Freeway Maniac 1988 Review
Freeway Maniac 1988
Directed by: Paul Winters
Starring: Loren Winters, Shepherd Sanders, Jeff Morris
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The cover for Freeway Maniac proudly states that it’s a ‘cult-thriller in the tradition of such splatter hits as The Hills Have Eyes, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. After reading, I was indeed intrigued as to exactly what that bold statement meant? Did it mean that Freeway Maniac was a seminal movie that went on to define an entire genre? Did it mean that there had been hundreds of low-budget Freeway Maniac clones desperately trying to follow in its footsteps? If so, where were they and why hadn’t I seen them? The questions were flowing through my mind like the alcohol at a Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan ‘patch up our differences’ convention.
Released at a time when the slasher genre had shredded its final hopes of any credibility, Freeway Maniac was certainly one of the last entries of the eighties to be given considerable funding by a mid- studio. I struggled to track down any information about the film at all and it is rarely mentioned alongside the more familiar slasher hits.
It kicks off gratuitously with a couple making out on a kitchen table. Little do the lovers know that they are not alone and are being observed by the woman’s junior son. A sound alerts the couple to his presence and his mother pursues him into his bedroom, where she shouts at him for being such a perverted voyeur. The kid reacts angrily and brutally butchers his mother and her unsuspecting lover with a large kitchen knife. The screen then fades to black and the credits (accompanied by a jazzed-up re-hash of Halloween’s theme-tune) begin to roll.
Skip a few years and Arthur is still locked up in an asylum for his vicious act from the pre-credits. A new member of staff has joined the complex and his colleague gives him a guided tour of the corridors and their most notorious inmates. On approaching one cell, the orderly informs the new-starter that the guy inside, Arthur – the killer from the opening scene, is by far the most dangerous and vicious patient in the hospital. This fact is proved when he violently assaults the pair and makes a daring escape from the complex, murdering various staff-members on his way.
Next up we meet Linda Kinney, a young actress who is just launching her career in Hollywood. Her agent manages to convince her to accept an offer of a casting session with a studio that is producing a low-budget sci-fi flick. Whilst on her way to the location, her automobile breaks down and she heads off in search of help. She eventually finds a remote auto-garage, but unfortunately, instead of uncovering a competent mechanic, she bumps into Arthur on another maniacal rampage. After a lacklustre battle, she manages to defeat the psychopath and her victory sends him back to the security of his institution. Against the odds, she decides to head to the casting for the feature and her choice proves to be a resounding success. Once the producers notice that she is the same Linda that was attacked by Arthur, the David-Hasslehoff-alike psycho from earlier, they decide that her notoriety would make her a bankable cast-member.
Some time later, shooting on-site in the dessert begins with typical enthusiasm. Unfortunately, little do the cast and crew know that Arthur has once again escaped and is looking to get even with the actress that he considers to be his nemesis.
Don’t you just love shoddy low-budget features that attempt in their plot-line to mock the production of shoddy low-budget features? In the case of Freeway Maniac it’s not so much the pot calling the kettle black as the pot calling the pot a pot! This effort is criminally bad and lacks everything that makes a horror film even passable. Suspense – zero, gore – zero, shocks – zero, creativity – zero and hope – zero. It’s a wayward addition and I just couldn’t understand what the producers had in mind when they decided to finance it. Extremely low budget entries can be forgiven for their lack of credibility as they are usually produced on the kind of funds that Cameron Diaz spends on weekly hairdressers. This means that their chances of competing with the more competently budgeted features are resoundingly small. But Freeway Maniac looks to have been quite highly financed, which makes its failure bizarre and totally unforgivable.
It boasts one of the biggest body counts that I can remember in slasher cinema, but of the multitude of characters that appear on the screen, I think that only 4 or 5 were given characterisation. The killer is from the Freddy Krueger School of wise-cracking, meaning that he often murders his victims with a sarcastic remark and a cheeky smirk. Whereas Michael Myers looked terrifying in his boiler suit and mask, Arthur sports a hilarious plaid suit combination and boasts a mullet that would shame Richard Marx. The film is comfortably shot and the dessert makes for an exquisite location, but that can’t stop Freeway Maniac from feeling like an uninspired mess.
All the way through the feature, I just couldn’t be sure if this was supposed to be a serious stab at horror or a semi-parody of the lovable genre that it frequents. One thing’s for certain however, the next time I see the words ‘in the tradition of…’ on a box-cover, I’ll know that it in marketing speak that translates to rip-off
Final Girl: √√