Movie Review: Neon Maniacs (1986) Trading Card Monsters

Neon poster Zombos Says: Fair 

We were sitting in Zombos' study. Outside, the Long Island winter winds blew the gray barren tree limbs to and fro. Paul Hollstenwall was visiting and brought alongNeon Maniacs. The Hollstenwalls live at 0004 Gravestart Lane, a few minutes’ walk from the mansion. Not far enough, if you ask me.

It’s always a lively and interesting time when Paul visits us.

Wait, that’s a lie. It’s always a dreadful time.

His taste in lame, pointless, movie-making is boundless, and he always manages to find yet another awful movie that’s worse than the previous one he’s subjected us to watching.

I warned Zombos our time would be better spent elsewhere, but he insisted on seeing the movie. He’s always insists. I don’t know why.

I poured the coffee and sambuca, and popped the DVD into the player.

When the world is ruled by violence, and the souls of mankind fades, the children’s path shall be darkened by the souls of the neon maniacs,” intones the narrator as the movie starts.

“What does that mean?” asked Zombos.

Paul and I shrugged our shoulders. Perhaps that art-house blend of words was just too deep for us.

“What are those, trading cards?” asked Zombos leaning closer to get a better look.

“Yeah, cool-looking, aren’t they?” said Paul. “Wouldn’t it be great if they had statistics on the back for each of the neon maniacs?”

“How do monsters from hell that no one knows about get printed trading cards?” asked Zombos. He stared at Paul and took a big gulp of sambuca.

The first scene is an odd one. A fisherman on the Golden Gate Bridge heads home for the night. He passes a big metal door beneath the bridge and finds a bunch of Tarot-like cards lying in a bleached-white cattle skull. Each card depicts a Neon Maniac. Yes, it’s all rather goofy. He stoops to look at them. The massive door behind him opens quietly. An axe wielding and deformed Neon Maniac sneaks up and stands over him while he looks at the axe wielding and deformed Neon Maniac’s trading card.

Cut to the axe going up, coming down, and the fisherman will fish no more.

I reached for the liner notes hoping to find an explanation for the significance of using trading cards.

None.

Perhaps director Joseph Mangine was aiming for a marketing tie-in with Neon Maniac trading cards? See the movie then trade maniacs with your friends! Trading cards were big in the 1980s.

I read more of the sparse liner notes looking for answers.

…it’s the neon maniacs, a group of ruthless, outrageously attired and made-up killers who emerge from beneath the Golden Gate Bridge to wreak havoc on helpless teenagers [and fisherman too, apparently]. Where the Maniacs come from is never explained, nor why they live so close to San Francisco Bay, considering that water…is the only thing that can harm them.

So not only are they hideously deformed and fashion-phobic,they’re stupid. My favorite quote is "and the producer now says, ‘It was a much better script than a movie…’ ”

Great.I turned my attention, reluctantly, back to the movie. The incongruous lounge music didn’t raise my hopes of it getting better.

“My god, they look like the Village People,” said Zombos.

“Yes, they do, don’t they, like in some twisted sense of horror-hell,” replied Paul. “Pretty imaginative, don’t you think?”

I looked at my watch to see how much longer I would have to suffer through this pretty imaginative mess. I tried to excuse myself, but Zombos would have none of that. He likes to see me squirm.

“Where did that midget dinosaur with one eye in the middle of its head come from?” asked
Zombos.

Paul and I shrugged our shoulders. Zombos finally stopped asking silly questions and quietly watched this silly movie.

After teenagers are slaughtered in a park, the cops of course do not believe the lone survivor, Natalie (a fairly comatose Leilani Sarelle). She goes home. After watching her friends get beheaded, hung, and mutilated by the village people from hell, she puts on a bathing suit—in the middle of the night and all alone—and goes for a relaxing dip in the backyard pool.

All near-victims in horror movies should have Olympic-sized pools in their backyard so they can relax after their near-death trauma.

Just so we are clear on this, she is alone and it is the middle of the night, and right after her friends having been horribly mutilated and killed by outrageously dressed and deformed monster-freaks appearing out of nowhere. Me, you, and any rational person would think along the lines of ‘if they could appear in the park, they could even appear for a pool party.’ Clearly Natalie is no smarter than these Neon Maniacs.

And why the hell are they called “neon’ anyway? They don’t glow. They don’t even disco down!

One of them, the hairy caveman (he reminded me of television's Land of the Lost) lurks in the bushes watching her. He almost busts a move, but it begins to rain so he runs away. End of suspense; a close shave with hairy death to be sure.

“Wait, this is the best part,” said Paul with enthusiasm.

It was the introduction of the stereotypical spoiled and precocious movie adolescent who was also a budding horror director, sticking her nose into the mystery of the missing teenagers because that is what precocious adolescents with cameras do in movies. After Spielberg and Lucas shook things up, rich kids with cinema-blood started popping up all over the screen.

This rich kid, Paula (Donna Locke), is fun to watch as she exudes that I-told-you- so and I- know-better- because-I am-rich-and-can-afford-all-this-camera-equipmentstyle of cocky acting. With her baseball cap daringly tilted to one side and her starry-eyed determinism, I was hoping she would square off against
the midget dinosaur and poke its eye out. Or get eaten. I’d settle for either way.

She is also way smarter than the police as precocious adolescents in movies must always be wiser and smarter than their years. She is smart enough to find the obvious green goop trail the maniacs leave behind. Only she is smart enough to follow this plain as daylight muck trail to the big metal doors under the bridge. No
trading cards or cattle skull this time, just lots of dead white pigeons in front of the doors.

If any movie ever cried out for expository explanation, THIS is the one.

Mentally putting the green goop and dead white pigeons together, Paula comes back later that night with her really expensive video equipment to shoot night scenes without a light source. She’s that good. She hides behind bushes near the metal doors. Soon the Neon Maniacs leave their hiding place, only to be turned back by the oncoming rain. One of them trips into a puddle of water and starts bubbling, so now she knows their weakness!

She hurries home. A Neon Maniac goes after her while she is sleeping. Being precocious and clever, she’s prepared with a bucket of water and a water pistol.

How the maniac knew where she lived is not explained. The rain had driven them back inside, so none of them could have followed her.

I stared at my watch, willing the minute hand to move faster. It didn't work.

The next day, Paula, Natalie, and the requisite handsome but nerdy boyfriend realize everyone is in danger, especially all teenagers, of course, and they quickly devise a plan to arm all High Schoolers with water pistols at the Sock Hop versus Alice Cooper wannabees band contest taking place later that night. They give everyone a water pistol but forget to tell anyone when to use them. The Neon Maniacs show up on the dance floor to do the mashing-body hustle, panic ensues, and bodies are sliced, diced, and julienned in short order.

After much thought and dismemberment, Paula finally notices the big fire hose hanging on the wall and puts it to good use, dousing the maniacs until they scatter.

That should have ended the movie easily, but since some minutes were left, to fill with incongruous action, Natalie and her boyfriend run up a few flights of stairs to the locked Principal’s Office. Oops. Meanwhile, a graphic grue humor scene with the Neon Maniac surgeon operating on a chloroformed night guard suddenly stands out in this otherwise gore-light movie.

Now back to Natalie and her boyfriend and that locked office problem: no problem, they decide to make out instead.

“Wonderful story logic there,” commented Zombos.

“This is a funny scene,” said Paul. “The kids convince the police to carry squirt guns and go after the monsters.”

The police, in a 1950s Blob-styled these-kids-are-crazy-but-what-the-hell-we've-got-no
other-choice frame of mind
, along with the fire department, converge in front of the metal doors underneath Golden Gate Bridge. Water pistols and fire-hoses at the ready, they open the doors and search the surprisingly small storage garage the Neon Maniacs hang out in. Nothing is found and the kids are derisively told to get the hell out of there.

They do.

The chubby obtuse detective (obnoxious and obtuse detectives are always overweight in movies and television) in charge heads back into the garage after everyone leaves.

Without his water pistol.

Weird, colorful, lights and odd sounds coming from the derelict ambulance attract his attention.

He opens the ambulance’s doors and pokes his head in.

Bad move.

Neon Maniacs is so clumsily awful it's very enjoyable to watch with friends, a few beers, and low expectations. Sadly, there is no disco dancing or neon lights involved, and a trading card set was never issued.

This article originally appeared at Zombos’ Closet of Horrors.

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