Stephen Romano’s Retro 13: Neon Maniacs


Well, kids, we’re almost to the end. There’s a reason why this thing is called RETRO 13, and today we’ve reached the penultimate number. Next week will be the final entry, but don’t worry—I’ve saved the best for last. Today’s number 12 celebrates one of my favorite sleazebag slasher classics from the 1980s, Joseph Mangine’s nutty low budget monster mash Neon Maniacs. Scroll to the end of all this blather to see my brand-new poster for the film.

Neon Maniacs is, quite simply, required viewing for Geeks Like Us. It was a film that promised not one deranged psycho slasher staking nubile teenage virgins—but TWELVE psycho stalkers—and all of them hideous mutant freaks, each with a particular fetish for murder: a Doctor, a Hangman, a Samurai Warrior, even a whackked-out Vietnam Vet, complete with itchy trigger finger on a rusty M16. It was to be the ultimate dream-team of slasher films, greatly heralded by the horror fan press prior to its release in 1986. It even had a spiffy trailer narrated by the Jaws man himself, Percy Rodriguez.

The film was the first to be written by Mark Patrick Carducci, a journalist working for Fangoria who would go on to script Stan Winston’s classic Pumpkinhead. The director had previously co-piloted many genre classics as cinematographer—from Lewis Teauge’s Alligator to Albert Pyun’s The Sword and the Sorcerer. Expectations were very high for Neon Maniacs. The film’s female protagonist would even go down in history as Sharon Stone’s creepy lesbianic make-out folly in Basic Instinct. Um. And in case her boyfriend looks familiar to the die-hards out there? Well, that’s Alan Hayes, who changed his name to Clyde after getting his balls skewered by Jason in Friday the 13th Part 4.

And with all these heavy-hitters in the bullpen, did Neon Maniacs deliver the goods?

Well, yes and no. But yes.

Maniacs was troubled from the word go. Already low-budget in nature, the ambitious film ran into cost delays and scheduling problems, necessitating many script changes and compromises. Some key scenes were not shot. That anything at all managed to surface in movie theaters back in the day is probably some kind of perverted miracle. The film that DID emerge is strange and even lopsided. The small budget and lack of time to create more fully realized sequences show painfully. (Where the ads all promised us “twelve new reasons to fear the dark,” there are really only eight Maniacs featured.) But it’s also one of the slickest films ever made for pocket change, benefiting greatly from Mangine’s experience as a cinematographer. He gives the movie a polished sheen in the night sequences reminiscent of the best moments in Alligator.

And nothing—I mean nothing whatsoever—can take away the film’s most overlooked and shining asset: its inspired finale, which takes place during a Battle of the Bands in a high school gym. The sequence plays like Rick Springfield meets Motley Crue in a 1980s dayglow inferno—complete with marauding monsters who can only be killed with the hundreds of water squirt guns handed out to the audience. (See, water kills the maniacs; rule the world, stay out of the rain!)

Of course, the heroes conveniently forget to tell anybody about the monsters who crash the party, and it all turns into a total clusterfuck. This is part of film’s overall genius, I think. It sets up payoffs and sidesteps them with wicked glee. Part of this can be attributed to its rocky production. But a lot of it is on purpose. You can tell when a group of filmmakers are really trying hard to make something out of nothing.

Neon Maniacs unfortunately sunk out of sight after its initial theatrical and VHS video release, and it has mostly only been seen in crap-vision tape rips since then. A gorgeous limited edition Blu-ray was brought out a few years back by Code Red that corrected that, showing us the full spectrum of the film’s more colorful assets. It’s a rare collector’s item and expensive now, but I give the disc my highest recommendation. Those of you with a copy: Share it, rip it, spread the gospel! Films like this need to be seen to be believed, and they need to be seen right. Lots of great posters and even some fan art have been brought out in honor of Mangine’s perverted epic, but my poster this week hopefully is a little bit different, featuring its human protagonists for the first time and highlighting my favorite scene in the film.

Mark Patrick Carducci and Joesph Mangine are no longer with us, but the Maniacs will live forever. This is for them. And for you, who help keep their dreams—and nightmares—alive.

Click here for the full-size image.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This poster is intended as FAN ART only and is designed to be shared, for free, for anyone who wants to own it for themselves. Download it, share it, spread the horror! And come see me at my website for more fun.

Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter