Neon Maniacs

Water-soluble zombie showdown at the battle of the bands
★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1986
Director: 
Joseph Mangine
Starring: 
Clyde Hayes, Leilani Sarelle, Donna Locke, Victor Brandt
The Setup: 
Group of supernatural zombies menace San Francisco teen community.
Discussion: 

A friend of mine at work recommended this one out of the blue one day, saying he had seen it when it came out in 1986, when he was 14, and had been totally blown away. Seeing it now, one can totally see how it would be about the most awesome thing imaginable to a 1986 14-year-old boy, and it maintains some potent charms to modern-day viewers of a more mature sensibility.

The screen remains black as a voice-over ominously intones: “When the world is ruled by violence… and the soul of mankind fades… the children’s path will be darkened… by the shadows of the Neon Maniacs.” First of all, I did NOT know that. You learn so much from the movies. Then you say to yourself “I bet this was added later to provide some link to the obviously fabulous title,” and this is true, as there is NO RELATION to anything neon about these maniacs. But who cares? Hell, I’d welcome a movie about florescent maniacs. Just give me some form of illuminated maniacs. Although these ones aren’t illuminated, either.

We open with this fisherman dude who I totally would have taken out as a Random Movie Hunk if he weren’t soon replaced by better RMH models. He finds a cattle skull propping a door open [they just have those things laying all over the place in San Francisco… assuming Georgia O’Keefe didn’t carelessly drop it there]. Tucked neatly inside are a set of Neon Maniacs trading cards, proving that these are a band of murderous mutant zombies who understand the value of collectable marketing collateral. Anyway, soon the guy is dead and the cards sullied with his blood. Those are going to be worth SO MUCH on eBay now.

We soon move into the credits, where the music abruptly turns from dire horror music to snappy 80s lounge-pop. The music is one of the true pleasures of this movie, and there are several exciting songs coming up, some of them performed by Sneaux. I got a big laugh when I said that out loud and understood what it referred to.

Now we introduce our teen victims, tooling around in their red party van. They stop at some convenience store presided over by Steve, this sorta-dork whose dog wants to lick all over the blonde Natalie. Her friends think Steve is a dork and they take off, but clearly his Wind Song has stayed on her mind. We then introduce this girl Paula, who is sort of a tomboy and aspires to do movie makeup. She has several professional-looking monster masks in her room, but it struck me that her shelves were rather sparse and devoid of tools. We notice this during a 360-degree pan of her room.

Back to our horny teens. They go out and park somewhere, then disperse to get it on and do stupid teen things. Natalie remains in the van, where she reveals to her friend that hey hymen remains unbroken. “You’re the last virgin in San Francisco!” her friend exclaims, which is immediately followed by a bestial roar from the forest. At this point one might hopefully speculate that, given this, the monster invasion may have been initiated by Natalie’s virginity, and that interpretation may stand up to scrutiny. So the Neon Maniacs [NMs] soon show themselves—they are a group of random monsters, some of them humanoid and like a Village People of monsterdom—there’s a biker, an Indian, etc.—but there are also a few full-on giant lizards and a cyclops thrown in for good measure. Or because they had a cyclop mask laying around. Anyway, within a few minutes all of the teens, save Natalie, are slaughtered.

On the case is Lieutenant Devin, not that hot but bald and with a stache and smoking cigars—and a COP—so I’ll give him a pass. He lectures at three guys in his office, then they go out to the slaughter scene and find noting but gloop, no bodies, so they all think Natalie is crazy. At one point Devin scoops up some gloop into a ziploc bag and hands it to a guy who leapt to the front-runners for CdM Random Movie Hunk OF THE YEAR! He was tall with this stubble and a nice big stache… wow, where did he come from? And he vanishes just as quickly. Here he is:

Mmmm, SUAVE. But on to education. A lot of movie watching comprehension has to do with picking up contextual cues. One has to be able to process the elements of the frame and discern what they say about each of the characters. Furthermore, you must do this AS the film is unfolding. Now let’s have a test of our skills. When you look at the picture below, where do you think Natalie’s mom might keep her RECIPES? I’ll give you 90 seconds to formulate your best guess.

Speaking of Natalie’s mom, she and her dad are off somewhere, which causes Natalie to feel all alone in this world, which is best experienced after stripping down to a bikini. She goes for a dip in the pool, where she is first almost menaced by a Neon Maniac who steps out right behind her, then she has a dream—actually somewhat creepy—that it starts to rain blood, filling the pool, and soon she drowns. But not for real, in the dream.

Then we see Paula Peterson, the tomboy mask-maker with sparse shelves, in her daily wear, which consists of a track suit and baseball cap worn sideways. She looks like a 22-year-old woman playing a 12-year-old, and the effect is for you in the audience to just stare at her in repulsed astonishment trying to figure out WHAT it is you’re seeing. At first one is like; is she supposed to be 22, but is just retarded? Or are we really supposed to believe that she’s like 14? One can’t be sure, but her whole manifestation is so bizarre on one doesn’t want to know, one just wants her to go away. She tries to contact Natalie about being menaced by the Neon Maniacs, but Natalie won’t listen to her because, like, she’s SOOO gross. Weird scenes follow in which the parents of the dead teens call Natalie and try to get her to tell them where the kids are, because there were no bodies and they think Natalie and friends are just playing some kind of big joke. This part is inadvertently somewhat creepy. Then, at around 31:13, we have an abrupt switch to a shot of what I will only refer to as the “penis baguette.” I think you’ll know it when you see it.

SPOILERS > > > Anyway so something or other happens and then the Neon Maniacs are on the prowl again. Steve and Natalie run to get on a subway train, and once they’re on and looking down the cars, Natalie says “Think they got on?” and he responds: “Hope not.” Oh well, thanks for your contribution. I guess I hope not, too. Jesus.

While this is going on Paula is menaced by her own Neon Maniac, who she douses with water and thus discovers that they are water-soluble, and dissolve when exposed to water. There’s kind of a sweet effect as one of them dissolves in her bathtub.

So Paula finally gets to talk to Natalie, and tells her that the NMs dissolve in water, so they decide that they can safely go to the big show that night, and they don’t have to worry about the Neon Maniacs, because they can just arm everyone with squirtguns. So you see, NO problem. Turns out that this event we’re going to is a BATTLE OF THE BANDS, and not only that, but Steve and his band are one of two contestants! Around this time we note that even though he was introduced as a dork, he’s now a rock star and as cool as he would be if he was a platinum seller. He plays his hit “Baby Lied” while trying to hide his mouth directly behind the microphone as much as possible and thus avoid the obvious appearance of lip-synching. While this is all happening Natalie is all sensual, seemingly oblivious to the fact that at that moment hordes of bloodthirsty mutants are on their way to kill her. Whatever, she’s got a squirtgun. Paula is present as well, looking ever as creepy in a vampire costume and at one point clapping like one of those toy monkeys holding the cymbals and you wind it up and they crash them together.

So it’s time for the other band, this 80s-metal thing in the Poison mode, who perform “We’ve Had Enough!” While this is happening the Neon Maniacs are slowly creeping into the room, but pass unnoticed because, well I hadn’t told you until now, but this is a COSTUME battle of the bands. And all the revelers are wearing fairly expensive-looking masks that mean the Neon Maniacs can pass within then freely, at least until one of them starts hacking up a reveler. While the NMs are mingling, Steve has gone to Natalie’s side to bill and coo, but excuses himself back to the stage with the suave “I gotta go jam.” He sings this delightful 80s ballad until the NM apocalypse begins, whereupon the teens panic, rather than coolly applying their squirtguns, as Steve advises from the stage. If you look [not even carefully] you will see that the director has cannily instructed one row of partygoers to run in a line to the left, and another just behind them to run in a line to the right, [repeat], so that it gives the appearance—to a Ritalin-stoned 8-year old MAYBE—of general chaos. It’s all resolved when Paula Peterson turns the firehose on the NMs, causing mass meltdown. Now please note that Paula, who throughout has been attired in boy’s clothes and never projected an adult female sexual anything, now saves the day by using her massive phallic HOSE to save the day by SPEWING WHITE FOAM all over the mutant men. I’m just sayin’.

Steve and Natalie flee, leaving Paula behind to fight off the oncoming hordes [I think they even say “She’ll be fine,” and just take off], and are stalked through the corridors of wherever they are. Now Steve and Natalie are hiding behind a counter with a murderous Neon Maniac literally RIGHT on the other side, stalking them, when they look into each other’s eyes and decide to DO IT. I guess that erotic lure of danger really is potent. We don’t get a firm assurance, but I believe we are meant to believe that Natalie gives up her virginity, which coincides with the end of the film and everything being put right. Perhaps this whole thing with the mutants was because the world is out of balance with a hot chick still being a virgin. When you think back to the bestial cry the issued from the woods right after Natalie announced her virginity at the beginning, I think it’s quite possible that this is the case. But anyway, if we are to believe her friend, there are now no more virgins in San Francisco! < < < SPOILERS END

It is never explained where the Neon Maniacs come from, what they are, or what they want. Subteextually, I think they really are the universe’s emissaries set loose by the fact that Natalie is a virgin. But the whole thing is so off-the-wall and ready to go in ANY direction that you really don’t care what their origin is. I wish I hadn’t watched the trailer halfway though the movie because then I could experience the total unexpected delight of discovering that our hero Steve is also a rock star. There are also scenes in this so unexpectedly and delightfully STUPID that you just have to love it. For instance, at around 1:02:07, there is a sequence in which we see a cheesy 80s guy wailing on his guitar, then cut to a Pinhead-type monster walking forward, a sudden burst of electricity beaming between his fingertips, and then back to the Rick Springfield-lite style rock band. I really want to just pull this sequence out and preserve it, to say to the world [and future historians]: This Existed. Also adding to the sheer inane delight is the fact that this thing is SO VERY 80s in every aspect, from the visuals on screen to the music and its very sensibility. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about this movie, as it is a righteous and justified cheese classic. Watch that shit!

Okay, later folks. I gotta go jam.

Should you watch it: 

YES! If you like super-cheesy and downright ludicrous 80s horror.