Howard Winters a/k/a "Cecil Howard" is one of the most ambitious filmmakers ever in the adult field. While many of his contemporaries contented themselves by grinding out movies that bore a passable resemblance to what was coming out of the mainstream with a little bit of story and acting that didn't totally suck, Howard went all the way, constructing complex plots, eliciting exquisite acting from porno professionals not necessarily known for their thespian prowess, shooting and editing the whole thing as efficiently as anything a major studio could come up with at that time. NEON NIGHTS marks something of a crossover in his career, wedged between the glossy elegance of FANTASEX and PLATINUM PARADISE and the angst-ridden emotional exploration of SNAKE EYES and STAR ANGEL. Not coincidentally it was his first cooperation with screenwriter Anne Wolff a/k/a "Anne Randall" who would go on to pen most of his later, "deeper" work, further including the FIRESTORM and SINNERS movies as well as the underrated DREAMWALK. To me personally, NEON NIGHTS remains his very best film and, even though I've watched it some 6 or 7 times by now in a variety of venues (including several theatrical screenings which add a whole new dimension to adult movies in general and this movie in particular), I'm always glad to see it anew.
Sad-eyed Lysa Thatcher turns in one of her two finest performances (the other being in Gerard Damiano's breathtaking SATISFIERS OF ALPHA BLUE) as lonely teenager Sandy, living with divorced mom Linda Vale who's more interested in playing kinky games (including fist insertion, be forewarned) with boyfriend Jamie Gillis than raising an emotionally confused girl on the brink of womanhood. Vale was an always welcome older woman in the Pat Manning vein whose sexual voracity often contrasted amusingly with her uppity exterior. When it came to brow-beating, she had no equal as her scene-stealing roles in PLATINUM PARADISE and Ron Sullivan's extremely enjoyable A GIRL'S BEST FRIEND attest. Eavesdropping on her mother's lovemaking, Sandy masturbates herself to sleep. The very next day, Gillis' Robert interrupts the girl's morning shower and attempts to seduce her in a wonderfully tense sequence cut short by mom walking on them. Sandy's understandably distraught and plans to run away to New York to join her twin sister Denise who, we're filled in, left home after a similar incident with Robert. She looks to girlfriend Bonnie (an adorably one-track minded Kandi Barbour) for help but she's way too busy coming on to her tennis instructor Ashley Moore. With the help of traveling magician Harlan (Jake Teague, sporting a rather becoming wig for once) and his amorous assistant Sweet Marie (the scorchingly sensuous Jody Maxwell, star of Damiano's unjustly forgotten PORTRAIT), Sandy does manage to make it to the Big Apple but not before we're treated to one of the most unusual sex scenes ever that finds the girl enjoying all the sensations of physical lovemaking while keeping her maidenhead intact through telekinesis and levitation courtesy of the randy wizard ! The tone of the film shifts towards slightly disturbing kinkiness once Sandy arrives in New York and meets Denise's employer Rhonda (Veronica Hart) and her parasitic paramour Snow (Eric Edwards), both of whom are introduced via a clever PSYCHO shower scene take-off that leads into a scalding number with both vying for power which is volleyed back and forth during a thunderstorm. Revealing more of the plot at this point would be a shame. Suffice it to say that these two seem to be involved in some pretty nefarious businesses including drugs and white slavery and that they're primarily working for a shady character only known as "Mr. Prince" who lives in a cabin in the woods with a mysterious artist named Lilah (Edwards' then girlfriend Arcadia Lake). Inescapably, Sandy is drawn into their bizarre world but is she truly their victim or are they merely aiding her along towards her subconsciously intended goal ? Final scenes, including a lengthy yet totally riveting initiation ceremony, photographed, edited and scored with the utmost precision, reveal the unsettling truth. A key to unlocking this mystery beforehand is supplied by Winters coding the characters as fairytale archetypes with Sandy the innocent, Alice-like heroine with an evil, uncaring mother, Rhonda the wicked witch, Snow the hunter, Lilah the good fairy, Harlan the wizard and I guess Mr. Prince is self-explanatory.
Not enough praise can be heaped upon this extraordinary erotic masterpiece for it has a psychological richness that very few mainstream let alone adult films can hope to match. Anne's writing skills must be the first to consider as far as the succeeding of this aspect is concerned yet even those could've been for naught if Howard's film-making expertise didn't match them step for step. Complex but never heavy-going, he weaves a web of seemingly separate story lines that ultimately converge in unexpected ways, delivering an emotional sucker punch that should leave most first-time viewers reeling. Part of this disorienting feeling is due to the casting against type of several popular performers. Jamie Gillis, known for his bad boy portrayals (with Shaun Costello's consequently sickening WATERPOWER and Chuck Vincent's classy ROOMMATES as very different highlights), plays nice guy Robert while Veronica Hart and Eric Edwards eschew their sensitive image and totally throw themselves into the characters of evildoers Rhonda and Snow. Most people who have gone on record about experiencing this one of a kind film have expressed tremendous admiration as well as a need for renewing their acquaintance with the material, some of them ascribing their entire love of adult cinema to it.
23 out of 25 found this helpful