Saturday, January 30, 2016


Abominable (2006)
Dir. Ryan Schifrin
Written by Ryan Schifrin and James Morrison
Starring Matt McCoy, Haley Joel, Christien Tinsley, with Paul Gleason, Jeffery Combs, Rex Linn, and Lance Henriksen

There’s a real thin line you have to walk when you’re making an intentionally campy movie. Camp, in general, is something which works much better when it’s come by honestly, the earnest result of slightly cracked visionaries laboring hard in punishing conditions to realize their stupid dreams. It’s stupid, but it’s honest. It’s personal. In a way, the resulting movies are windows into the souls of artists either too brazen or too delusional to even pretend they understand what other people want to see. Sure, we laugh --and rightly so-- but there’s something kind of sweet about that kind of sincerity. They can’t help themselves. Cultivating camp appeal is another beast entirely. It’s one thing to enjoy the work of someone who tried hard and ended up with something stupid; it’s another to watch someone intentionally make something stupid when they could have chosen to make it good instead. You lose a lot of leeway and goodwill right off the bat, and that’s before we even point out that no matter what goofy thing you want to invent to make your movie intentionally corny, some smug nerd with plenty of resources is never going to be able to out-crazy the legitimately unstable weirdos who made the genuine article. You’re never going to be able to think your way into replicating something that only came into being because someone wasn’t thinking. It’s more likely to make everything feel forced and more than a little desperate.

More likely. But not certain, because with ABOMINABLE, novice filmmaker Ryan Schifrin has made something a bit deliberately arch -- and certainly plenty schlocky-- which is also probably the best bigfoot film ever put to celluloid (not that it has a lot of competition in that regard; really the only other one which could even be considered watchable is probably THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, and that only as an exotic curiosity). It’s cheesy and ridiculous, but with a broad, cheeky style which hovers gracefully just between outright comedy and affable sincerity, a tone that feels just about right for this particular scenario. Which turns out to be bigfoot vs co-eds meets REAR WINDOW.

The explanation for this eyebrow-raising premise is that wheelchair-bound Preston (Matt McCoy, the guy they got for POLICE ACADEMY 5 and 6 when they couldn’t even get Steve Guttenberg to come back for more)* is recovering from a tragic accident in a cabin in the woods (well, more like a well-appointed house in the woods) which is directly across the road from an identical house occupied by a bunch of scantily-clad, frequently-undressed co-eds. I know this will shock you, but try to keep from panicking when I tell you that these very co-eds will one by one fall victim to bigfoot attack, and even though Preston can see it all from across the street, he can’t help them because his irritable nurse Otis (Christien Tinsley, primarily a makeup artist and easily the most distinguished person on set, having worked for Andrew Dominik, The Coen Brothers, Clint Eastwood, William Friedkin, Mel Gibson, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Bay, and numerous Vin Diesel joints) doesn’t buy his bigfoot-phobia and thinks he needs to chill out.

McCoy, despite being a poor man’s Steve Guttenberg and looking like the unholy love child of Gabriel Byrne and Anthony Perkins, is actually the film’s secret weapon. He has a surprisingly strong grasp of the tone, and he really makes an honest effort to sell the tension here while still giving a wild-eyed, slightly tongue-in-cheek performance. His amusingly antagonistic relationship with the exasperated Otis is really the anchor of the whole film, successfully finding a schlocky midnight movie vibe which is entirely entertaining even when there’s no bigfoot on-screen (which is surprisingly --perhaps distressingly-- often). That’s good, because the rest of the film is all over the place; with the exception of final girl Amanda (Haley Joel [NOT Osment], “young co-ed,” on an episode of Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn, who, based on her surprising charisma here, deserved better roles than she got) the co-eds are all entirely forgettable, and even throwaway cameos by the likes of Paul Gleason, Jeffrey Combs and Lance Henriksen don’t add up to much. Combs, at least, looks like he’s having fun as a weird redneck; unfortunately, Henriksen's inability to not be a great actor is somewhat of a hindrance here. He’s also playing a weird redneck, but he’s incapable of not giving a soulful, nuanced performance, which in the middle of this ridiculousness feels a little jarring. But I guess his presence is always welcome.

Still, that’s a lot of filler. McCoy and Tinsley strike that right tone and remain consistently entertaining, but there are constant cutaways to various unimportant side characters, with cops, campers, hunters, farmers, and co-eds, none of whom bring much flavor to the table; even the exquisitely horrible acting of the girls isn’t amusing enough to justify the amount of time they waste. This becomes increasingly a problem because there’s also not a lot of violence to spice things up; the climax brings one violent highlight (spoiler: bigfoot unhinges his jaws and vertically bisects a head with his teeth) but otherwise tends to be surprisingly mild, leaving a little too much of the film on the slack and dry side.  

Fortunately, Schifrin has also brought along two ringers to bat clean-up. The first is Bigfoot himself (designed by storyboard artist Federico D'Alessandro, who has since gone on to storyboards and animatics in many of the Marvel films) which gives the big guy a distinct look, bristling with long teeth and wild eyes (he’s portrayed by special effects guy and occasional actor Michael Deak, who’s had a career which has ranged from DOLLMAN VS DEMONIC TOYS to TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. Granted that’s not much of a range in quality, but in terms of production budget, that’s gotta be the biggest rises in movie history). He looks great whenever you see him, and the movie wisely shows the suit off at every opportunity.

But the other ringer he called in is maybe even more important, and it’s someone he didn’t have to reach through his agent (I hope): his dad, celebrated composer Lalo Schifrin, in his second-to-last (so far) full-length film score.** Schifrin got his big break after being noticed by jazz great Dizzy Gillespie, and went on to record classic themes for all the DIRTY HARRY films, BULLIT, WAY OF THE DRAGON, and perhaps most memorably Mission Impossible (no, Limp Bizket didn’t write that tune. Really! Look it up!). So having him on board makes this feel waaaaay more like a real movie than it probably has any business pretending. It’s not going to go down as one of his all-time classics or anything, but it’s completely respectable horror score, and the swirling, PSYCHO-esque strings do much more than anything else in the movie to lay down a base coat of legitimate horror movie. That might seem superfluous in a movie this trivial, but actually it’s a direly necessary counterbalance to the movie’s otherwise broad tone. Without at least a solid core of genre goods, this would be such a frivolous exercise it would risk evaporating before our eyes.

Fortunately, with a top-tier bigfoot and a strong film score by one of the genre’s acknowledged giants, ABOMINABLE has everything it really needs. It amiably coasts the rest of the way on its affable cartoonish seriousness, keeping the proceedings consistently goofy and exaggerated (but for arch theatrical effect rather than outright comedy). It’s silly, but never quite to the point of parody, which means the final confrontation with bigfoot is actually a real highlight, a grueling scorched-earth battle with enough actual stakes to earn your investment. It ends with a sustained parade of its best instincts --including its cheerfully dumb final zinger, which works much better here than the identical (but clumsier) one that concludes the deadly serious DARK WAS THE NIGHT did, because you might actually consider watching a sequel to this one-- and consequently leaves you feeling more charitable towards it than it probably deserves, all things considered. Still, it can be confidently called one of the best Bigfoot movies ever, warts and all, and probably even the best Bigfoot movie to feature Lance Henriksen (take that, SASQUATCH HUNTERS). As Lincoln once reputedly put it, Whatever you are, be a good one. I doubt he had a low-rent killer Sasquatch movie in mind when he said that, but it’s true nonetheless.

*Weirdly, McCoy would go on to appear in both THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. But by 2005 he was no stranger to hairy bipedsploitation, having already been in BIGFOOT: THE UNFORGETTABLE ENCOUNTER (1994) and the apparently unrelated LITTLE BIGFOOT (1997).

**Tragically, the last was RUSH HOUR 3.


Play it Again, Samhain

  • TAGLINE: Some Thing Are Better Left Unfound. Or, We've Hunted It For Decades... But Now, Its [sic] Decided To Hunt Us. Or, If The Cops Want To Solve These Murders, They'll Have To Think Big. Really Big
  • SEQUEL: The end leaves the possibility wide open, but it's been over a decade and still nothing.
  • REMAKE: No
  • BELOVED HORROR ICON: Henriksen, Jeffrey Combs, and Dee Wallace Stone is in there too.
  • BOOBIES: None (?) There's a lot of scantily clad ladies, but I don't recall any specific nudity. IMBD keywords do list "female nudity" so maybe I'm wrong. I bow to the collective horny-ness of the whole internet. EDIT: Dan P. is correct, there's a shower scene, which even features an inexplicable zoom-in on the butt, somehow accomplished with binoculars.
  • MULLETS: None of note.
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Face bisected.
  • MONSTER: Sasquatch!
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • VOYEURISM: Tons. This one is mostly a REAR WINDOW pastiche, which is about as voyeur-y as movies get.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Medium, definitely on the radar for serious horror fans.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: Women will almost always be grateful to you for watching them through their windows with binoculars, because you'll be able to warn them of killer Sasquatches. In fact, women, just to be safe, you'd be wise not to have any blinds of any kind installed. That's just common sense.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: 100% lies, everyone knows that Abominable Snowmen or "yetis" (presumably the "abominable" of the title) are exclusively native to the Himalayan mountains. North American hairy bipeds are known as Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Skunk Apes, or Napes (North-American-Apes).

The co-eds talk about their missing friend

Monday, January 25, 2016


Honeymoon (2014)
Dir Leigh Janiak
Written Phil Graziadei, Leigh Janiak
Starring Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway

HONEYMOON begins with one of the most terrifying suggestions the horror genre has ever been able to muster: the threat that it’s going to be found footage. But fear not, the opening scenes of Bea (Rose Leslie, that Game of Thrones show everyone is always jawing on about) and Paul (Harry Treadaway, BROTHERS OF THE HEAD) talking to a video camera are just prelude; these are clips of their wedding video, an introduction to these two crazy kids who have just tied the knot and are now hunkering down in a Cabin In The Woods to settle into their honeymoon. This movie is about a literal honeymoon, it’s not like a play on words where they’re named Mr. and Mrs. Detective John Honeymoon or something.*

This is a horror movie, but it’s a rare horror movie in which the human element is at least as important as the red corn syrup. Bea and Paul make a genuinely charming pair, and Leslie and Treadaway are both terrific at crafting immensely likeable characters (which is good, because they’re the only people on-screen for 99% of the movie). They have an easy and affectionate banter and an absolutely magnetic chemistry that makes their relationship seem utterly natural and believable. This seems to be the relationship everyone wishes they had, except witter and prettier and with way hotter movie sex. But you can’t be mad at them, they’re just so nice. They really seem to like each other, and the feeling is contagious. I think I could happily hang out with these two for 87 minutes even if they never got to the unspeakable evil.

Boy, I hope nothing bad happens to them in this horror movie called HONEYMOON.

Unfortunately, they haven’t had very much time to affectionately tease each other and/or fuck each other’s brains out before things start to go wrong. Paul, awakening early for a pre-dawn fishing expedition, finds that Bea is not in bed. An increasingly frantic search in the woods finds her naked, in some kind of hysterical trance. There are signs of violence on her clothes and body, but she insists nothing is wrong and isn’t interested in discussing the matter any further. The next morning, she seems to be cheerful as ever… but something is off. She doesn’t remember things she should know by heart. She doesn’t know how to make French toast or coffee, mixes up details about their past. Paul catches her furtively writing details about her own life in a notebook, as though she’s trying to keep them straight. And most worrisomely, the once-amorous redhead keeps uncomfortably eschewing sex. Something ain’t right here.

Well, horror cinema has no shortage of these symptoms, and HONEYMOON fits comfortably into a tradition of paranoia that your friends and family are not who they say they are. There’s even a psychological term for this: a Fregoli Delusion. Every single other review of this movie felt the need to name-check INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS --which is not completely unreasonable, as that film’s “Pod People” have become a cultural shorthand for this premise-- but there is a much longer and richer fictional history of this fear. The recent Austrian import GOODNIGHT MOMMY is nearly entirely precipitated on this phobia. The 1936 Boris Karloff sci-fi THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND hinges on the same thing. And they’re hardly alone; everything from Jack’s gradual slide from sanity in THE SHINING to the undead Olivia Wilde’s personality shift in this year’s execrable THE LAZARUS EFFECT play off this same fear, that our loved ones return to us changed. They look the same, they say the right things, they have neat little explanations, but we know better.
Or… do we? How well can you ever really know someone? HONEYMOON’s most interesting trick is to nestle this unsettling notion in the context of a relationship which has just entered new and uncharted waters. These two kids know each other very intimately as people, but they don’t know each other at all in their new role as husband and wife. They’re new at this. Maybe the effect of making this leap into long-term commitment changed them in some way, unnoticeable at first but are slowly gnawing away on the foundations of their mutual trust. Is Bea’s odd behavior the result of villainous supernatural chicanery, or is she fretfully wondering if she’s made a terrible mistake? Certainly, her evasive shiftiness takes a toll on Paul, making him question his own role in their relationship, and filling him with doubt about his own adequacy as a partner.

It doesn’t take magic or aliens to turn a person you think you know into someone totally unrecognizable -- many a real-world relationship has come to a sudden end with the words “you’ve changed.” We need, psychologically, to believe in the fundamental stability of the world, and especially the people we love and trust, but the truth is, circumstance and identity are in constant flux. The person you are today is not the person you will be tomorrow, but, like Al Gore’s frog in boiling water, you don’t notice. Until one day you wake up next to the person you love and realize you don’t know them anymore. Maybe you suddenly realize it’s been years since you did. Maybe they changed, or maybe it’s you that changed --and probably both of you did-- but somewhere, some subtle, imperceptible shift occurred, and over the years that tiny course correction has transformed something which was once so familiar into something you don’t even recognize. It’s a premise which attacks our certainty about ourselves, and our ability to understand our most intimate relationships. Is Bea really acting suspicious, or maybe, just maybe, are these two lovebirds drifting apart, and projecting their frustration and confusion onto each other?

The movie might be a little stronger if it lingered on that ambiguity a little more, but this is a horror movie, after all, so it wastes little time in heavily suggesting that something far more sinister is afoot here. There’s an uncomfortable look at shifting relationships baked in here on a subterranean level, but it’s not a spoiler to tell you not to worry, there are definitely monsters at work here. Even so, HONEYMOON moves along with uncommon patience, perfectly content to stew in the unnerving strangeness of the situation. Tension builds slowly but surely --even elegantly-- and by the time things start to go really nuts near the end, it’s been quite a ride. And while the final revelation isn’t anything too earth-shatteringly original (especially for a film which takes such a leisurely path to get there) it does have an agreeably unique angle on an old classic which feels uniquely appropriate to its intense focus on this specific couple. It eschews a cheap “twist” reveal, instead pushing boldly onward into new shocks, bolstered significantly by the care that’s been put into developing the characters. Because we actually care about them, the reveal itself is not as important as how the characters react. It’s honestly a little heartbreaking --rather than simply alarming-- to see these nice young kids find their love for each other twisted by circumstances. So even once the movie turns from a paranoid slow-burn into a visceral shocker, it never loses its focus on the human center. It’s a movie about a honeymoon right up to the end, just one of those honeymoons horror stories people like to tell. With an emphasis on the horror.

Directed and writer Leigh Janiak (with co-writer Phil Graziadei) is wise to keep the relationship at the center of the film --particularly since the chemistry between the two leads is so remarkable-- but the filmmaking is resolutely strong throughout (which is key, since so much of the horror early on is implied rather than explicit). She works wonders with the isolated location, finding beauty and subtle threat in the stately wooded locale, and the cinematography confidently reflects the script’s enigmatic shifting between the comforting real world and the the intruding, ineffable strangeness which has descended upon it. Strong editing and subtle musical cues add the finishing touches to an atmosphere which is heavy with nebulous, hidden threat. The fact that the film shows its hand a smidge too early is the only tell that Janiak is a first-time filmmaker, but even that slight miscalculation is mostly forgiven in light of the surprises which follow, and the rock-solid performances which keep things engrossing. With two terrific actors, a smart script, a keen eye for detail and a patient ear for tone, this is exactly what I look for in American micro-budget horror. My only regret is that I’m torn between being seriously excited for Janiak’s followup film and a desire for it to suck so that I can begin by review with “The Honeymoon’s over.”

*No, I’m not tired of this joke yet.

Play it Again, Samhain

  • TAGLINE: TAfter The Ceremony Comes The Ritual. I have no idea that that means, there is definitively no ritual in this movie, and no ceremony either, for that matter.
  • SEQUEL: No
  • REMAKE: No, unless it's a very loose adaptation of The Honeymooners.
  • FOUND-FOOTAGE CLUSTERFUCK: No, although there's some footage from the wedding at the beginning.
  • BOOBIES: Tons of gratuitous sideboob in a sexy shower scene, although I think nothing explicit. But note that it was directed by a woman, so I'm sure there's nothing prurient about it.
  • MULLETS: None
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • TRANSMOGRIFICATION: Yes, without getting to explicit about it
  • VOYEURISM: Yes, someone is watching this young couple, and not just us.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Fairly high, but it's on Netflix now!
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: Just because you're young and beautiful and in love doesn't mean your life can't get bizarrely ruined randomly for no good reason whatsoever.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Accurate
And a very strong four at that.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Neon Maniacs

Neon Maniacs (1986) aka Evil Dead Warriors
Dir. Joseph “Mangina” Mangine*
Written by Mark Patrick Carducci
Starring Leilani Sarelle, Alan Hayes, Andrew Divoff, P.R. Paul, Donna Locke

“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”

With these poetic words spoken by an unseen and uncredited narrator, we enter the world of the Neon Maniacs. It will serve as all the explanation we will ever get as to why there is a tribe of gimmick-driven killer mutants living under the Golden Gate Bridge. It will also be the last time anyone will refer to them by that name, which is good because if they did they’d probably have to explain --at the very least-- why they adopted that particular sobriquet in the notable absence of any neon whatsoever. But whatever late-production decision led them to inexplicably re-title this cheerfully moronic 80’s team slasher, “Neon Maniacs” is obviously a great name, and frankly I can’t believe there isn’t an alternative rock band from the 90’s that adopted it. It’s so good that I actually wondered briefly if that little bit of opening explanation wasn’t an unusually clunky line from a lesser-known Alan Ginsburg poem or something, but if it is, I can’t find any evidence of it. With no way to know one way or another, I’m choosing to assume it was left over from an uncredited script polish by William Burroughs and they realized that it was so good that they’d better make it the title in defiance of the total lack of literal Neon Maniacs anywhere in finished film.

It’s kinda a shame, because it would be really cool if the maniacs looked like TRON or something. Or they could have just waited til the 90’s and dressed them in contemporary garb. Maybe for the sequel.

Another good title would have been NEON SLIME, since there’s plenty of slime, probably as much or more than there are maniacs. When one character wonders aloud what the deal is with all the slime, a police detective (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, BOYZ N THE HOOD, DARKMAN, PRINCE OF DARKNESS) helpfully explains that it’s “Gook, slime... nobody knows yet. Forensics found it all around here.” Of course, Neon Slime was already the title of the glorious cock-rock ballad that opens Gary Sherman’s 1982 masterpiece VICE SQUAD. Wings Hauser sings it. That doesn’t have anything to do with NEON MANIACS but it’ll definitely improve your day if you google it. I like to use my position of authority here to help people.

Anyway, NEON MANIACS begins with a fisherman walking home, I guess on a road that runs parallel to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge (?!), where he discovers a bull’s skull propping a door open. He decides the only reasonable thing to do would be to pick it up and look inside, whereupon he finds a bunch of touched-up glamour shots of what I assume to be our titular characters. He doesn’t look that interested or surprised, but he keeps flipping through the stack of photos until he gets splattered all over them with an ax by an unseen killer. Cut to the theme song, an all-moog atrocity by composer Kendall Schmidt, a neon maniac in his own right, so jadedly sadistic that he ended his career with four ADVENTURES OF MARY-KATE AND ASHLEY movies. His inexplicably affectionate IMDB profile claims he is most known for “the haunting score for Neon Maniacs (1986),” which strikes me as a pretty depressing thing to be known for, comparable to being most known for having the largest private collection of Nazi memorabilia or being the grad student who unwittingly killed the oldest living thing ever discovered. As his terrifyingly soulless synth rises up for the darkest depths of the 1980s over a black screen for the opening credits, you’re left with the distinct feeling that the movie has put you on hold and forgotten to transfer you to your correct party.

Anyway, after the credits the movie re-begins with a bunch of teens going to a public park to have sex with each other, demonstrating that those kids from THE FINAL TERROR were not alone in believing the woods was the only imaginable place for youngsters to enjoy 40 or 50 seconds of awkward humping. Must be an 80’s thing. They indulge in of the most endearingly childlike dialogue I’ve ever heard in my entire life, no joke -- (“Sue’s crazy! She’s not on the pill or anything!” “Did you hear that sick sound?” “Yeah, it was creepy. Probably your mom howling out her anti-sex warning”), and are thankfully quickly dispatched, mostly mid-coitus. This platoon of vaguely mutant-looking multiculturally-themed weirdos just wanders out of the woods and wordlessly gets down to business like it’s their job. I know it’s sad to watch these characters that we’ve just spent the past 5 minutes falling in love with die horribly, but that’s just the gritty reality of life, brah. "The producers hope the film you are about to see will serve as a warning to parents and potential victims alike. It is intended to be as disturbing as the subject matter it depicts in order to educate and, perhaps, save lives."

This sequence is important because it establishes two key things about NEON MANIACS. First, there are a lot of maniacs, and they each have one distinct gimmick, like there’s a samurai one, and a hangman one, and an angry biker. And then a dozen others at least. Second, NEON MANIACS just does not give a single fuck at all about anything else. There’s no attempt to set any of this up at all, the maniacs just walk purposefully out of the woods and immediately get to work butchering the entire cast.

Having now killed off nearly every single character it’s introduced so far, the movie re-begins again with a new set of characters. Now, some sweatpants-wearing dingus name Steven ([Clyde] Alan Hayes, screenwriter and actor in THE GINGERDEAD MAN actually no, it was Robert Altman’s THE GINGERBREAD MAN, that’s even weirder) has to team up with Natalie (Leilani Sarelle, BASIC INSTINCT), the sole virginal ("I bet you're the last virgin in San Fran!" her friend marvels) survivor of the previous rampage, and Paula, an eccentric young horror enthusiast of indeterminate age (Donna Locke, NEON MANIACS) to figure out what the deal is with these Neon Maniacs and how to stop them. Despite the dozen or so missing teens and a smashed up van, no one believes Natalie’s story about the thematically mismatched mutant maniacs, and in fact somehow seem to think she’s in on the disappearances. So it’s up to our rag-tag team of misfits to defeat the mutant menace on their own. The first two characters are pretty standard-issue horror stock types, but the last one is a bit more interesting. I honestly can’t figure out what’s going on there. Actress Donna Locke is clearly at least in her 20’s, but she plays this character Paula like she’s supposed to be 11. Take a look:

She doesn’t seem to go to high school with our main protagonists, and when not wearing her trademark gangsta-style sideways baseball cap, she favors a full Dracula getup:

But is she really supposed to be a kid? Surely they could have found someone premenopausal to play a middleschooler, if that’s really what they’re shooting for, right? Or are we to assume that she’s actually the same age, and is just some sort of eccentric, possibly mildly autistic rich kid who doesn’t actually attend school? Actress Donna Locke did only the one movie and I can’t find any reliable information on how old she actually was when she played the part, but it’s exactly the kind of startlingly bizarre detail that gives these corny B-movies some character. Frankly I love it, especially since her character is introduced as a horror fanatic obsessed with making her own low-budget monster movies ...which look suspiciously like the one we’re watching (in fact, the movie’s depiction of an amateur child’s homemade horror movie does not markedly differ from its normal standard operating procedure). This makes her the obvious audience surrogate character (since clearly no one watching NEON MANIACS is going to identify with our gorgeous and popular Hero and Heroine) but who in the fuck is going to identify with this chipper weirdo? Did they really expect the audience to show up in sideways baseball caps and vampire capes?

Whatever they thought they were doing, it’s completely appropriate for this corny, cheerfully moronic 80’s mutants vs teens saga. I mean, everything about the movie begs to be made fun of. But even in a movie where Indian** and samurai-themed mutants stash glossy photos of themselves outside their billy-goats-gruff lair, I have to draw particular attention to the so-called “plan” our heroes come up with. See, like the aliens from SIGNS, we discover fairly early that these Neon Maniacs are deathly vulnerable to water. You know, that stuff that every living thing is primarily composed of, and falls from the sky on a regular basis, and is what clouds are made of, and just sits there in the fuckin' air on humid days. Which means humans are basically the alien from ALIEN to these bastards, if we fucking bleed on them, they’re gonna melt like ice cream cake in a Miami gay bar. You would think this would mean that they pose no danger to anyone who possesses a garden hose or bottle of Deer Park or the ability to sweat, but whatever, no one seems to find this reassuring.

So, despite the villains being easily dispatched by the one substance on Earth which is always, everywhere, immediately available to anyone (even if you’re alone in a desert, you can just spit on them! Or cry on them!) the best plan these dingbats can come up with is to stage a Halloween-themed battle of the bands at a high school, knowing that the lure of their powerfully shitty Rick Springfield wannabe sequin-pompadour rock will draw those damn Maniacs like flies to shit. They don’t involve the police or anything, (“we’re kids, and who listens to kids?” Natalie resignedly acknowledges), but they do have one trick up their sleeves. “What did you say [earlier], you said that, that water kills these freaks?” Steven thinks aloud (I guess he wasn’t really paying attention the first time). Hhhhmmmmm, what to do, what to do. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out their crafty plan of attack (although it might have helped): they’ll give everyone in the audience for the battle of the bands... squirt guns! When the Maniacs show up, they’ll be completely defenseless and quickly reduced to puddles of neon goo.

Well, this would be a workable if ill-advised plan, except for one minor detail: they’re so entranced by the whitest music human history has yet been able to produced that they don’t bother to tell anyone in the audience about the imminent arrival of the mutants, or the fact that if any mutants were to arrive, you should definitely use those squirt guns on them. So when goofy-looking monsters show up at a show where everyone else is also wearing goofy-looking monster costumes (remember, it's a Halloween party!) and predictably start massacring kids left and right, it reasonably doesn’t occur to their victims to defend themselves with the plastic water dispensers they’re holding. A bloody culling ensues, which is entirely the fault of our heroes, though everyone seems too polite to point that out. To be fair, it was only the third cruelest act they’d perpetrated against these innocent highschoolers in one evening, after performing the shittiest 80’s 50’s revival song of all time, followed the shittiest 80’s hair metal song of all time, followed by another 80’s 50’s revival song which is somehow even worse than the previous one, which was already the shittiest song ever written or performed or even imagined in the whole history of human art.

Anyway, the plan kinda works, because with an auditorium full of pretty rich white kid corpses and hundreds of terrified witnesses, the cops finally come around to the whole “monsters did it” theory, and the whole crew charges off to storm the Maniacs’ lair under the Golden Gate Bridge. But then they don’t find them, they’re hiding or something, everyone is a little disappointed. And then the credits role. Yup, that’s the actual end. Maybe they were holding out for a sequel or something, but like AMAZING SPIDER MAN 2, I guess we’ll never know how that story resolved. Although if ROCK N ROLL NIGHTMARE could get a sequel 20 years later, I guess this one could get one 30 years later. It’s not too late, we just had a NINJA TURTLES movie in theaters, right? Come on Michael Bay, make yourself useful for something.

Anyway, this is a riotously terrible movie, but it is absolutely exquisite in its 80’s slasher perfection. If you’re looking for a laughably inept, howlingly outrageous horror flick that still delivers the goods, your Spidey Sense better be tingling right about now, because this is the forgotten gem you’be been waiting for. There’s such a bounty of craziness here you almost can’t believe it. I mean, even one gimmicky maniac of this quality would be more than enough for a normal horror movie. And NEON MANIACS has, what, dozens? Hundreds? I lost count. It seems like every showpiece scene has a new maniac show up that you never noticed before. There’s the aforementioned Samurai maniac, the Indian Maniac, a surgeon maniac, a soldier maniac, a hangman maniac, a “punk biker” maniac, some kind of crazy albino werewolf maniac, I guess (some sources call him a “caveman,” the credits just call him “ape”), a grim reaper type maniac, a cycloptic dwarf maniac with a meathook, an archer maniac, an ax-wielding maniac, a sort of, I dunno, Tin-man robot maniac?, a maniac the credits just call “Juice” that I don’t even remember. There are maniacs who appear on-screen that aren’t even listed in the credits, that’s how many there are. Gotta say, I understand that these guys are merciless killers, but frankly it’s kind of kind of inspiring that Maniacs with such diverse backgrounds can get along so well. I’m sure there are all kinds of cultural misunderstandings and communication problems between Samurai Maniac and Biker Maniac and so on, but you know what, they work through that shit so they can work together to do what they love. I bet they learn lessons and stuff. This should be a sit-com.

You’d think with such a wealth of maniacs, you could get at least a little neon on one of them, but oh well, it would be ridiculous to complain when the filmmakers have gone so far out of their way to bring us joy.

This is not even all of them. Full disclosure, I stole this from a German-language site. I wish I was cool enough to have made this myself, though. 

Having spent all their money and much more on the Maniacs obviously didn’t leave much for actual violence (there’s only a little) but there’s absolutely no shortage of cool/terrible-looking weirdos lumbering all of the place ineffectually, all the time. Hangman Maniac gets a lot of action --because hanging is cheaper than slashing-- but don’t worry, you’ll see plenty a Maniac ply his merry trade. The plethora of maniacs should immediately let you know that this one has some real hustle to it, and there’s plenty of good setpieces. Early on, our heroine is sunbathing in her backyard swimming pool, trying to relax and forget for a moment that she just saw all her friends gruesomely carved up by monsters and no one believes her story (or maybe she’s just bored, I dunno, she doesn’t seem all that torn up about it), when suddenly it starts raining blood on her. The swimming pool turns into a slimy red bloodhole, and as she scrambles to the side, she finds the tile too slick with blood to climb out. It’s a legit nightmare sequence worthy of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET --and of course, that’s exactly what it is, a fakeout nightmare scare-- but it’s also surprisingly well-crafted for a movie this stupid. The editing, by Timothy Snell (8 episodes of Brisco County Jr.) actually gives a couple sequences --particularly a mid-movie stalking setpiece on a subway) a little… if not real horror, at least momentum. And while co-cinematographer Oliver Wood --who had already lensed THE HONEYMOON KILLERS and DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE and would go on to work with Michael Mann, John Woo, Renny Harlin, and the BOURNE series-- probably doesn’t have a lot of clips from this one on his show real, it still mostly looks like a real movie, much more so than any movie called NEON MANIACS has any business attempting.

Director and co-cinematographer Joseph Mangine (already an old hand in Hollywood z-movies, having shot his first film in 1965 and having built an eclectic resume of everything from the pirate porno musical CAPTAIN LUST to the cannibal hippie disaster I DRINK YOUR BLOOD to the Albert Pyun CONAN ripoff THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER) didn’t direct again after this, his second directorial effort, because after you’ve made NEON MANIACS, where else is there to go? Novice screenwriter Mark Patrick Carducci went on to write the screenplays for PUMPKINHEAD and the early Frank Darabont TV movie BURIED ALIVE (and serve as “creative consultant” on PUMPKINHEAD II, as if that one needed any more creativity) before his untimely death in 1997 at the age of 42. Neither of them can exactly be accused of crafting great art here, but frankly with a premise like NEON MANIACS, if it was any better it would just be worse.

As it is, it’s exactly right -- the precise right balance of hilarious stupidity and bountiful genre goods. Except for the disruptively anticlimactic ending, there’s something funny and weird happening virtually every minute of screen time, making it blessedly free of the usual dull downtime you would expect in something this low-rent (some of the Maniacs are credited to two actors, because apparently the production ran out of money and had to shut down for a few months in the middle of filming). It’s eager to show you its glut of gimmicky slashers and obsessive about thinking up new ones to keep things fresh. They found two of the world’s shittiest bands, and had them play all the way through three original tunes! I mean, buddy, this is a movie that is really working to keep you entertained. If the world is indeed ruled by violence, and the soul of mankind fades… well, I can’t speak for the children, but I for one feel honored to have had my path darkened, by the shadows of the Neon Maniacs.

*I include the “Mangina” joke at the insistence of 13-year-olds everywhere. My producer says sometimes you have to make commercial compromises if you expect to get ahead in life.

**I would say, “Amerindian” or “American Indian,” or even “first people,” but once you’re talking Tomahawk-and-head-dress mutant slasher, I think we’re well past the point of political correctness


Play it Again, Samhain

  • TAGLINE: Night Falls... So Do Their Victims. And, according to IMDB, There Are Twelve Good Reasons To Be Afraid Of The Dark. And Everyone [sic] Of Them Is A Killer
  • SEQUEL: Alas, no, although it could really use one.
  • REMAKE: Once Nicolas Winding Refn and John Hyams finish their MANIAC COP remake, they need to get right on this one.
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: Oh good God, no.
  • BOOBIES: Yes, in the opening kill scene.
  • MULLETS: Oh my sweet jesus, yes.
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Head lopped off. Heart removed.
  • MONSTER: At least a dozen, judging from that dubious second tagline, if not more.
  • SLASHER/GIALLO: I think this counts. Team Slasher.
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • EVIL CULT: Nah
  • VOYEURISM: Well, the Maniacs watch the high schoolers bone while they're walking up to kill 'em. Oh, and Paula secretly videos the Maniacs outside their under-the-bridge lair.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Unfairly high. But hopefully this review will change that.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: That Red Hot Chili Peppers song about being under the bridge was darker than we ever realized.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Many Maniacs, no neon. 50%?
Obviously, this is objectively more like a two. But come on, Neon Maniacs! You gotta respect.