy, pretty fit/strong and very sociable. It didn’t take long before he got offered small roles and “extra” parts. His most involved role was playing a “maniac” in the 1986 slasher B-flick Neon Maniacs.
My neighbor buddy and I used to watch the movie once in a while and would be creeped out. However, over the years we’d end up laughing our asses off (we were just under 10 when we got a copy). We weren’t used to off-beat B-flicks at that age, especially for some knuckleheads from the midwest.
Enter Neon Maniacs! A film about a dozen (very different) mutant-like maniacs that emerge from a storage garage under the Golden Gate Bridge to terrorize and murder high school kids in the Bay Area. Pretty simple, right? Oh, there’s one catch—they don’t seem to die.
The film focuses on three main characters: Steven (Clyde Hayes) a high school senior who seems a little too mature for his age, however, he works as a grocery delivery-boy, and rocks out as a lead singer and guitarist at the school dance. He’s got the hots for a girl in school who survived a murder attempt by the maniacs, Natalie. Natalie (Leilani Sarelle – she was the lesbian lover of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct) is a classic 80s blonde hottie who’s a damsel in distress. But, considering she just watched a ton of her friends die at the hands of the maniacs she’s doing alright! And lastly there’s a tomboy kid Paula who is a horror movie enthusiast, and is often carrying around her camera for impromptu filming and scouting. She hears of Natalie’s escape from death and believes her story about a bunch of killer monsters while nobody else, aside from Steven, does.
The heroes, in my opinion, are the maniacs! They’re essentially the Village People of mutant maniac killers.
- Ape – A neanderthal monkey-like killer. He has some long white hairs and creeps about, but I don’t recall him doing anything that memorable. Still visually cool for variety.
- Archer – The evil elf/goblin-like crossbow wielding stalker. He has the most menacing look and the sheer evil confidence to feel like the leader. In a couple Facebook groups most people say he’s their favorite.
- Axe – ‘Nuff said! His face is messed up with a bulging forehead and eye, which adds to his charm.
- Slasher – This guy’s face is even more fucked up than Axe’s and if I recall correctly he wields a knife.
- Doc – The demented doctor psycho. He likes to play with the dead/dying. I didn’t hear him say “Kali ma,” but maybe I was just heart of hearing.
- Hangman – A crazy killer with a noose. The only problem is he’s kinda useless without a tree. He looks like Dengar from The Empire Strikes Back. I think it’s safe to say they probably have the same type of mobility… But hey, when it comes to slasher flicks “slow & steady” wins the race.
- Juice – The robotic electrocutioner. You never know watt he’ll do to you.
- Mohawk – A Native American themed mutant maniac. Just another reflection of the good ol’ 80s! This tomahawk and spear throwing killer is one persistent dude. He gets some good screen time on the lightrail.
- Punk Biker – He’s your standard full leather biker punk complete with military style helmet and chains. However, he is zombified.
- Samurai – Yup, they even threw a samurai maniac mutant in the mix! His face is a red and bumpy (kinda like those snow monkey butts). He doesn’t have much time on screen, but he feels menacing and his exit in the subway is swift and kinda funny. His “cut” at the school dance is giggle worthy.
- Scavenger – This l’il green globby reptile cyclops feels very different than the rest. He is reminiscent of Kang & Kodos, but much stumpier. It appears that he has a hook hand for at least one appendage.
- Soldier – He’s similar to the Punk Biker, a zombified version of Rambo, but a head to toe camo uniform and not musclebound. Nice to see a psycho zombie maniac killin with an assault rifle. I guess he doesn’t like up close and personal.
So, essentially Natalie and crew find a weakness of the maniacs that they intend to exploit. Naturally they plan on the maniacs coming to the school dance, which is where they plan to finish them off. A bunch of fun starts once they arrive. Maybe our high school heroes survive, or maybe they learn a maniacal lesson…
For a low budget B-film it’s really good. The effects, make up and costume design are really good! The novelty, of course, is having the wide line up of zany killers which they could’ve paired down some. But, after listing them all off it just feels okay to have that many clowns in the neon car. Note: there is nothing neon about the film aside from the stage lights at the school dance. However, neon was all the rage in the 80’s so it seemed appropriate for the time. The score is good, especially the stalking track (this is used in the trailers).
A few years back I talked about Maniacs with a horror-fan friend of mine. He really thought about the movie on a more profound level which got me thinking. Kinda spoiler warning (for a concept—nothing confirmed): At the end of the movie there’s a bright flash and it appears that the Scavenger character seems to disappear. My friend thought that he could be an interdimensional traveler. Then I thought maybe the Scavenger could take control of beings he finds, manipulate them and make them do his bidding. Maybe the Archer was from some fantasy medieval era, and maybe the Punk Biker was brought back to life from our world, etc… The Scavenger could’ve built his army through various time periods and realities. But, that seems pretty complicated to create such a diverse roster for the sake of bringing down some pesky teens. Either way it was a fun thought.
If you love 80s B-flicks you’ve probably already seen it, but if you haven’t it’s a must. Hell, if you’re a casual horror/gore fan I think you’d get a kick out of it! You’ll get a laugh out of a few of the humorous killings and the maniac varieties. It was released on Blu-ray a few years ago, but it was a limited run. So, that could be hard to find. DVDs should be easy to track down and a real crappy version is even on YouTube, but broken down into, like, 12 segments. I hope you enjoy it if you end up checking it out. I just wonder who your favorite Maniac will be?
Guest writer Troy Svengard is a complete mystery. But he’s also a really nice guy.