Film Review: Neon Maniacs (1986)

Also known as: Evil Dead Warriors (Philippines)
Release Date: March, 1986 (Paris Festival of Fantastic Films)
Directed by: Joseph Mangine
Written by: Mark Patrick Carducci
Music by: Kendall Schmidt
Cast: Leilani Sarelle, Alan Hayes, Andrew Divoff, P.R. Paul, Victor Brandt

Anchor Bay Entertainment, Castle Hill Productions Inc., Bedford Entertainment Inc., 91 Minutes

Review:

“Now let me get this straight. You’re telling me that these, these things are inside the Golden Gate Bridge, one. Two, that they only come out at night. And three, that they’re responsible for the death of fifteen or more kids and three of my police officers? [breaks down laughing]” – Lt. Devin

I never actually knew of this film’s existence but based off of the poster, I’m pretty sure I would have rented this as a kid in the ’80s had I seen the video box somewhere. The only reason I found this is because it was suggested to me by Amazon and it was free for Prime members. Also, that same week, someone else mentioned the film.

Well, it does something kind of cool, which is that it has these monsters that have their own unique looks. They’re either a type of zombie or a breed of demon, it’s hard to really tell, but each one has its own gimmick. Almost like they were trying to turn them into a toy line.

There’s a samurai demon, a berserker demon and a bunch of other weird random ass demons.

But the fun stops there.

The film is dull as hell. The first big encounter with the demon creatures was decent but it certainly isn’t as good as what had become the slasher standard of the time.

Ultimately, this is poorly shot, poorly directed, poorly acted, has terrible sound, awful lighting and I’ve seen better cinematography in an episode of America’s Funniest People from 1989.

This was a tough film to sit through and I’m a guy that watches a large portion of dreadful motion pictures.

That poster is way too cool for this movie.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: The Dead Pit, The Kindred, Slime City and The Brain.

Film Review: Trick or Treat (1986)

Also known as: Heavy Metal do Horror (Brazil), Muerte a 33 R.P.M. (Spain), Ragman (Germany)
Release Date: October 24th, 1986
Directed by: Charles Martin Smith
Written by: Joel Soisson, Michael S. Murphey, Rhet Topham, Glen Morgan (uncredited), James Wong (uncredited)
Music by: Fastway, Christopher Young
Cast: Marc Price, Doug Savant, Lisa Orgolini, Tony Fields, Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Demonic beasts. Whatever happened to the good old simple love song? “I love you.” Nowadays they have to write some sickness. It’s just absolutely sick and bizarre and I’m going to do my upmost best to try and stop it now.” – Rev. Aaron Gilstom

I used to own this on DVD but somehow in the last decade or two, it got lost. I’ve never seen it streaming anywhere and I didn’t like it enough to want to buy it again, unless I found it in a dollar bin somewhere. But, as of right now, it is streaming on YouTube. It’ll probably get pulled down but it’s there, at the moment.

Trick or Treat was a fun film to revisit all these years later and I’ve only seen it twice before this: once when I bought it around 2001 and then way before that in the late ’80s when I rented it from my local video store while friends and I had one of our many horror marathons.

The film stars Skippy from Family Ties as basically a heavy metal version of Skippy. His real name is Marc Price and he’s done some other movies too but he will always be Skippy to me. It also stars Doug Savant as the high school bully. He’s probably most known for being Matt, the gay dude on the original Melrose Place and for having a long stint on Desperate Housewives. He also played a serial killer in a fairly bad film called Paint It Black, where he murdered people, covered them in clay and turned them into art like Dick Miller in A Bucket of Blood.

The film also has two very notable cameos, so notable that the cameos were used to sell the movie to audiences. The cameos are by Gene Simmons of KISS, who plays a radio DJ, and Ozzy Osbourne, who plays a reverend wanting to destroy the evil that is rock and roll.

The plot follows Heavy Metal Skippy, a fairly normal kid apart from listening to devil worship music. He is bullied by the jocks like every other loser from an ’80s teen movie. When he comes across the last and only copy of a vinyl record recorded by his dead hero, he plays it backwards. It doesn’t open up a gate to Hell in his backyard but it does resurrect his rock and roll hero, who is basically a lightning powered rock star fueled by Satanic evil and pretty much down to kill everyone and everything. The way Skippy finally defeats him is absolutely ridiculous but at least the demon Satan rocker murdered the crap out of that douchey bully Doug Savant.

Trick or Treat isn’t a film that boasts good writing, good acting or even good special effects. It’s passable though, simply because it is so insane that it just works and is an entertaining watch.

It probably doesn’t deserve to be as good as it is, as its technical merit leaves a lot to be desired and it is littered with questionable editing choices but it is something I would probably watch more often than I have, if I still had my DVD copy of it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Rocktober Blood, Black Roses, Brainscan and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare.

Film Review: Psycho III (1986)

Release Date: May, 1986 (Seattle International Film Festival)
Directed by: Anthony Perkins
Written by: Charles Edward Pogue
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell, Donovan Scott

Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Conservative clothes never go out of style.” – Norman Bates

As impressed and surprised as I was by Psycho II, I was kind of hoping that the magic would sustain into the third film in the series. Also, considering that this one was directed by Anthony Perkins, a man who knew Norman Bates better than anyone on the planet, I was hoping that he’d bring some real depth to the character and story.

Well, this doesn’t live up to the quality of Psycho II and it’s nowhere near as clever but it works alright as an ’80s slasher picture, as long as you aren’t looking for a massive body count or an overabundance of gore.

The film benefits greatly from the performances of Perkins, as well as Jeff Fahey, who has been a favorite of mine for years and who always brings a little something extra to every movie that he’s in.

Although, apart from the two male leads, the rest of the cast is pretty damn weak.

Also, the story just isn’t there for me. It’s kind of like a rehash of elements from part II but mostly comes off as a fairly mindless slasher movie. It lacks the psychological terror of the first two pictures and Perkins doesn’t seem to have the acumen, behind the camera, to really propel this story forward visually or from narrative standpoint.

The script, however, is pretty terrible and it doesn’t seem to understand some of the things that worked so well before. For instance, it has always been assumed, at least by me, that Norman was actually speaking to himself in his mother’s voice. Here, it’s as if his mother’s voice is in his head because we often times see Norman reacting to the horror of her requests as she talks to him off screen. It takes the magic away and there’s just something more batshit about Norman speaking, as his mother, to himself. The film also cuts to shots of Norman’s dead mother pointing and changing her position from shot to shot without his assistance. Maybe the film is trying to take some sort of artistic liberty in trying to show these moments through Norman’s eyes but it doesn’t work.

Where you weren’t sure if Norman was the killer in part II, that mystery is gone here, as he’s pretty much just a slasher, cutting his way through some ladies. But he still has that good side in him and doesn’t necessarily want to do evil but the ending of the second film set him off and there are certain moments in this one that pull the triggers to propel Norman to murder, once again.

This isn’t a waste of time, if you like the Norman Bates character, but this chapter in the original string of films is weak. I can’t speak yet for the fourth and final film, as I haven’t seen it and I actually can’t find it streaming anywhere.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: The other Psycho films.

Film Review: Fugitive Alien (1986)

Also known as: Starwolf and the Raiders (Germany)
Release Date: 1986 (US home video)
Directed by: Minoru Kanaya, Kiyosumi Kuzakawa
Written by: Keiichi Abe, Bunzo Wakatsuki, Yoshihisa Araki, Hiroyasu Yamamura, Hideoyoshi Nagasaki, Toyohiro Ando
Based on: Star Wolf by Tsuburaya Productions
Music by: Norio Maeda
Cast: Tatsuya Azuma, Jô Shishido, Miyuki Tanigawa

Tsuburaya Productions, Sandy Frank Enterprises, 102 Minutes

Review:

“What did I do to deserve this?” – Ken

That’s a good question, Ken. I mean, anytime a television show is cut up and edited into a movie, the results aren’t going to be very good.

This, along with a sequel that was also made, were taken from episodes of the 1978 Japanese tokusatsu television program Star Wolf. This was created by Tsuburaya Productions who were most famous for the Ultraman franchise and a slew of other kaiju and tokusatsu shows geared towards children.

I have seen the source material and it is okay for what it is but there are so many better tokusatsu shows that could have been introduced to American audiences. This certainly doesn’t hold up as well as Tsuburaya’s slew of Ultraman shows or things like Kamen Rider and Super Sentai.

Frankly, this is really hard to sit through and the quality of the print is damn near atrocious. I don’t know if a better print of this film has survived or if this has ever been restored but it probably wouldn’t help to make this any more enjoyable.

The only real way to enjoy Fugitive Alien is to watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of it. There are actually two MST3K versions, as this was featured on Comedy Central but was also riffed by Joel and the ‘Bots during the show’s original first season on local Minnesota television. I’d recommend watching the Comedy Central version, as it has a higher production value that might slightly offset this film’s poor appearance and dullness.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Other tokusatsu shows chopped up into feature length films: Star Force: Fugitive Alien IITime of the Apes, Mighty Jack and Super Robot Mach Baron.

Film Review: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

Release Date: May 23rd, 1986
Directed by: Brian Gibson
Written by: Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Based on: characters by Steven Spielberg
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Julian Beck, Will Sampson, Geraldine Fitzgerald

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 91 Minutes, 130 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“You’re all gonna die in there! All of you! You are gonna die!” – Kane

Most sequels aren’t created equal and the general consensus is that this one isn’t very good. Hogwash! I love it! Not as much as the first but it’s still a great ’80s horror film and better than most movies like it.

What makes this a solid entry into the short lived film series is that it broadens the mythos. Really, in the first film, there wasn’t much of a backstory. All you knew was that the house was haunted by evil and as the movie rolled on you discovered that it was built on top of a graveyard. This film sort of ignores the generic graveyard under the house idea and puts something even worse under the house: Reverend Henry Kane and his dead followers.

Kane, as played by Julian Beck in this movie, is absolutely fucking frightening. He is, hands down, one of the greatest screen villains of the era and more of a horror icon of the time than modern history seems to remember. He was a pure force of evil in a time when slashers ruled the horror genre. He wasn’t a slasher, he was something more powerful and more cunning. Julian Beck played Kane so profoundly that it is impossible not to get chills during the doorway scene when he confronts the family on their front porch. Honestly, it is my favorite moment in this entire franchise.

The film also adds in Will Sampson as a Native American named Taylor, who is actually known as the Medicine Man and is Kane’s nemesis. Taylor arrives at the family’s new home, convinces them that he is there to help and then lives with them in an effort to keep them safe from Kane’s attempts at stealing away Carol Anne. I loved Sampson in this and it is probably my second favorite thing he has done after One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The entire family returns for this film, except for Dominique Dunne, as she was murdered by her boyfriend in real life. But that’s just one of many tragedies that surround the cast of this film series, which some consider to be cursed.

Zelda Rubinstein also returns as Tangina, the clairvoyant that helped the family survive the first movie. Some of her lines in the film are pretty cringe worthy but I can look past this stuff in ’80s horror pictures. But it is probably worth noting that she was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress. She would also be nominated again for the same award for her part in Poltergeist III. However, she did win the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress for the first Poltergeist.

Craig T. Nelson had more to do in this movie, as he took a bit of a backseat to JoBeth Williams in the first one. I thought he did really well and his emotion and doubt were conveyed pretty convincingly, as he just wanted the forces of evil to leave his family alone.

The special effects in this were also spectacular for 1986. While some of the cloud effects and matte painting work is very noticeable in modern HD, the CGI ghost effects were stellar and have held up well. The scene where young Robbie is attacked by his braces still looks incredible. Also, the practical creature effects used for the beast form of Kane, as he crawled through the bedroom without legs was stupendous. This definitely deserved the Academy Award nomination it got for special effects.

Lastly, Jerry Goldsmith’s score seems to come alive more in this chapter. His theme to the series is expanded on and presented in new ways. I miss movies that had scores like this. Movie music nowadays just isn’t as memorable.

Poltergeist II is not on Poltergeist‘s level but there is a part of me that enjoys it more because the villain was clearly defined and scary as hell. Plus, Sampson and the Native American influence were great additions to the proceedings.

And sure, the big final battle with Kane on “the other side” is ’80s cheese to the rind, but I still friggin’ love it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake.

Film Review: Avenging Force (1986)

Also known as: Night Hunter (working title), American Warrior II (Belgium & France)
Release Date: September 12th, 1986
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: James Booth
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, William Wallace, John P. Ryan, Marc Alaimo

Golan-Globus Productions, Cannon Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Matt, you don’t have to get involved in this part, this is my fight.” – Larry Richards, “Your fight is my fight. You just remember that.” – Matt Hunter

If you asked 100 people on the street to tell you who Sam Firstenberg is, 0 out of 100 would be able to tell you. Sam Firstenberg is one of the most notable directors from the era that was my childhood, however. He was the architect of several badass ninja movies and also made some good pictures with Michael Dudikoff and Steve James, Avenging Force being one of them.

Fresh off the heels of the original American Ninja, Firstenberg re-teamed with its stars, Dudikoff and James, to make Avenging Force. This was the one and only picture that they did outside of the American Ninja series and frankly, this fits better with American Ninja1 and 2 than part 3 does.

Dudikoff and James are entirely different characters but Dudikoff is essentially the same ’80s blonde badass that he always is. Instead of fighting a ninja horde, he is pitted against a fraternity of racist killers.

The finale of this film is awesome and it sees Dudikoff enter the bayou to fight each member of the fraternity in one-on-one swamp battles. It sort of plays like an ’80s beat’em up action game where each villain in this film feels like a boss from Bad Dudes, Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Final FightCrime Fighters or Renegade. Every villain has some sort of unique gimmick and style that makes each fight very different and fresh.

This also takes place in and around New Orleans, which gave it a much different vibe than the other Firstenberg movies. Plus, I’ve always loved New Orleans and its culture. This has a pretty fun Mardi Gras action sequence in it.

Now I don’t like this as much as American Ninja1 and 2 but it is certainly pretty close to their quality and it is very enjoyable.

Michael Dudikoff wasn’t the greatest martial arts actor of all-time and I really don’t know if he even practiced martial arts before American Ninja but he holds his own. Besides, his fighting is less flashy and feels more organic and real when compared to the extreme agility and dexterity of someone like Jean-Claude Van Damme or Sho Kosugi.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The American Ninja franchise, especially the first two films. Also, the Sam Firstenberg Ninja films and really anything by Cannon Films that features action and ’80s machismo.

Film Review: The Hitcher (1986)

Release Date: January 17th, 1986 (Victoria, Texas premiere)
Directed by: Robert Harmon
Written by: Eric Red
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jeffrey DeMunn, Jennifer Jason Leigh

HBO Pictures, Silver Screen Partners, TriStar Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“[Picking up the hitchhiker] My mother told me to never do this.” – Jim Halsey

I’ve been on this Rutger Hauer kick, lately. Maybe it’s because I watched Blade Runner for the 214th time a week ago and then introduced a friend to Hobo With a Shotgun, a few days later. I don’t know, but it made me want to go back and re-experience The Hitcher, as it’s been quite a long while since I’ve seen it.

The plot to this is real simple, C. Thomas Howell’s Jim picks up a hitchhiker (Hauer) in the Texas desert. Immediately, it is apparent that this stranger is a psycho. Things escalate and Jim actually knocks the hitchhiker out of his moving vehicle. The rest of the film is about the hitchhiker hunting him and going on a violent killing spree where he is framing Jim for the crimes. It’s a psychotic game of cat and mouse and in certain ways, reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s Duel. Except Duel was a TV movie and very tame compared to the level of violence the Rutger Hauer character brings to this film.

The movie also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, a pretty backwoods waitress that gets caught up in the proceedings because she fancies Jim, and Jeffrey DeMunn, as the only reasonable cop in the entire movie.

This movie almost feels like a horror movie but is really just a very effective thriller. However, as a kid, I was more scared of villains in films like this and Sly Stallone’s Cobra than monsters like Freddy or Jason. These types of psychos were real and existed in the world that I actually lived in.

The Hitcher is an intense movie and that might be an understatement. It kicks off with a severe level of discomfort in the opening scene and never gives you a break. It is 90-plus minutes of a young man being hunted and mentally tortured while he is also trying to outwit the predator.

Films like this are hard to come by nowadays. At least, these types of films with this level of quality. For something that wasn’t wholly original and on the surface, pretty derivative, The Hitcher grabs onto your throat like a choke hold and doesn’t release its grip. Even after the credits role, you still can’t breathe.

This film does exactly what it sets out to do and it does it damn well.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Ida Lupino’s 1953 film The Hitch-Hiker, Steven Spielberg’s Duel, this film’s sequel The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting and its remake from 2007. The sequel and the remake don’t have quite the same quality though.