Neon Maniacs (1986) Retrospective

SUMMARY

In the heart of San Francisco, the legions of the damned lay waiting beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. As night falls, this battalion of butchery is unleashed upon the city to carve terror into the souls of the innocent. But when one young woman named Natalie (Leilani Sarelle) escapes a bloody teen slaughter, she can t convince anyone that a rampaging army of psychotic monsters has mutilated her friends. Now haunted, hunted, and having a hard time in high school, Natalie must arm herself and her classmates for one final bizarre battle against the horror of the Neon Maniacs!

DEVELOPMENT/PRODUCTION

The approximately $1.5 million production got off to a smooth start on its six-week shooting schedule when suddenly financial problems led to a three month shut-down. For Carducci, it was a nerve-wracking, frustrating period. For director Mangine, it meant that his cinematographer, Oliver Wood, would not be coming back and that Mangine would have to do double-duty as director-cinematographer once the film resumed.

Frequent director of photography, Joseph Mangine directs this ambitious script by first time scriptwriter, the late Mark Patrick Carducci has a great deal of potential and is chock full of wonderful ideas, but serious production problems crippled the movie in a number of ways. Sub-distributor, Steven Mackler, had the film for a year, but failed to raise the money required for the production. During this time, there were some others interested in taking the reigns for this movie. Ken Weiderhorn  wanted to option it for another producer, but before he could obtain the rights, Mackler wrote Carducci a check to retain the production. It took four more years before the film ever raised enough financing to begin.

While Joe Mangine believes he might have done a better job directing in some spots because of his additional duties as cinematographer, overall he is very satisfied with the film. Said Mangine, “I like the story because it had many different characters in it. The Neon Maniacs are really the classic killers of all-time-everything from a Samurai to a Hangman. I knew the makeup would be fantastic, so I knew we would be ahead of the game with that kind of makeup situation. The film looks really super,” he believes, and it doesn’t have the mediocre qualities that most horror films have. We have lots of shadows and pools of light and interesting angles. As far as acting, we’ve had a bunch of actors that really come across.”

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Mangine finds the qualities of innocence in the film to be rather interesting. “You have Natalie who is developing her first love relationship with Steve. You also have Paula, who is really naive about chasing monsters. She’s really gung-ho and goes out after them. I mean, she’s the one who really finds out where they are coming from, and so it’s this young girl against these terrible maniacs.”

Writer Carducci is pleased with the way his first produced screenplay is being filmed by Mangine. Said Carducci, “You can say the film will be like this or the film will be like that, but you don’t really know until it’s done. You can write anything you want on the page, but it’s got to be executed, it’s got to work, and a million things can effect the outcome time, money and the ability of everybody involved.

“The thing that I think is special about Neon Maniacs are the maniacs themselves. They’re kind of unique. This isn’t a stalk’n’ slash kind of movie, though the maniacs are as real as a mugger in an alley looking right into your eyes, so the terror is there. But they also have personalities, they give each other looks and grin gleefully-they enjoy their work and that helps give it an offbeat sense of humor.”

The title came from a poem he wrote while he was a freshman in college about the Hell’s Angels. He later decided it would make a great title for a monster movie.

Carducci lives in New York and has worked as a production assistant on a number of low-budget films as well as having written articles for magazines like Millimeter. While Carducci has had some previous screenwriting chores, none of the other screenplays have as yet been produced. After writing Neon Maniacs, someone told Carducci that Steven Mackler, a sub-distributor of such films as Alligator and Sword and the Sorcerer, might be interested.

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“He optioned it for a year,” said Carducci. “The year was almost up, and he hadn’t raised the money to produce the movie and the script was going to revert back to me. Now I didn’t want to renew the option with him. He had had it for a year, and I didn’t want to give it to him for another year in which time he still might not get it made. I had some interest from a few other people. A director named Ken Wiederhorn, who did Eyes of a Stranger, read the script and he liked it and wanted to bring it to somebody to get an option. So, the day the option was going to expire, Steve Mackler either had i to let the script go or buy it, and the purchase price would have to be a decent sum of money.

“I said, ‘Well, I guess it’s been a year. It’s too bad, I’m sorry you haven’t been able to move the thing. What are you going to do?’ I thought he was going to let it go, and he hands me a check for a great deal of money and buys it, so I go back to Ken Wiederhorn and said, ‘Ken, he bought it! Congratulations, Ken said, but he was a little disappointed. Steve Mackler had it for four more years after that and he finally calls me and says that he raised the money.”

As already mentioned, Carducci’s script was very ambitious and contained a lot of potential for a true cult classic. For the title of the movie, Carducci used the title of a poem he’d written in college about the Hell’s Angels. The title itself seems to have caused some confusion with viewers. “They’re new monsters”, they only come out at night and they kill without reason. They are from another dimension and all they do is kill. They are assisted on their missions of death by two cyclopean midget reptile monsters called scavengers who use large hooks to drag the maniacs’ victims back to their portal.

Even still, with all the problems that loomed over the production like a great storm, the movie is mostly a mess with little cohesion. Some sequences work beautifully and some of the action set pieces are exciting, but the disjointed nature of the film and lack of focus are painfully obvious resulting in a movie that is made all the more worse in that the script had an enormous amount of possibilities. It’s definitely a time capsule movie in that it there is no way anyone would mistake it being made in any time period but the 1980’s. The entire movie reeks of the decade from the clothes to the music. Not necessarily a bad thing, it just depends on ones point of view.

Apparently the makers had high hopes for this movie becoming something of a franchise. I mean, there’s a near endless stream of ideas in a dozen myriad dimension hopping fiends killing without rhyme or reason save for the sheer joy of it. When we first “see the maniacs”, it’s at the beginning. A fisherman finds a partially open storage room below the Golden Gate Bridge with a small cow skull jutting out. Picking up the bone, he finds a black case underneath and opening it reveals some odd tarot like cards that have the various visages of the Neon Maniacs on them. Well, it isn’t difficult to figure out what happens next. The cards hidden inside the cows skull is never explained, nor is the origin of the creatures save for some brief shots that leave the impression they enter and exit our world through a portal.

Carducci explained his intentions for the film. “I wanted to do a horror film that was also an action movie. I wanted to do one that had set pieces, very long, action set pieces, which opened real big, and then the movie actually slows down for maybe 15 minutes while we develop the characters, and then do set piece after set piece so they get linked by minimal connective tissue. Everybody wants something that’s really relentless. I was inspired somewhat by The Warriors. Neon Maniacs is a supernatural gang film.”

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SPECIAL EFFECTS

For the makeup crew, headed by Al Apone and Doug White, it meant that the makeup appliances that were fitted for the maniacs would now have to be applied to an almost entirely different cast of players.

“The people who play the maniacs changed,” said al Apone, “so the appliances that were made to fit one group of people were now being made to fit whoever they could get at the last minute. The three-month break was tough on us because we were doing other projects in between and then coming back to this. We just went crazy when they started replacing people. Hangman was the only character played by the original person throughout, and that makes it tough! Apone and White’s company, Makeup Effects Lab, was brought into the Neon Maniacs project when Rick Lazzarini and Mark Shostrom dropped out after disagreements with the producers. Recalled Apone, “At the time we budgeted the film, there were 27 maniacs and the script was a lot longer. I told them I couldn’t do it for the money they wanted to spend. After budgetary discussions, things changed and we got started on the film. I just gave everyone on my crew a maniac to design, then basically, I went through and supervised and made suggestions. I try to give my crew as much freedom as possible because obviously I can’t obviously be everywhere and I can’t do them all, especially in the time we had.

“The hardest one to apply is probably Hangman because of the way the pieces were designed. The rest are all pretty simple and easy. We go anywhere from five-piece appliances to two-piece appliances. There are 12 maniacs and they are all full appliance makeups except for the scavengers which are suits.”

For the makeup crew, headed by Al Apone and Doug White, it meant that the makeup appliances that were fitted for the maniacs would now have to be applied to an almost entirely different cast of players. One scene involves the maniac called ‘Decapitator’, the one maniac that gets the least amount of screen time and also the only one you never see do anything aside from a couple of imposing shots. This particular maniac has twin cleavers for hands. Later in the film a character removes his hood to reveal he has no head! Another excised sequence occurs in the battle of the bands finale. The maniac called ‘Axe’ takes a shot at a basketball goal with a human head and one of the reptilian scavengers catches the bloody noggin.

For a scene where one of the maniacs is dissolved, Alan had the idea of pressing cotton candy onto a plastic skeleton and then hitting it with water.  There was no budget to make our own custom colored cotton candy, so big cases of brightly colored pink and blue cotton candy were purchased and taken to set.  Alan referred to it as “spun glucose” (see? he wasn’t an official MENSA member as far as I knew, but he knew what spun glucose was!).  When it came time to prepare the skeleton with it’s melting flesh, Alan, in front of the production crew, asked me to get the “spun glucose.”  Of course I, being an asshole, answered back, “You mean the cotton candy?” “No,” he snapped, “I mean the SPUN GLUCOSE!”  It was amusing watching everyone try to hide the fluorescent blue and pink “spun glucose” with colored powders.  No liquid could be used for painting the surface, obviously.  I don’t even remember if the effect worked or was even in the film. – Shannon Shea

“There is another scene which will be a full-body dissolve when a maniac comes to Paula’s bedroom to attack her. She’s sleeping with a water pistol under her pillow because she knows that water dissolves these creatures, so when he comes to attack her, she squirts him and steam starts to come out of his face. We designed a steam system and ran tubes under the appliance. He backs up and she takes a bucket of water that is next to the bed and splash! He starts to really go, and then he falls into the bathtub and that’s where we do the full-body dissolve. He goes right down the drain. The only thing left will be his clothes.”

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THE “NEON MANIACS”

The Neon Maniacs make up a motley crew of twelve psychotic murderers each with their own look and choice of weapon lending the impression of a deranged version of The Village People.

Decapitator doesn’t have hands, he has twin cleavers, a cleaver on each hand, and no head. So when someone pulls his hood off late in the movie, he has no head.  Archer has a nightmarish look like a creepy character you would see in a fantasy film and his weapon is a crossbow. Axe is the insane maniac who enjoys his handiwork with an axe. Both Archer and Axe get a good amount of screen time. Axe is the first of the Maniacs to be seen and he gets one of the splashier scenes in the movie.

Samurai is just as his name states, a Samurai. He doesn’t look at all Japanese, though, but wears the traditional Feudal Era attire. He gets a good bit of screen time as well. Juice is the science fiction Maniac in that his body is covered in metal and he has the ability to electrocute his victims. His skills later prove to be his downfall. His character is seen only a couple of times. Punk Biker is a big bike riding Maniac who is missing his nose. He’s seen during the beginning slaughter and briefly at the end in the gym massacre.

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Slasher is the nod towards FRIDAY THE 13TH no doubt. He’s seen a couple of times and that’s it. He’s involved in two very important set pieces, though.

Hangman is seen a few times and what’s funny about him is that he has apparently hanged at some point or other as noted from his crumpled, broken neck. Mohawk is the energetic Indian Maniac who carries with him a spear and tomahawk.

All of the maniacs, except for the actor playing ‘The Hangman’, were recast basically at the last minute. This provided a lot of nerve wracking stress and headache for not only Carducci, but the make up effects crew headed by the prolific Al Apone and Doug White. The most painfully obvious replacement is the Apeman character. The one seen during the opening assault (and again during the high school attack at the end) is played by a different actor for the bulk of the movie and this particular actor is noticeably smaller than the one seen at the outset.

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The maniacs in all and they are assisted by two scavengers, one-eyed lizard-like creatures who drag the bodies back to the maniacs’ dimension. “I had an idea,” Carducci said, “about all the people who’ve disappeared for who knows how long. There are always missing persons that we never find. How do we know that maniacs didn’t get them? That’s the idea, and no one has seen the maniacs. They’ve been around, they’re able to enter our dimension, but no one has seen them.”

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Carducci promised that the film will also be filled with E.C.-type oddball humor. “Neon Maniacs is essentially E.C. Comics meets The Warriors or Road Warrior,” he said. “There’s a maniac called Doc, who is really E.C., and he does-in the high school custodian. Doc cracks his chest open and takes out his beating heart–this is actually done off-camera, most of it, because I didn’t want to show that. What happens is, the custodian’s up in his room and Doc enters with his lab smock, his face mask, black medical bag, hypo, and gives the guy ether and knocks him out. We pan around the room and you hear this cracking and tearing, and when we come back, Doc is holding this beating heart in his hand and, with his stethoscope, he’s listening to the beating heart in his hand and grinning. I pictured the maniacs as looking very-Berni Wrightson, and a few do.

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CAST/CREW
Directed
Joseph Mangine

Produced
Christopher Arnold
Steven D. Mackler

Written
Mark Patrick Carducci

Leilani Sarelle Natalie Lorne
Alan Hayes Steven
Andrew Divoff Doc
P.R. Paul Eugene
Victor Brandt Lieutenant Devin
Doyle McCurley Samurai Warrior
John Lafayette Thomas
Barry Buchanan Archer
Mark Twogood Decapitator
Matthew Asner Stringbean
Trish Doolan Donna
Daniel Burrell Slasher
Bo Sabato Manello
Jessie Lawrence Ferguson Carson
Donna Locke Paula Peterson
David Muir Wylie
Jeff Tyler Wally
Marta Kober Lorraine
John Lafayette Thomas
Gene Bicknell Cozzie
Chuck Hemingway Gary
James Acheson Ray
Dick Frattali Alex Peterson
Teri Ralston Marilyn Peterson
Scott Guetzkow Juice
Jerome L. Dennae Scavengers
Clarke Coleman Kid Biker
Zac Baldwin Punk Biker
Douglas Markell Axe

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
watertowerproject
dreadcentral
monsterhistory101
riversofgrue

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