Friday, October 14, 2016

Worth Mentioning - In Hell, Everybody Loves Popcorn

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody talks about his favorite kind of Bs.


I grew up on the slasher movies of the 1980s, but one that somehow slipped past me until decades later was Neon Maniacs, which was directed by Joseph Mangine - a veteran cinematographer whose credits included the killer worm movie Squirm - from a screenplay by Mark Patrick Carducci, who would go on to co-write the first Pumpkinhead. Despite coming across the movie late, I instantly became a fan once it began playing out on my TV screen.

Neon Maniacs appeals to me by mixing together the slasher formula with a comic book sensibility. The film is about a group of monsters that live in a hideaway near the Golden Gate Bride in San Francisco, and at night they venture out to terrorize and murder anyone who crosses their paths. But these hideous creatures aren't just rampaging beasts, they are stylized characters that you could easily imagine seeing in the pages of 1970s / '80s comic book. There are a ton of these slime-dripping, so-called maniacs, so many that we're not even properly introduced to all of them, you just see them grouped together on screen and have to try to keep up with them. Some of them are instantly recognizable, while others you don't know what they might be called. The end credits list Samurai, Archer, Mohawk, Doc, Hangman, Juice, Axe, Decapitator, Scavenger, Slasher, and Soldier. There may be even more than that hidden in there, I'm not sure.

The maniacs even have their own trading cards within the film. At least, there's a stack of cards with their pictures on them that are found outside the door to their lair. Maybe these cards were meant to be more like Tarot cards or something, but they certainly look like cards that would come with a stick of stale gum.

As is typically the case with slasher movies, the characters who end up having to take it upon themselves to rid the city of this problem are a group of teenagers - rich girl Natalie (Leilani Sarelle), whose friends are massacred while taking her out for her birthday; Natalie's potential love interest Steven (played by Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter's Alan Hayes), who is first presented as being an awkward dweeb, but turns out to be the dreamboat lead vocalist in a band that performs at a costume party/battle of the bands near the end of the film; and horror-loving aspiring filmmaker Paula (Donna Locke).

Hayes isn't the only Friday the 13th alum in the cast. Natalie also has a friend named Lorraine, who is played by Friday the 13th Part 2's Marta Kober.

There's not much at all to Neon Maniacs, the maniacs just kill some random people here and there and make repeated attempts to kill Natalie, Steven, and Paula, who have to figure out a way to defeat these evil beings we find out absolutely nothing about.

While the lack of information can be frustrating, I can let that slide - this may not be a fully thought-out film, but it is an entertaining one, with some awesome creatures and a few memorable set pieces. There is a lot more that could have been done with this concept, it's a shame it hasn't been explored further. Maybe a follow-up of some sort could have told us what the hell is going on with these maniacs and why they're lurking in San Francisco.

The closest thing we get to an explanation is the opening narration, "When the world is ruled by violence and the soul of mankind fades, the children's path shall be darkened by the shadows of the Neon Maniacs."

That's no answer. But I don't need an answer to enjoy this oddball flick.

31 (2016)

Apparently its exceptionally hard to get a hockey movie into production. Releases like Mystery, Alaska and Miracle live up to their titles in a way that I never realized - it's a mystery as to how they got made, a miracle that they did. Kevin Smith has been trying to get a hockey project called Hit Somebody!, inspired by the Warren Zevon song of the same name, made as either a two-part film or a mini-series for several years. Hockey enthusiast and producer Jerry Bruckheimer has a hockey movie passion project that he has been hoping to get made for a long time, but no studios will finance it, even though it has a producer attached whose movies have made billions. Rob Zombie discovered the impossibility of making a hockey movie while trying to get a film called Broad Street Bullies, based on the experiences of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1970s, off the ground. Frustrated after a couple years of fruitless development on Broad Street Bullies, Zombie decided he needed to focus on making something else for a while - something guaranteed to receive financing. How do you get guaranteed financing, especially when crowdfunding is involved? You give the people exactly what they expect from you, something just like other things you've had success with before.

If you've been hoping that Zombie would return to the world of House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, you're in luck. His latest film, 31, will be right up your alley. This is basically House and Rejects put into a blender with a touch of The Running Man added in. The characters of Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding aren't here, but many of the other elements from those films are present: '70s setting, Halloween setting, killer clowns, excessive vulgarity, redneck aesthetics mixed with stylized visuals, familiar faces from yesteryear, cool soundtrack. Zombie recycled the creative decisions that went into his breakthrough movies and wrapped a very simple Running Man/Most Dangerous Game stalk and slash story around it.

The events occur on October 31, 1976, when a group of carnival workers with loose morals are motoring their way through the American southwest, heading for their next show. After crossing paths with an odd little woman (E.G. Daily) at a gas station run by an old pervert (Tracey Walter), the carnies soon find out why she seemed so interested in whether or not they have weapons on board their RV - they have been set up for an on-the-road abduction that is very reminiscent of the scarecrow moment from House of 1000 Corpses. They're whisked away to a vast industrial complex that has been turned into Murder World, the nightmarish venue for a game called 31.

Run by three Satanic aristocrats - Malcolm McDowell as Father Murder, Jane Carr as Sister Serpent, and Judy Geeson as Sister Dragon - 31 is basically a clown-themed horror take on The Running Man. "Contestants" are set loose into Murder World, where they are hunted down by clown-esque murderers with names like Schizo-Head, Psycho-Head, Death-Head, and Sex-Head, played by the likes of David Ury, Lew Temple, Torsten Voges, and Daily. While watching the victims attempt to make their way through the area, the aristocrats make bets with each other on who is most likely to survive.

Five of the carnival workers (Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Meg Foster, and Kevin Jackson) are set loose into Murder World. Will any of them make it out?

I can't really say I was all that interested in the answer to the question "Who will survive and what will be left of them?" I never connected with or cared about any of the characters, I wasn't invested in their situation. For me, the movie seemed like it was going through the motions, and it didn't feel like Zombie's heart was truly in it. Say what you will about Zombie's previous films, but at least he was always thinking outside the box and trying to put his own stamp on things. With 31, he was re-using old stamps, and it almost felt like the movie was just pandering to the audience, only offering variations on things Zombie has done before. Ginger Lynn Allen even shows up to basically repeat her scene from The Devil's Rejects, she just has a different sexual partner this time. With all these "greatest hits" elements packed into a film that tells the most simplistic story possible, it felt kind of lazy.

The game of 31 builds up to the arrival of Richard Brake as Doom-Head, a character Zombie has predicted will become the next great villain in horror. I can't say I was overly impressed; this guy can't hold a candle to the icons. Rather than become enamored with Doom-Head, I was just annoyed by his over-the-top vulgarity and faux-deep philosophical monologues. Although I'm a fan of several of the actors involved with this film, the only Head (and the only character in general) who really made an impression during my viewing was Sick-Head, a Nazi little person played by Chilean actor Pancho Moler. Moler gives a performance that livened the movie up while he was present.

If you dig Zombie's film work, you'll probably get enjoyment out of 31, because it's a mish-mash of the most popular things about his previous movies (excluding specific characters). I got some enjoyment out of it, but was underwhelmed.

PIECES (1982)

I got into horror at a very young age. I was three years old when Jason Lives brought me through the gateway, and by preschool the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was already one of my favorite movies. So it's not so surprising that I first rented director Juan Piquer Simón's bugnuts slasher Pieces when I was, at the most, six years old. That first viewing has stuck with me for more than twenty-five years due to the fact that it only lasted three minutes.

One of the producers behind Pieces was the Boston-based Stephen Minasian, who also co-financed the original Friday the 13th (a poster for that film shows up in the background at one point) and produced the April Fools Day slasher Slaughter High, so it's no surprise that the movie is set in Boston, despite being shot in Spain. The opening scene is set in Boston in the year 1942, and the first character we meet is a young boy who is putting together a jigsaw puzzle featuring a nude woman. His mother is very displeased with him when she catches him with this puzzle... so he chops her up with an axe.

I had rented the movie to watch at my sister's house, and as soon as the mother was killed she made me turn it off. She was fine with me watching a slasher knock off random teenagers, but seeing a child kill their mother was deemed inappropriate. Pieces went too far, so it was years before I was able to watch the entire film.

I have never been a big fan of Pieces, but I can't help but appreciate just how ridiculous and insane it is. This is a movie that will throw random things in the viewer's face just to get a reaction out of you. One of the first things we see after the setting jumps ahead to 1982 is a young woman on a skateboard accidentally riding into a sheet of glass. What does this have to do with the story? Absolutely nothing.

Soon enough we find that a killer is stalking a Boston college campus, knocking off young women - usually with a chainsaw, paving the way for one of the marketing taglines: "You don't have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!" The killer always takes a body part with them. Whoever it is, we know they have to be that jigsaw puzzle kid all grown up, but the identity of the murderer is kept a mystery until the climactic moments, with plenty of red herrings making their way across the screen.

Between the killings, police and students try to figure out who's responsible for all this mayhem, but we never grow to care about any of these characters. This movie is all about the gory kills and the laugh-out-loud atrocious, poorly delivered dialogue. From a couple arguing over the woman being too loud when she orgasms to Lynda Day George screaming "Bastard!" repeatedly at the top of her lungs and a girl dropping the line "The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and f---ing on a waterbed at the same time", it is impossible to keep a straight face while hearing and witnessing this nonsense.

The randomness is also a draw. Producer Dick Randall, who also wrote the screenplay (apparently most of the dialogue was improvised) with Joe D'Amato and Simón, was working on martial arts films, so he just tossed post-Bruce Lee martial artist Bruce Le into Pieces for no real reason at all. Le's cameo is my favorite part of the entire film. A woman is walking across campus at night when she's suddenly attacked by Le, who threatens her with his martial skills before suddenly coming out of this violent fugue and blaming his behavior on having eaten "bad chop suey".

The randomness continues right up to the final moments, when the movie ends with one of the most awful "Carrie endings" ever put on film. Filmmakers have been trying to replicate the effectiveness of the ending jump scare in Carrie ever since 1976, the Friday the 13th franchise owes its longevity to the Carrie ending they came up with for the original movie (the dead boy Jason jumping out of the water), but no one ever did one as shocking - for all the wrong reasons - as the one Simón gives you in Pieces.

Pieces is not a good movie, but it's so bad that it earns respect for being the ultimate slasher grindhouse schlockfest.


The television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles only lasted for two seasons, but there was obviously some bonding done on the set of the show. When special effects artist Robert Hall went off to make his slasher movie Laid to Rest during the hiatus between those two seasons, he brought the show's stars Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker along with him. Neither Headey nor Dekker have lead roles in the film, but they do both show up long enough to be terrorized by 6'7" Nick Principe as the slasher Chromeskull, so named because he wears a chrome mask, designed to look like a skull, that he glues to his face so it remains attached throughout the stalking and slasher he gets up to.

The star of the film is Hall's then-wife Bobbi Sue Luther, who plays a woman who wakes up in a funeral home with amnesia from a head wound. The barn behind this funeral home is Chromeskull's base of operations, and Luther's character is his next intended victim... so when she escapes, it kicks off a film-long chase, with Chromeskull pursuing the girl as she seeks help and tries to remember who she is.

Some other familiar faces pop up along the way - the girl's two main allies are played by Kevin Gage, who you may know from any number of films, including Michael Mann's Heat and the Dee Snider horror movie Strangeland, and Sean Whalen of The People Under the Stairs. There's also iconic character actor Richard Lynch, genre regular Johnathon Schaech, and Lucas Till, who has gone on to appear in X-Men films and has become the new MacGyver.

Laid to Rest isn't great, even by slasher standards. There is some awkward acting and things that will leave you scratching your head, like the way the area the characters inhabit is presented as a desolate no man's land (even emergency calls go to a station 100 miles away), the stupidity and dumb choices displayed by those characters, and how, in a time when Chromeskull is able to track potential victims through GPS, Gage's character can be as utterly clueless about the internet as he is.

Despite having flaws that may be baffling to some viewers, Laid to Rest does have something awesome going for it: the bloody effects that we see as Chromeskull racks up his body count. Rarely has a film benefited so greatly from its special effects. There may not be many other things I love about this movie, but the sight of Chromeskull decimating his victims alone makes it worthy of multiple viewings as far as I'm concerned. I would recommend that any fan of slashers check out Laid to Rest just to see the kills.

The dopey song Dekker's character listens to, "Sexy bitches are my favorite kind of bitches", is pretty great, too.


  1. I've seen and loved every one of these films and your cover for each is spot on to what I really love about slasher flicks!

    In regards to the Neon Maniacs, you pretty much listed all of the monsters there and I really wish someone out there will give this film a remake treatment!

    Also, more love to Doom-Head! I dunno why but his brand of faux philosophy surprisingly works for him and I honestly think he'll make a great slasher icon someday.

    1. Thanks for reading!

      Remake, sequel, whatever it would be there needs to be more Neon Maniacs in the world. It feels like a missed opportunity that there aren't more movies with the Maniacs.

      - Cody