Neon Maniacs (1986) — Ten horror movies’ worth of creatures

“Yeah, it was creepy. Probably your mom howling out her anti-sex warning.”

Justin’s rating: Neon makes everything more ’80s!

Justin’s review: It’s a familiar scenario to behold: A group of rebellious and promiscuous ’80s teenagers partying it up while a sinister force stalks them through the night. But this time around, it’s no one slasher to blame; rather, it’s a group of costumed monsters who emerge, why not, from the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The first 15 minutes of Neon Maniacs plays out like the last 15 minutes of any other monster or slasher movie from the era, with scores of kids getting knocked off right and left. This monster gang might have no subtlety, but they’ve certainly got it together when it comes to cooperation and teamwork.

So the question is, where does this movie go from here?

In a clever way, it resets to focus on the Final Girl, Natalie (Leilani Sarelle), who can’t convince anyone that a gang of costumed monsters just killed a dozen teenagers and absconded with their bodies. The police are way too cavalier about an event that should be topping national headlines, but it’s the only way that Natalie’s going to find herself abandoned by the authorities and find some sort of inner strength to become a leader and rally other teens to her side to combat these creatures.

And if you’re going to fight a monster, then you best befriend that weird kid in school who’s obsessed with them and also happens to be a 29-year-old actress playing a 14-year-old with a sideways baseball cap labeled “Nostromo.”

But what is truly bizarre about this movie is that it expects us as an audience to be totally OK with sitting through a monster mob massacre and then go into the next hour of mostly mundane high school antics. Neon Maniacs has a real problem finding and sticking to a core focus, preferring instead to take us into the world of teenage crushes, battles of the bands, and AV club projects.

You can’t put that genie back in the bottle, though. You cannot raise a whole lot of questions at the start and then expect viewers to be cool with diversions into suburbia. Wait, we say. What are those monsters? Why do they have trading cards? Where did they come from? Why are they obsessed with Natalie? Why do they live in a bridge, especially if they can be killed by water?

Don’t bother asking; you cannot demand answers of Neon Maniacs. You simply can’t, even if answers are needed. You either will get supremely frustrated or you’ll surrender to the lunacy of it all.

The unconventional format of Neon Maniacs and the overall decent production makes it a weirdly compelling watch even so. These teens were funny and quirky, and it was kind of trippy to spend time in their lives, even if the specter of another monster attack was hanging over their head.

And it’s not that often that we get movies with a range of thematic monsters. It’s apparent that someone who really loves Halloween and couldn’t decide on a single scary concept. There’s an ape monster, a samurai monster, a guy with a melted head, a biker monster, an insane doctor, an archer monster, an electric type, an axe murderer, a hangman, a special forces monster, and more. Each kills according to their one-note character traits, so you get variety if nothing else. The monster designs are fantastic, and my only complaint is that we don’t get to see more of them.

It’s sad that a troubled production left this movie without the resources and time to fulfill the vision of its makers, who were hoping to create a new horror franchise about dimension-hopping creatures. Yet even left in its imperfect state, Neon Maniacs is a crazy fun time and a delightful slice of ’80s pop culture.

Didja notice?

  • Monsters issue their own trading cards for some reason?
  • Man, that Soft FM theme song is terrifying in its own right
  • “You named your dog Dog?”
  • Harpoon attack on a ball!
  • Is that blood rain? How does that even work?
  • The worst police investigation of all time
  • “What is that?” “Gook. Slime.”
  • “Why don’t you just go back to Sesame Street?”
  • If you’re taking a final girl to a movie, she doesn’t want to see horror
  • Wearing a sideways baseball cap is a foolproof way to disguise an adult as a teenager
  • The amazing subway car attack
  • Severed arms can grab you, somehow
  • Monsters should never attack horror movie experts in their bedrooms
  • This Battle of the Bands goes on and on and on
  • A guy playing a sax in a band… you don’t see that too often these days
  • “Don’t run, use your squirt guns!”
  • The middle of a schoolwide monster attack is the perfect time to lose your virginity?

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