My Favorite Code Red Blu: Neon Maniacs (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

So, if you didn't already know, Code Red has repressed some of their earliest, limited blu-rays. Each of his original line of blus was limited to 1000 copies, except Neon Maniacs, which was limited to 1200. I guess he already knew this one had a little broader fan following. Anyway, that didn't stop it from going out of print long before many fans even knew Code Red had entered the blu-ray market, so it's been reissued with the rest of them and is back on the market... for now.
Neon was a film I couldn't fully wrap my head around when I was younger. I knew I liked... parts of it, at least. It had a bunch of cool monster killers and some creative atmospheric sequences. Those were definitely cool. But other parts were silly, and everything felt kind of disjointed and off-kilter. It also feels incomplete, which may be literally true. The story doesn't have an ending so much as an arbitrary "we'll stop here" moment. We now know that the producers came in and directed some of the sequences themselves, which explains a lot of the "too many cooks" shifts in tone.
But now that I'm an adult, I pretty much unabashedly love every part of it! The characters (the lady playing the young girl is at least 15 years older than her character, right?), the oddball moments, the weird childrens' story aspects merged with the violent slasher film aspects, everything. The titular maniacs are all, seemingly short monsters (their height's a little inconsistent, I think), each with a very distinct gimmick. One's a samurai, one's a biker, one's a cave man, one's a slug. Why? Who knows? We learn nothing about their back story or why they exist, except that they seem to magically appear out of a storage room underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, and they're coming is foretold by an awesome collection of personalized tarot card. Their one weakness is water, which causes them to melt into glowing slime, which might be why they're called "neon" maniacs.
If you're into 80s nostalgia, it doesn't get more 80s than this, right down to the title! But even if you're not, this is still a blast. A fast pace with lots of action and cool effects, and genuinely likable characters. It's mostly your standard pack of high school seniors played by 20-somethings who run afoul of the monsters... the basic plot is that one girl gets away from a random attack and they pursue her over the course of the film. But then there's also a high school freshman, who's an aspiring horror filmmaker, who realizes something's amiss and commences to cracking the case, Encyclopedia Brown-style. Our romantic lead has two main goals which culminate one into one big climax, saving the girl he loves from the maniacs and winning a big battle of the bands at his school dance. There's musical numbers, a big subway chase and lots of colorful kills. But actually my favorite scene now is when the young girl catches a police officer riding her tiny pink bike.
This was originally released by Anchor Bay in 2003. That DVD went out of print and got quite pricey rather quickly. So it was a treasured collectors item for a long time, but last year, Code Red finally rectified the problem, and boosting it to HD to boot. Well, I've got both releases here (for the record, my copy is the first printing of CR's blu; but I understand both discs are identical), so let's see how much of an improvement the blu-ray nets us.
Code Red's 2014 blu on top; Anchor Bay's 2003 DVD below.
Oh yeah, such a nice transfer! Code Red has made a whole new scan from the original 35mm interpositive and it shows. Their framing is a bit more open at a full 1.78:1 to Anchor Bay's slightly letterboxed anamorphic 1.85:1. This mostly results in AB having more picture on the left, which is actually a little odd. Code Red's picture is noticeably darker than Anchor Bay's, and it's hard to say which is more correct, but overall I think AB's might be a little overly bright. Code Red's is hands down the winner at any rate, because it's so much more detailed and clear.
Anchor Bay's 2003 DVD left; Code Red's 2014 blu right.
Just look how much richer the image on the right is when we get in close. I've done a bunch of DVD to blu-ray comparisons now, and you don't see a lot that distinct. Especially not when the DVD was generally considered to be pretty high quality for its time. But you'll find this all throughout the film... signs and details that ares light, smudgy blobs in the background are now crisp and defined. I was expecting - and would have been perfectly happy with - just your basic compression bump, where smudges are cleared away to reveal the film's original grain; but I wasn't expecting to find so much more visual information.
And extras are nice, if low-key surprise. Being such a bizarre, downright nonsensical at times movie, this film really calls for some extra features, if only to explain what the heck we're looking at. Unfortunately, for all this time, we only had Anchor Bay's disc, which was bare bones, apart from a trailer. It's a pretty awesome trailer, though, which names each one of the maniacs (something we don't learn in the film itself), so you should definitely check it out.
And fortunately, Code Red has carried over that trailer, so you get it on either release. But this film calls for a lot more than that. But that was never going to be an easy thing to come by... The director had been taken off the project on bad terms, and multiple other crew members and actors left production before the film wrapped when payments weren't coming through. Star Donna Locke has completely disappeared from the public eye. And the screen writer, tragically, took his own life in 1997.  So finding anybody to get on record and talk about this film was never going to be easy. But thankfully, Code Red did it. There's an excellent interview with Allan Apone, the special effects artist, and he's got a lot of information. So he's able to talk not just about his own effects side of it, which he does - breaking down every single maniac and explaining how he created the arm melting scene with cotton candy(!). But he's also able to tell us the film's backstory, and how production kept stopping and starting. I can't say he answers every single question fans have about this film, because we have tons; but he covers an awful lot. Honestly, I would've bought this disc if Apone's interview was the only thing on it.

That's basically it for the special features, except for the curious decision to include an isolated music only track. I say it's curious because, though I know a lot of other blus have done this, most notably from Twilight Time; but Neon Maniacs doesn't exactly have a grand, orchestral score. Apart from the songs in the battle of the bands, it's mostly a very workman-like horror synth score that gets the horror movie mood job done, but I don't think will impress anybody musically. But hey, I'll take it.
So, the title of this post is "My Favorite..." so obviously I recommend this one. This film's a hoot, and the new blu-ray transfer turned out to be even better than expected. Plus, the interview makes it essential viewing for any serious fan anyway. Code Red really knocked it out of the park here, and I'm super happy with it. I should also point out that even if you wind up missing the second run, or if you're just one of those people who never made the leap to blu-rays, that Code Red is releasing a DVD version of their remaster this October, just in time for Halloween. I think that's great, 'cause I don't think anybody should miss out on this.

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