I like bad movies. No, scratch that...I love bad movies. Why do I like them? Well, for a few reasons: one, is that sometimes they're so bad in every way that I can't help but laugh hysterically at them (Troll 2). Two, is that they're actually better than you would expect in some areas and manage to be very entertaining. Three, is that sometimes they're so over-the-top and cheesy, that you can't help but admire (and sometimes love) it. And last, it's that most actually have a lot of thought and effort placed into them, and do the best with their minuscule budget. The film at hand today is a mix of all of these things. It's not for everyone, though; but the decion is yours on whether or not you want to run afoul of...
The Freeway Maniac 1989 Review
Twenty or so years later, we see that Arthur (James Courtney) is now all-grown up and locked up in a mental institution. He's now incredibly strong and his hair has miraculously turned brown. So one day, Arthur decides to escape when one staff member decides to show him off to the new recruit (much like in The Burning). So Arthur knocks one out with a chair and brains the other on a wall, kills the security guard, and soon, he finds himself being pursued by a staff member. The staff member chases him up to a tower where a fistfight breaks out. As you can imagine, it does not end well when the guard is thrown off the tower and Arthur body slams him (!). Arthur then steals a car (after killing the owner) and goes off to go on a killing spree.
We then meet Linda Kinney (Loren Winters), a young model who discovers who boyfriend is having an affair with another woman. She decides to go joy-riding out in the desert to calm herself down. However, the car breaks down so she walks to an auto shop/gas station to get some help. Instead of helping her, the mechanic decides to try to rape her. Thankfully, she hears the bell that means someone is at the gas pump and she runs to the car for help. Unfortunately, that man happens to be Arthur, who chases her around the place, kills the mechanic, and is eventually run over by Linda.
A while later (and we know it's a while later because now Linda's agent has a beard), Linda is auditioning for a part in an ultra-low-budget sci-fi film and gets it due to the producer wanting to exploit her escape from Arthur (who is back in the institution). Arthur has been collecting newspaper clippings of Linda and has grown obsessed with her because she reminds him of his mother. The institution decides he is too dangerous for them to hold, so they decide to transfer him to a maximum security prison. En route, he breaks free of his straps, kills the ambulance attendees, and heads for the small town of Barker's Crosng, where they're shooting the movie, to find Linda, leaving a masve body count in his wake. Will Arthur get to Linda and kill her just like his mother twenty years prior? Or will Linda fight back and come out on top again?
The Freeway Maniac is a difficult film to clasfy. The whole film feels like the experience that comes when you're talking to someone, and you think they're being sarcastic, but you're not entirely sure. In fact, Justin Kerswell over at the Hysteria Lives! webte hit the nail right on the head: "It's difficult to know if this is just a bad movie; or a movie that's so bad its good; or perhaps a smart movie pretending to be a bad one; or perhaps a bad movie pretending to be a smart movie pretending to be a bad movie – or none or all of these." During the course of the film, I said to myself, "Man, this is bad," but then I'd say, "Wait, is this trying to be bad?" It's obvious the filmmakers didn't take it seriously, and it's obviously trying to be a parody in the scenes with the movie production, but are the scenes on the outde of the movie production supposed to be parody? The world may never know.
Before I began my analys on the perplexing ingenuity of The Freeway Maniac, I'll cover the standard bases of a movie. The acting had its ups and downs, but I thought Loren Winters was alright as the heroine, even if her acting in some scenes was less-than-derable and I'm totally sure she wasn't cast because of her relation to Paul Winters, the director. Shepherd Sanders was really good as Bert, the sleaze bag producer (who I imagine is parodying Roger Corman, because he demands T&A in his film and judges actresses by their "outde" features). Then there's James Courtney, who I really liked as the film's killer just because I admired his ability to go from calm and reserved to bat shit crazy in the blink of an eye. Now, the one thing that will drive nearly every slasher fan away is that there is nearly no gore at all. Nearly all of the kills are bloodless or off-screen, and I can't tell whether it was shot this way or if cuts were made to obtain an R-rating, but wither way, this is what we get. However, I feel it makes up for it by having a humongous body count, with the death toll rounding out to about 25.
Another interesting point of interest is that The Freeway Maniac is as interested in being an action movie as it is being a horror and comedy. And I feel this is where the film's strongest points rede. There are a few very well-choreographed fight scenes sprinkled here and there, as well as exploons, car chases, and just good old-fashioned chase scenes. The best fight of the movie takes place when Arthur begins chang a construction worker with a chainsaw, only to have it run out of gas. The two get into a brawl that is just awesome. Let me just say that if you've seen any of Cannon Films' amazing Chuck Norris action flicks and like the fistfights in those, you'll love this. Speaking of which, this film was indeed produced by Cannon, who also released Hospital Massacre in 1982, Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 in '86, New Year's Evil in '80, and more. I cannot find any mention of The Freeway Maniac on their webte, which leads me to believe that they have disowned this film entirely. Anyway, there's also a great scene in which Arthur terrorizes some teens with a truck in which one teen ends up on the hood of the truck and keeps slipping until he is clinging onto the bottom and eventually lets go. While some might find that scene tedious, as it goes on for a while, I ate that stuff up like it was gold.
So I might as well talk about the subtle genius contained in The Freeway Maniac. Now, to the blind eye, the killer is just an over-the-top nut job, and they'd be right. This guy does some truly bizarre and crazy things, like eating a snake raw, killing an obese fire marshall and ung him as a pillow, howling at the moon, eating ants, etc., etc. However, to me, I find him to be a metaphor for the slasher movie at that point. Arthur acts as a mean of saying, 'Before, these movies were serious-minded and tried to be scary. Now, take a good, hard look at what they've become." Even though this was probably unintentional, I find that the off-screen and bloodless kills serve a purpose for showing us how bloodthirsty we are whenever we watch a slasher movie. Of course, I would have preferred if they had actually shown the kills or spiced them up with some kind of gore, condering that's one of the main reasons we watch these things.
The movie also twists things around by giving us exactly what we expected from it in the first twenty minutes or so, nce this is the only part in which Linda actually gets to play a "final girl," as she runs away from the killer, hides from him, and defeats him, all while on her own. Then it cuts over to something we didn't expect with the film production. It's like it's two films in one! The ending leaves it open for a sequel, and if you ask me, I would have loved to see a whole string of Freeway Maniac sequels, each with a subtle, cocky sense of humor and more gore than this one. How we know Arthur's still out there is predictable, but then again, how many times have we seen a climax where the killer is holding onto the heroine on top of a large UFO model with flaming exploves and screaming, "We're going to the moon! It's nice up there! People leave you alone!"? Not many, I'd presume.
The film features an impresve score by Robby Krieger of The Doors fame, and while it doesn't set the tone as a "horror" movie, it does make for a great action/adventure type theme. These mucal cues work as a kind of flavoring for nearly all the scenes in this movie, especially the car chases and the fights. Now, the one major complaint I have with this movie is the editing. So apparently, the editor decided to cut all the death scenes short and make up for that lost runtime by extending some of the filler shots. For example, there's one scene where Arthur's truck runs out of gas and he begins to walk down a road, and the camera lingers on him for about thirty seconds before it cuts to the next shot. Do we seriously need to watch him walk down a road for such a long time? The final shot also lasted way longer than it should have, and after a while, I was just praying the movie would end soon because I was getting extremely bored by that final shot. But in the end, it was all worth it.
But then again, I may be horribly wrong. Maybe The Freeway Maniac is just a bad movie. Maybe it doesn't realize all the genius and symbolism it contains. But either way, that doesn't sway my opinion on the movie: it's awesome. The acting isn't all that great, there isn't much bloodshed (which is sad because that chainsaw death could have been great), and the editing is really bad. But on the other hand, there's some good acting, an entertaining killer, a great score, cool kills (use not gory), great action scenes, and best of all, it has real heart. It doesn't feel like an effort to cash-in on something, and I have feeling the makers were having a lot of fun during the making of the film. It doesn't have any huge, extravagant exploons or action scenes; just good old fashioned fisticuffs, car chases, cars blowing up, and other stuff like that. It mainly takes place during the day, so we don't get any poorly-lit night shots where it's nearly imposble to tell what's going on.
The Freeway Maniac knows it'll never be scary in the slightest, and it embraces that. It's as good as an action/horror/comedy film can be, and I was only slightly bored during the lingering filler shots, but there really aren't too many of those in the movie. The pace is lightning fast and filled to the brim with all the cheesy entertainment anyone could hope for. Unfortunately, it's never received the deluxe DVD treatment, and I would love to see this on a special edition DVD, or even Blu-Ray! Cannon hasn't really done much with their horror titles, as films like Hospital Massacre, New Year's Evil, The Borrower, and more remain MIA on the DVD scene. I feel they should at least sell the rights to these films to a company like Shout! Factory or Synapse Films, who would release quality DVDs of them. But in my opinion, The Freeway Maniac is the most deserving of all of them. You can tell they made the best film posble with the budget, and if you ask me, I think the VHS art is the thing that caused the film to not do terribly well and not go on to have a string of sequels. The VHS art just has a truck on it with Arthur holding an axe in the foreground, and it looks really bland. That is why I have chosen the German art for this review, and the French art is great as well.
The Verdict: Great, cheesy fun with great action, great horror, great comedy, subtle ingenuity, and a whole lotta heart.
Score: 8/10. Definitely something that will be re-watched and must be seen.
Don't trust my judgment? Here's two other opinions: ('Cuz I can't find any others!)