Thursday, September 27, 2012

Golden Title: Maniac (1980)

Maniac (1980)
rating: *****
starring:  Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro and Abigail Clayton

No slasher fan is complete without a single viewing of this prime splatter classic. I mean it, if you hadn't seen Maniac yet, my young prodigies, then you had yet to learn the true meaning of disgust, sleaze and grittiness.

Before I start my review, let me first share you my struggles on seeing this movie for the first time, which was one of my first early 80s addition to my collection; I was fresh out of high school and new to college when I was patching up my way back to slasher movies. My collection was small, mostly modern slashers, and hunting down 80s classics was a task since my country never imports such titles due to very little people interested in them. I was too young to have a bank account, nor do I have the knowledge to do online purchasing, so I had to crawl in the deepest underbellies of my city to find rarer and rarer titles.

Only one shop had a copy of Maniac, but by the time I found out about it, I ran out of spending money so I had to come back some other time. But that other time had the stall raided once again, thus forcing the shop to close. Though I'm aware It'll come back, little hope came to me that time.

It wasn't until one Summer in 2010 that I finally had my copy. I walked pass a street vendor who was stopping by at my street, and there, in his stash, was one, single, bootleg copy of Maniac. By luck, I had loot (my ice cream loot), I bought it, made myself a sandwich instead and popped it in my player straight when I got home. So half of my collection is made up of bootlegs from these underbellies, as pathetic as it is, but I'm willing to go through it all just to see a true classic. Little do I know was that not only Maniac hard to get hold on to, but it's also hard to watch.

The story is simple enough to understand; Frank Zito (the late Joe Spinell), a middle aged, overweight New Yorker lives alone in an apartment complex where he work as a landlord and secretly collects mannequins. Unknown to everybody else, Frank is mentally unwell after years of verbal, emotional and physical abuse from his prostitute mum. He prowls the night for women to kill and scalp in order to decorate his mannequins, which he then will have one-sided conversations with before growing tired and go hunting for another.

His life seems to be going through this single direction everyday, as much as he wants to stop, but it all changes after meeting a fashion photographer named Anna (The fabulous Caroline Munro) whosephotographs impressed Zito enough to start dating her. However, Frank's grip on reality is still deteriorating as the days pass; the need to kill, the voices in his head, the scalps, all of it still beckons to him and further deranges his view on the world. Can Frank overcome his inner suffering? Or will he damn himself to a lifeless cycle of murder?

The untamed power of Maniac stands as one of the most powerful and recognized slasher titles to be released in the 80s. Many a times people tried to capture the same strengths and grittiness as the title had exposed to the world but sadly, most of them fell flat a few more steps as they tried to cover weak stories with grue and shocks. The latter two might be Maniac's technical high lights, but it's performance and character that drives it into full horrors.

While the plot is easy on paper, watching the entire film is an entire challenge for those with a faint of heart; while there is a bit of story going on in between the slayings, the film mainly focuses on Joe Spinell's character and his inner demons which mainly consists of scenes with him talking to himself or his mannequins while nailing bloodied scalps into them.

The first half is actually where most of the slayings occurred, starting as early as the opening when we watch our titular maniac voyeurs, stalk and kill a couple sleeping at the beach, a scene which turns out to be a flashback-nightmare. No soon after, we watch Zito take a stroll out in the night, to "process" a mannequin by strangling a prostitute before scalping her for her hair, all the while crying as if a child who knew he'll be in trouble. Not long after, again, we then get treated to yet another double murder, a scene which many slasher fans, or horror fans in general, would know as one of the best head shots in horror cinema. Special Effects maestro Tom Savini handled makeup and special effects on this film, and made a small, yet unforgettable, cameo; an effort that's quite impressive given to the minuscule budget and the realistic look in them.

After a while, the movie slows down to focus more on Frank's ramblings and his attempt to juggle his moonlight serial killing, evenrtually getting out of hand to a point of macabre. These scenes are dreadful, intense, and very gritty, almost unbearable and unsettling as Spinell rocks back and forth in front of his mother's grave and later gets attacked on a gore-out revenge assault that only a truly sick mind can thought up, giving new boundaries between cliched horror to psychological nightmare.

In the end, I just couldn't explain the intensity and goriness Maniac had shown me; it's depressing, raw and very messy. At some angle, the controversies surrounding the film's misogynistic tone can be considered true as majority of Zito's victims were women and his killings mainly revolve around the fact he was traumatized by an abusive mother.

There's also the ultra violent content, which aggravates the mob even more, much to Joe Spinell's sensitivity to the issue (The same sensitivity that pushed him to try and make a sequel to this movie, known as Mr. Robbie: Maniac 2, where he stars as a popular TV kid show host who murders abusive parents. Sadly, only a promotional short was shot and the movie never got full green-lit due to Spinell's passing) but many people appears to fail to understand that Maniac was a one-man show that never intended to have heroes, just a character study. Yes it focuses solely on our killer in is lowest and yes he's a sympathetic monster beckoning for longing and understanding even from himself, but we need not to clamor for his crimes. There was never anything to clamor about as he was meant to be feared. This was made more effective by giving very little focus on the victims, making them just as random and ordinary as the guy or gal sitting next to you in the bus way home. (though, same can be said for Zito. He is just a landlord, right? I mean, nobody seems to notice these crimes except for the cops. People just go on with their lives.)

A true slasher classic, with a formula and presence so uneven, it's depraved. Tastes may vary but one cannot dismiss Maniac. Whether you're a fresh neophyte to the genre or not, you're not complete if you hadn't experience this movie. You heard me. You don't watch it. You don't read it. You don't take in the words you just hear. In fact, you can dismiss this review if you like, cuz words cannot describe it.

You Experience it.

1 female had her throat slit with box cutter
1 male garroted with piano wire
1 female strangled, scalped with box cutter
1 male had his head decimated with a shotgun
1 female shot on the face with shotgun
1 female gets a sword ran through her chest
1 female had a switchblade pushed into her chest
total: 7


  1. You said it brother. A must watch - even if you have to do it with your eyes covered. Top notch review of a Golden Title indeed!

    1. Thank you my buddy my dear friend! I'm just hoping the remake's gonna be decent, to say the least.

  2. The first time I saw Maniac, I was blown away (DVD).
    The second time I saw it on the big screen and it bored me quite a lot - for no apparent reason (retro 35mm screening).

    I need to rewatch this a third time to make up my mind about it.

    1. well, third time's the charm, they always say!