Through the Black Hole » NEON NIGHTMARES: L.A. Thrillers Of The 1980′s – Brad Sykes

NEON NIGHTMARES: L.A. Thrillers Of The 1980′s – Brad Sykes

Written by Tony Northrup


There has been no other decade in the history of modern times that has been referenced to, admired, inspiring, and seems to be loved more than the 1980′s. If you look at television shows, music, or fashion today, many of them have been patterned after the 80′s. This includes films as well.

As a child who grew up in the decade of greed (often referred to as), it actually was a glorious time! The 1980′s was a decade that was truly diverse. Films were at a new level, not only fun and exciting, but many were considered over the top. You had your sci fi, horror, comedies, romance, teen sex comedies, action, and fantasy. However, there was a dark side to films from the 80′s. Vigilante, prostitution, revenge, and women in prison films were rampant. These types of films had a raw edge to them, such as those that were considered grindhouse films from the 1970′s. However, no matter what your taste you will find it all in Brad Sykes new book, NEON NIGHTMARES: L.A. Thrillers Of The 1980′s. The title alone caught my interest…and I knew I had to read it.

The book begins with an interesting, yet erotic cover of a woman in a provocative pose behind blinds…the shadow of a male voyeur looking on. The cover itself could be the poster for almost any 80′s film. In this case, it reminded me of the 1980′s film, BODY DOUBLE (which Brad discusses in the book). If the cover doesn’t grab your attention, then open the book and begin turning through the pages. Inside you will find that Brad breaks down each chapter into sub-genres and categories such as, Neo-Noirs, Rogue Cops, Comedies, Prostitution, Vigilantes, Serial Killers, Buddy Cops, Sci Fi, Horror, and more! Each of these chapters is packed full of films you might remember, or may be some your favorites. The book also features some films you may have forgetten seeing back in the 80′s. Brad brings every film he discusses into the spotlight, from blockbusters, to grindhouse cheese. Brad places no bias on any particular film, but rather, pays attention to the notable qualities of each film. He also spotlights those actors who were in many of these films, which includes Linnea Quigley, Sybil Danning, Linda Blair, and Wings Hauser, just to name a few.

As I read through the book I found the vigilante and prostitution chapters to be not only interesting, but almost realistically disturbing at times. No, they just don’t make films like these anymore! To look back now to a time when some films were pretty much a free-for-all, is actually refreshing. Many of us loved those types of films. Brad shows the utmost respect for these films, the actors, and directors, and therefore for the moviegoer that generates to these sort of films. I respect that.

As you read this book you feel comfortable, as though you were sitting with Brad, relaxing and listening to an old friend telling you his stories. Not only is the book detailed, it’s filled with fantastic photos from these films, photos of movie posters, as well as photos of rare VHS video box covers. The reader not only gets an entertaining read, but walks away with a great deal of knowledge about this genre. Brad Sykes certainly knows plenty about these films, as well what was popular in the 1980′s.

NEON NIGHTMARES is definitely a must have read for those of us who want an in-depth look into the seedier side of Hollywood’s 1980′s grindhouse type films. I highly recommend…NEON NIGHTMARES: L.A. Thrillers of the 1980′s.

I had the honor of interviewing Brad Sykes, author of his newly released book… NEON NIGHTMARES: L.A. Thrillers of the 1980′s. I hope you enjoy it.

Anthony Northrup – Thanks for giving us a bit more insight on your new book, Brad. So, tell us a little about your background?
Brad Sykes – Thanks for having me! I’m an award-winning author and filmmaker, originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia. After graduating from Boston University’s film program in the late 90′s, I made the move to Los Angeles, which is where I’ve been living and working ever since. Some of the movies I’ve written and directed that you may have seen or heard of are Camp Blood, Death Factory, Goth, and Plaguers. I also write for various film magazines and in 2018, my first book, Terror in the Desert: Dark Cinema of the American Southwest, was published by McFarland. Neon Nightmares: L.A. Thrillers of the 1980′s is my second book.

AN – When did you discover your interest in filmmaking? Which films, and which directors were some of your early inspirations?
BS – The first movie I remember seeing in the theater was Clash of the Titans. It made a huge impression on me and made me a fantasy/horror fan for life! I always enjoyed writing short stories and drawing comic books as a kid and when I was 14, I got my first Hi-8 video camera. During high school, I started shooting shorts which gradually progressed to features. My big inspirations at the time were George Romero, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson and John Woo.

AN – Let’s talk about your new book, NEON NIGHTMARES: L.A. Thrillers of the 1980′s. Tell us how this project came about, and what inspired you to revisit what most people believe to be, the most “totally awesome” decade ever?
BS – When I was finishing up Terror in the Desert in 2017, I started watching a lot of urban thrillers as sort of a ‘break’ from all the desert movies I’d been writing about. Most of these thrillers were made in the 80s. Movies like the Angel trilogy, Vice Squad, Walking the Edge, Out of Bounds, etc. The more I watched, it began to occur to me that 1) there were A LOT of these types of movies made in L.A. during the 80s, 2) L.A. Thrillers are 2) indeed AWESOME, and many of them are still pretty obscure and 3) no one has ever written a book about them as a genre! So, my second book was more or less planned while finishing the first one. I grew up during the 80s, so all my formative film experiences, in the theater or on video/cable, happened during that decade. It’s a special time for me, and it was a lot of fun to revisit a lot of classics, like The Terminator or Die Hard, with fresh eyes, while also watching a lot of films that were new to me, and then finding all the connective tissue between these hundreds of L.A. Thrillers.

AN – How long was the process from start to finish, and describe the research process?
BS – I started doing research in 2017 and 2018 but didn’t start writing until Spring 2020. I had been planning to start Neon Nightmares that year but the pandemic hastened the process a bit. I finished the final draft over 2 years later, in Fall 2022, and got the deal with BearManor soon afterward. So, the whole process from start to finish was 4-5 years. The research process was exhaustive but fun. You could say I’ve been researching Neon Nightmares for 30 years! A lot of these movies are my all-time favorite films, so I had already spent a fair amount of time reading about them and the filmmakers, reading the source material if it was a book first, watching DVD featurettes, interviews, etc. I also worked with some of the filmmakers and actors that are in these movies, who told me great behind the scenes stories, and I’ve visited a lot of the exact places where the movies were shot. This was all before I ever thought of writing a book about L.A. Thrillers. In 2017, I made a list to see if there really was a book there, and it grew from around 100 to over 200 by the time I was done. I broke it down by subgenre, then started tracking down a lot of rare VHS tapes, stills, press kits, you name it. It was fun to keep finding new titles later in the game, even though I sometimes wondered if the book would ever get finished!

AN – You cover every possible genre, sub-genre, and category from horror to sci fi, to vigilantes, to cop films. Is there a particular category you enjoyed most talking about in the book, and which was the most challenging, and why?
BS – That’s a good question. One of the reasons there are so many subcategories in the book as that many L.A. Thrillers sort of bleed from one genre into another…a neo noir can contain prostitution or comedic elements, a cop movie can have sci-fi overtones, etc. All of this cross pollination actually makes the writing process a lot more fun. The most challenging chapter to write was Neo-Noir. These are the most ‘important’ L.A. Thrillers of the decade and the ones that really set the tone for the entire book –movies like Against All Odds, To Live and Die in L.A., 52 Pick-Up, and Body Double. Great films, and very rich and complex movies. I had to “pace” myself when writing that chapter. One of the most unexpectedly fun chapters to write was the Comedy chapter. At first, I thought it would be shorter and limited to bigger studio movies like Fletch and Beverly Hills Cop. But it really grew to include some major cult movies, like Eating Raoul and Repo Man (which are two of the most “L.A.” movies you’ll ever see) and lots of interesting, lesser-known films, like The Man with Bogart’s Face or The Black Marble. This chapter had a lot more tonal variety than I expected and also the movies tended to have more L.A. commentary than many of the more serious films in the book. On top of that, I’m not a ‘comedy’ guy, but it turned out to be one of my favorite chapters to write. So that was a nice surprise. I hope readers have as much fun with it as I did.

AN – One of the things I personally enjoyed most in the book is all the film titles I missed growing up in the 80′s. Did you watch every single film mentioned in this book, and where did you find some of these forgotten gems?
BS – Yes, I watched every film that’s reviewed in the book, including the ones in the 1940s-70s section which sets the stage for the 1980′s chapters. Many of the major films I watched more than once. With rich, complex films like Body Double or To Live and Die in L.A., you have to, and it’s a pleasure, really, because there are always new details or layers to discover. I tried to watch every film like it was my first time watching it, with no preconceptions, and convey that immediacy in my review. A lot of the movies I wrote about in Neon Nightmares were already in my collection for years, in some format, whether VHS, DVD or Blu-ray. But there were a lot of films I had never seen before, which were often hard to find in ANY format. I found most of these movies through friends, or just tracked them down on eBay, or watched them on Youtube or other streaming services. I love a challenge!

AN – What are some of your thoughts on the 1980′s decade, and why do you feel it was such a perfect time to film so many movies in Los Angeles during that time?
BS – As far as the ‘80s go, it’s one of my favorite decades in film, right next to the ‘70s, which I also love for different reasons. The 80s is known for its outsize, over the top approach to everything, and the L.A. Thrillers made during that time are no exception. They’re colorful, loud, weird, shocking and unapologetically entertaining. Thanks to the video boom and rise of major independents like Cannon and New World, a lot of movies were made in the ‘80s that would NEVER be made before, or after that. We’re never going to get another Savage Streets, or Cobra, or Star 80. But in the 80s, all that and more was possible. During that decade, Los Angeles was the face of America in the movies, and everyone wanted to shoot there – and they did, whether they had permits or not. So, you have this great mixture of big budget studio films, midrange budgeted movies, and really low budget indie stuff all being shot a few blocks from one another – or all on the same block! These films offer not just entertainment, but a portrait of the city during the 80s.

AN – Share with us a little about the cover of your book. I felt it was a very “Body Double” inspired cover. Who designed it, and who was the woman on the cover behind those blinds?
BS – The Neon Nightmares book cover was designed by my friend Rod Lanham, who I’ve worked with on a few projects over the years. He and I have the same reference points so I knew he would deliver the perfect cover, down to the ‘neon’ title font. I have no idea who that woman is – she’s not in the movie – but that’s one of the reasons I chose that image from the Body Double movie poster, because it conveys the style and tone of so many L.A. Thrillers in the book without being attached to a specific actor.

AN – While reading the book, I found the Vigilante and Prostitution chapters to be very…grindhouse, gritty, dark, and even disturbing at times. There are also some hardcore subject matters in these chapters. Was that hard to tackle or uncomfortable to discuss? Were any of the films in those chapters too disturbing to watch even for you? If so, which ones, and why?
BS – I agree with you, those chapters have some of the more shocking and disturbing subject matter in the book. But I never shied away from covering any of them, in fact, I think many of these films, like Vice Squad, Angel and Savage Streets, are some of the most powerful films in the book. They were a joy to write about, if not always pleasant to watch. But then, as a filmmaker and a writer, I’m usually attracted to darker subject matter. The L.A. Thriller as a whole is a pretty dark genre. But you bring up an interesting point here. When reviewing a movie like Don’t Answer the Phone, which has a lot of rape and torture, you have to step back and realize that everyone has their personal feelings about what is “exploitative” or offensive versus simply presenting the subject matter honestly. I consider that in my reviews, so viewers know what to expect from certain films and can draw their own conclusions about watching it or not. But personally, I prefer movies that don’t pull their punches. I also try and point out what makes these films different from one another, even if they share a common theme. For example, Extremities and Death Blow are both rape and revenge films, but the first is really thoughtful whereas the second is just cartoonish. It’s easy to just write off certain films as just “B-movies” or “exploitation” when in fact many of them have a lot more to offer than you might think.

AN – Some of the repeated actresses mentioned many times in these films are Linnea Quigley, Linda Blair, and Sybil Danning. These three actresses would be considered the queens of those hardcore genres. What are your thoughts on these three actresses, and why do you feel Hollywood treats these hard working actresses differently than say an A-list actress, considering they both have the same job?
BS – I’m a fan of all three, obviously – and yes, they were all big in the ‘80s. I have firsthand experience with Linnea, and Linda Blair. Linnea starred in my first professional movie Scream Queen and was a doll to work with. We’re still friends today. I met with Linda Blair at her home years ago about a proposed Hell Night making-of interview which never got off the ground; long story there but I don’t hold it against her. I’ve never met Sybil Danning but she’s made some really entertaining films. They’re Playing with Fire is one of my favorite L.A. Thrillers of hers. Scream queens or B-movie stars are treated the same as B-movie directors in Hollywood. Once you’ve made a few exploitation films, you get pigeonholed by the business and they decide that’s all you can do – more of the same, and maybe cheaper this time? I’m speaking from experience here. Of course, in the ‘80s, horror was ghettoized (even if it made tons of money) versus today, when companies like Blumhouse and A24 have made the genre respectable (though not as much fun…). We have more horror movies than ever of all types, but we don’t have stars like Linda, Linnea or Sybil. This is a result of the lack of theatrical releases and video stores, but it’s also because the type of horror movies that get big releases nowadays shy away from overt violence and nudity and use respectable ‘name’ actors like Ethan Hawke and Kevin Bacon. They aim for the mainstream or arthouse audience, not the grindhouse.

AN – One of the thoughts that repeated in my mind as I read the book was, ‘where can I watch these films’? So, where would you suggest readers watch these films who missed seeing them in the 80′s but would like to watch them now?
BS – The great thing is, since I wrote the book, and even since it was published last September, some of the rarer films I critiqued have come out on Blu-ray and streaming. For example, The Black Room, a really cool modern vampire thriller that was stuck for years on VHS and public domain DVD, just came out on an extras-packed Blu from Vinegar Syndrome! Little by little, these obscure, forgotten and disreputable L.A. Thrillers keep coming out with new transfers and extras. So, there is still an audience for these films who remember them fondly, or who are eager to discover them now. That’s very encouraging. If you see a title that looks cool, check a streaming service like Tubi or Amazon Prime. They might have it. And if you dig it, support physical media and buy the Blu ray! I guarantee it’ll look better than it ever did on VHS.

AN – Would you ever consider doing a DVD documentary version of NEON NIGHTMARES?
BS – I’d love to see that happen, it could make a great series, actually. But I wouldn’t want to produce it myself. I know from experience how difficult it would be to corral all those clips and interviews. Just writing the book was enough for me.

AN – Lastly, speaking of Linnea Quigley, you have a new Blu-Ray out now called, SCREAM QUEEN, a film about Linnea Quigley. What can you tell us about this film, and what’s next for Brad Sykes that readers can look forward to?
BS – Scream Queen is a horror/comedy that revolves around a character who’s sort of based on Linnea, a veteran scream queen who dies in a mysterious film set accident and then returns to get revenge on the cast and crew. It was my first movie, made in 1998, and is finally out on Blu ray from Visual Vengeance. Loved working with Linnea and I’m glad it’s finally out there for fans to enjoy! My new anthology movie Hi-Fear also came out last year – it’s the third and final part of the ‘HI’ Trilogy that also includes Hi-8: Horror Independent Eight and Hi-Death. You can stream all three, and DVDs are available also on Amazon, etc. I have some other projects coming up in 2024, some film-related and possibly another book project. I don’t like to talk too much about things that are in development, but you can find out about all my various creative endeavors, old and new at my company FB page ( ), on IG ( ) and our official site ( ).

AN – Thank you Brad for taking the time to join us today.
BS – You’re welcome, and I hope everyone will have a chance to check out Neon Nightmares!


Posted in Giallo/Thriller and Interviews and Nonfiction by Tony Northrup on January 27th, 2024 at %I:%M %p.

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