Color, 1986, 91m.
Directed by Joseph Mangine
Starring Alan Hayes, Leilani Sarelle, Donna Locke, Victor Brandt, David Muir, Marta Kober
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / (1.78:1) (16:9)

Neon Maniacs As '80s as a Trapper Keeper covered with Punky Brewster stickers, Neon Maniacs belongs to that odd subgenre of horror Neon Maniacsfilms from the period built around paying lip service to monsters from Hollywood's past. Following in the footsteps of Salem's Lot, The Monster Squad, et al, here we have a pint-sized hero named Paula (Locke), who's obsessed with making monster movies and has a bedroom plastered with genre posters. All of that comes in handy after a vanload of teenagers heading out to a park by the Golden Gate Bridge gets slaughtered by a dozen rampaging nocturnal monsters.

Only one survivor comes out of the attack unscathed: Natalie (Sarelle, a.k.a. Roxy from Basic Instinct), a blonde high school student who's just had a flirtatious run-in with Steven (Hayes) thanks to his disobedient dog. With the police reluctant to accept Natalie's story about monsters on the loose (each with a different appearance and mode of killing like Slasher, Samurai, Soldier, Mohawk, Ape, Decapitator, etc.), she decides to team up with Steven and Paula to uncover the history behind the supernatural menace (which, just to warn, never really gets explained) and prevent any future casualties. It all climaxes, as such things must, at a neon-lit high school battle of the bands that turns into a bloodbath.

An odd one to be sure, Neon Maniacs is tough to dislike thanks to its sincere love for the genre (with a particular third-act nod to Day of the Triffids) and an unpredictable structure, with seemingly pivotal characters biting the dust at random moments. It's no wonder this one built up a small cult following despite its very limited theatrical release from Bedford Entertainment and subsequent VHS immortality from the late, beloved Lightning Video. That said, be warned that it's also Neon Maniacsa complete mess thanks to major budgetary issues that forced production to stop and start numerous times. The seams show right away as the film fails to find any kind of editing rhythm or sense of geography at any time, and plot holes abound when it comes to pretty much every aspect of the titular maniacs' existence. That said, if you take it a glorified do-it-yourself love letter to horror Neon Maniacsfilms with a dreamlike sense of logic, there's fun to be had in the avalanche of latex makeup, gory murders, and garish '80s fashions and lighting, with that battle of the bands (which also doubles as a costume dance) still capable of earning slack-jawed responses from new viewers.

Neon Maniacs bowed on DVD in 2003 from Anchor Bay with an adequate release featuring an anamorphic transfer, the theatrical trailer, and liner notes by Fangoria's Mike Gingold. The 2014 Blu-ray revisit from Code Red is a step up in every way you'd expect, with the transfer looking considerably healthier and those outrageous shades of electric blue, lavender, and orange virtually burning out your eyeballs. The film elements have been kept in pretty good shape over the years, so there's nothing to really complain about here apart from the flaws already built into the ragged production (like a handful of underlit night scenes). The DTS-HD stereo track sounds just fine, too. For masochists, there's also an isolated music track highlighting the droning score by Kendall Schmidt, the one-man synth army who rescored several AIP titles back in the HBO Video days like Curse of the Crimson Altar and Witchfinder General. If you're familiar with his work there, well, you should know what to expect here. The theatrical trailer reappears here along with a fun new bonus, a candid 13-minute interview with makeup artist Allan Apone (who isn't a huge horror fan and has since moved to the big time with The Avengers and a ton of other Hollywood projects). His stories about the production's threadbare financial situation are the highlights, not surprisingly, and he has fun recalling some necessary goofs like having one actor play multiple maniacs because there just weren't enough actors to go around. Great stuff, and if you're a sucker for no-budget monster antics from the Reagan era, consider this a glowing recommendation.

Reviewed on May 11, 2014.