[review by JA Kerswell]
Is FREEWAY MANIAC a comedy or not? That's just one of the questions I asked as the madness unspooled in front of my eyes. Perhaps the biggest joke of all is that the eponymous killer never actually makes it onto a freeway, but that's the least of the film's problems – or charms depending on how you look at it.
One thing I can say with certainty is that this is quite unlike anything I've ever seen before. … OK, that isn't exactly right. I mean, FREEWAY MANIAC is made up of things I've seen a million times before. Just never put together quite like this.
The film revolves – or perhaps more accurately jitterbugs – around an aspiring blonde starlet called Linda (Loren Winters). After a lengthy prologue (more of which later), Linda has a bad day (she catches her boyfriend in bed with another woman, who mutters unsympathetically: “I don't know what she's getting so upset about, it was just a fuck!”). It gets worse for Linda. She takes off for the country, but gets car trouble and seeks assistance at a garage; only to fall foul of a couple of leering, sleazy mechanics. Licking his lips, one of them asks her; “Have you made any of those pornography movies?”. She manages to escape before she gets raped, only to run headlong into a maniac called Arthur (James Courtney) – who has just escaped from a local asylum. After protracted chase scenes around the garage complex akin to a slasher movie Benny Hill sketch, Linda manages to floor the hulking loon (who has just brained her would-be rapist turned would-be rescuer!) by flinging him off a car bonnet.
With the killer now safely banged back up in the nuthouse, Linda finds a small amount of fame as a victim-du-jour in the media. This helps her land the lead in a low budget sci-fi schlock opera called Astronette, which is set to start filming in the countryside outside LA. However, Arthur is not done with her just yet and escapes a second time and leaves an impressive bodycount in his wake as he hotfoots it across the country to gatecrash the production…
Ah, yes, Arthur. James Courtney is unlike most slasher monsters. An easy-on-the-eye man mountain, who wear tight jeans and likes nothing more it seems than exchanging fisticuffs with well built men – like some homoerotic Chuck Norris on steroids. Despite killing around 24 people during the film, he shows his soft side by cuddling a puppy and sparing an old lady (well somebody badly made up to look like an old lady, who proclaims: “What a handsome young man you are!”). His psychosis, we see, is based in a prologue. As a kid, he seems to take umbrage at his mother and her lover recreating the iconic scene from the remake of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS KNOCK TWICE, as they make the beast-with-two-backs on the kitchen table in their trailer trash home. His mother pulls him out of a closet (maybe I'm reading too much into this), and he stabs them both to death with a butcher's knife.
Fast forward to the present, Arthur escapes from an asylum where therapy seems to include everyone smoking cigarettes and mugging for the camera. He kills an orderly whose pleas that “No! I'm new here!” fall on deaf ears. Looking more like a GQ model than Jason Voorhees, Arthur makes short work of the rest of the orderlies – and in one of the film's funniest moments pushes one to his death from a tower, and then belly flops from a great height onto him before making his escape!
Of course, this is when Linda and Arthur first set eyes on each other. However, a year passes before his second escape (we can tell time has passed as he now sports a fetching mullet). He tosses off a couple of hunky medics (from the back of an ambulance), before sticking a truck driver with a wrench and stealing his rig. Now, this is the closest that Arthur comes to a freeway (actually an A road). For no particular reason, some drunks throw beer bottles at him from the back of their pickup. Arthur splatters one on the road and sends the rest careering to their doom. Even running out of gas can't stop him, as he kills campers and blows up a necking couple before stealing that faux granny's car.
Finally, he reaches the movie set and sets up camp in the rocks above. He collects scorpions in a bucket, fights a rubbery looking snake (before licking what looks like pâté off it) and barks at the moon. He further shows his admirable skills at making do in the country by killing a fat man and using him as a pillow! All the while he edges one step closer to Linda (who he hallucinates is his dead mother). Then follows a veritable blizzard of chainsaws, chases, more fisticuffs with bodybuilders, a white lace g-string, a striptease and an (offscreen) blow job – not to mention a climax involving dynamite, a fake UFO and Arthur screaming to Linda: “We're going to the moon!”.
Wow. I did say that FREEWAY MANIAC was quite unlike anything I've seen before. I'm still trying to work out if that's a good thing or not. In no way is this a good film. However, it veers from highly entertaining and occasionally hilarious to utter tedium with disarming ease. And despite the generous bodycount, most of the violence is of the cutaway and corn syrup chucked up the wall type.
That fact that the film-within-a-film is so purposefully dreadful (think any zero budgeted sci-fi schlock with big boobs and bacofoil outfits), it would seem that it is a no-brainer that tongue is firmly in cheek throughout. However, FREEWAY MANIAC's schizophrenia is not just limited to its unusual villain. The film doesn't really wink at its audience in a knowing way and plays the material as straight as its bizarre script will allow. This is clearly not a zero-budget production, with good photography and stunt-work balancing some truly amateurish performances and editing. 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. Oh, my head!
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that FREEWAY MANIAC was belched out onto the world by Cannon Films. A company that produced perhaps the most eclectic range of oddities, big budget blockbusters and bizarre flops in movie making history. Originally called BREAKDOWN (perhaps a more apt title) it unsurprisingly bypassed theatres and went straight-to-video and then into relative obscurity – where it remains festering like a psychedelic cheese dream to this very day.
female:6 / male:18
1) Female stabbed to death
2) Male stabbed to death
3) Male hit with a chair
4) Male brained on wall
5) Male killed (method unseen)
6) Female strangled
7) Male hit on the head with a spanner
8) Male thrown out of ambulance
9) Male stabbed with scissors
10) Male hit with wrench
11) Male run over with truck
12) Male killed in truck crash
13) Female thrown from truck
14) Male killed in truck crash
15) Female killed in truck crash
16) Male burnt to death
17) Female burnt to death
18) Male punched to death
19) Female impaled on log
20) Male has neck broken
21) Male run over with motorbike
22) Male killed with chainsaw
23) Male killed with claw hammer
24) Male has head pushed against clothes peg