Maniac (1980)

11/08/2018 07:17

Film: Maniac

Year: 1980

Director: William Lustig

Writer: C.A. Rosenberg and Joe Spinell

Starring: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro and Abigail Clayton



This was a film that I heard a lot about, but had never actually seen. Many of the podcasts I listen to talk highly of the film so it was on my shortlist. I did luck out when I went to the Nightmare Film Festival and this was the film that kicked it off. The director, William Lustig, was also in attendance as well. The official synopsis for this film is a psychotic man, troubled by his childhood abuse, loose in New York City, kills young women and takes their scalps as his trophies. Will he find the perfect woman in a photographer, and end his killing spree?

We kick off at the beach. We hear the heavy breathing of a man as he looks through one of those viewfinders you have to put change into. It then cuts to a couple on the beach. The girl asks her boyfriend to find firewood in order to build back up the fire that has burned down. He reluctantly agrees. The two of them are murdered.

It then shifts to a shady apartment. It belongs to Frank Zito (Joe Spinell). He has dolls and other toys around the room. There is a shrine to his mother in one corner. There is also a mannequin in bed next to him. There is hair on it and what looks blood has run down its face. He goes out into the night.

He meets up with a hooker (Rita Montone). They go up to a room and he wants her to model for him. They start to kiss and during this Frank loses his mind. He then strangles her. From his pocket he takes out the same straight razor that was used to kill the woman on the beach. He scalps the woman. We then see him walking something in a garbage bag. It turns out to be a new mannequin. He took the clothes of the hooker and puts them on this new mannequin. He tacks the scalp on there as well.

The city is in fear of this killer. He goes back out that night with a shotgun to kill again. Things do seem different when his picture is taken by a cute British woman, Anna D’Antoni (Caroline Munro). He seeks her out and they go on a date. He seems interested in her, but he also murders her friend.

Now I do have to admit, I had seen the remake before seeing this film. I really liked the remake and I can see parallels to this film. The first thing I found interesting is that Spinell also wrote this film. I hate to speak ill of him, but it feels like he wasn’t acting in this film. He seems like this was him writing an autobiographical piece as he fits the role that well. I do feel bad for him though. We get from things he says that his mother was a prostitute. He loved her very much, but she punished him harshly. It also seems like she died when he was still at an impressible age. It continues to stick with him and he is struggling to cope with it.

I did have an issue though in believing that Anna would be interested in Frank. She is gorgeous and well Frank looks a little bit rough. Then there are some of the things he says that I just don’t buy. I should bend disbelief as this is a film and she was a hired actress. It just didn’t really seem to fit for me. This was probably the most unbelievable aspect to the film.

Something that was really well done was the pacing. It doesn’t waste any time getting into it and we never really hit any lulls either. The kills happen at a good rate and even when he isn’t killing, we are subtlety getting more of his back-story. I was really impressed by this aspect of the film to be honest.

The acting for the film wasn’t bad either. I already kind of touched on Spinell. I think he did amazing in his role to the point that it almost seems like this is how he really is. Munro wasn’t bad outside I don’t believe that she would fall for a guy like him. She is quite gorgeous. I thought all of the victims played their roles well. They have some tough things to pretend they are being killed and to show terror. It was also fun to see Tom Savini in this film. He also did the effects as well as acting. He’s in my favorite horror film of all time, so seeing him in this was nice.

Speaking of Savini, he was quite amazing in what he could do with the effects in this film. They look quite real, but that is what I come to expect when I see his name. There is an exploding head in this film that looked good. On top of that, any of the stab wounds or cuts from the knife also looked real. Something else was a subtle use of blood on the mannequins. He is putting bloody scalps on them and I like how there is some of it running down them. I also wanted to comment on New York and how this film was shot. The city is almost like a character and it looks amazing. It is gritty and gives a dirty feel. I also think this film was shot very well for the budget they were working with.

The score I thought was pretty good also. It definitely fit the scenes. I’m a sucker for the 1970’s sounding scores and this film, even though this came out in 1980, still has that era of music sound to it. It definitely fit and helped build the tension. The scene in the bathroom popped into my head for sure. I also like the focusing on the breathing of Frank. It makes you feel like you are right there with him and it can be unnerving.

Now with that said, I’m glad I finally got around to seeing this film. This is an interesting slasher film in that it feels gritty and dirtier than most I have seen. I think part of that is being in New York and part of that is how well Spinell portrays Frank. I like the back-story that is given pretty subtlety through things that are said by him. It almost makes him tragic despite the things he is doing. The pacing of the film is really good and the effects are quite amazing. I do think the acting is pretty solid for the most part. The score is pretty good as well. I don’t know if everyone will like this film, but if you a fan of the genre, I’d recommend giving this a viewing.


My Rating: 8 out of 10