I must be a masochist or something, because for some reason, I just keep coming back to today's movie. To be fair, I have a reason. It's the first horror movie I ever remember seeing. No joke. For years, I had vague memories of watching a movie with my older brother that involved melting monsters in a shower and squirt guns at a school dance. I had to have been five or maybe even six at the oldest, but because of my young age, my memories of the movie were few and fragmented. After two decades of telling my friends about this flick but never finding another soul who remembered it (including my brother), I was beginning to believe it was all some childhood fever dream. That is until an acquaintance and I sat drinking and discussing bad movies in 2008. His knowledge of B-movies was extensive, so I took a stab in the dark and told him what I could remember. His eyes lit up and said, "I know that movie!" He happened to have recently acquired it on DVD, so he and I sat down and took a trip down memory lane with 1986's Neon Maniacs.
The movie opens beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco where a fisherman stumbles across a strange stack of cards inside a cow skull. The cards feature artwork depicting grotesque, misshapen creatures. Before the man can look through the entire stack, he's murdered with an axe by one of the monsters from the cards. The monsters then shamble into a park where a group of teenagers are playing football and making out. One by one, the monsters murder the teenagers until only one girl, Natalie, remains alive. As a storm brews overhead, the monsters retreat, and Natalie is rescued by the police.
The police don't believe Natalie, and they're unable to find any evidence to back up her story aside from some mysterious goo at the scene. Only a lovestruck delivery boy named Steven and a horror movie buff named Paula believe her. When Natalie is reluctant to open up to Paula, the young horror fiend decides to do some snooping of her own and discovers the creatures' lair at the Golden Gate Bridge, along with their only weakness... water.
After viewing the movie in its entirety, it's easy to understand why I questioned my sanity for so long... because it's fucking insane! From beginning to end, Neon Maniacs is a disjointed mess. From the unexplained trading cards in the opening sequence, to the out-of-place make-out scene between two of the protagonists in the middle of the final chase, this movie just leaves you scratching your head for ninety minutes. I felt sorry for poor Paula, who is by far the most interesting character in the entire movie, when she got abandoned during the film's climax. But hey... booty, er... DUTY calls, am I right? Probably the strangest thing about this movie is the cops, though. They try to act all tough and hard-boiled, but they're all a bunch of clowns. Their siege on the Maniacs' lair will have you rolling with laughter when they break out their arsenal, I promise.
Now no 80s cheese fest would be complete without a musical number or two, and Neon Maniacs delivers in the final act when Steven and his band kick off a high school battle of the bands with a song that's way catchier than it has any right to me.
Let's talk about the Neon Maniacs themselves. Who the hell are these guys? The movie never explains it, nor do we ever get a clue about the title. Perhaps it has something to do with that samurai's skin tone? According to Wikipedia, an alternate title for this movie is Evil Dead Warriors, which would probably be a bit more fitting, but I wonder if they changed it to avoid confusion with Sam Raimi's Evil Dead (see my review). The titular Maniacs are a strange collection of walking, stalking stereotypes like an undead, murderous version of the Village People. On one hand, it makes sense that such an eclectic group would come with a set of trading cards... but why do the cards even exist!? Who made them? I feel cheated that we never got an answer. Probably the oddest thing about the Maniacs is their lair beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, so close to their one weakness. To hell with logic, we have a movie to make!
With so many criticisms you're probably thinking I'm going to tell you to steer as clear of this movie as humanly possible, but... no. Don't get me wrong, Neon Maniacs is a bad, baaaaaaaaaad movie from beginning to end. It's cheesy, dumb, and nonsensical, but dammit... it's fucking fun! Maybe I have a soft spot for it because of the personal mystery surrounding it for me, or maybe it just embodies everything I love about bad 80s monster flicks. I don't know. If you like movies that don't take themselves too seriously, give this one a watch. It's good for a laugh if nothing else.