Late To The Party: ‘Maniac’ (1980)

Posted by Rod Paddock - June 11th 2012 @ 4:04 pm

Maniac  is a film that has a special place in my heart. This film is memorable to me, as I have never been able to finish it. I have attempted to watch it multiple times: once as a teen and another time as a young adult. I am writing this introduction, before this viewing attempt, in order to give you an insight as to why I have not finished watching this film. From what I recall this film is very disturbing. I watched this film because of Tom Savini. I became a fan of Tom’s work watching films like Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead, and The Burning. The special effects from this film are exponentially more horrific than all those others combined. I recall a slow motion shotgun blast to the head, a scalping, and in general some of the most heinous depravity ever put on film; at least these are my impressions after these many decades. Well here we go, race fans. Lets get this party started….

Maniac tells the story of Frank Zito (played by Joe Spinell ), a serial killer prowling the streets of New York with a singular purpose: kill people. The first act of the film has many of the aforementioned killings. A woman is strangled and scalped and a man, played by Savini himself, is brutally murdered via a point blank shotgun blast. As mentioned earlier, this is the point where I stopped watching the film on both previous attempts. Not this time!!!!!

The story continues as Frank stalks and murders more women. Eventually, Frank meets photographer Anna D’Antoni, played by Caroline Munroe, and they start a “normal” relationship. As is true in most horror films, this relationship falls apart as Frank suffers a mental break in Anna’s presence. This breakdown and discovery leads to the bloody conclusion. The final act has arguably one of the best finales in horror ever shot. You will have to witness it yourself.

This film is an amazing piece of shock art. My feelings about the creepiness and disturbing nature of Maniac were not unfounded. It was created from the mind of Joe Spinell and co-screenwriter C.A. Rosenberg , and possesses an accurate representation of how serial killers are created (hint: mommy issues), and how they go about their business. This is why Maniac works. You are witness to the depravity that is a serial killer, the horror felt by the victims and how close you could be to one of these maniacs. Director William Lustig  extracts remarkable performances from his actors. You can feel the victims despair as their lives slowly ebb away at the hands of this mad man.

The Hype

I watched this movie from a special edition DVD set purchased a number of years ago. The DVD has a spectacular “making of” video with a lot of details surrounding the creation and release of this film. The disturbing nature of Maniac created serious controversy. Numerous women’s groups picketed theaters, and numerous film critics panned this film. Gene Siskel walked out after 30 minutes; same place I stopped it. Here’s an interesting video wherein Gene talks about the new trends in 1980’s horror films

While generating controversy, Maniac also generated revenue and a following. The movie lives up to the hype. It is disturbing yet it is also fascinating to watch.

How I Missed It

The primary reason I missed this film on release is simple: I was 11 years old. I didn’t really get in to horror films until I was around 12 and discovered the horror movie section at our local video story. The secondary reason is pointed out in my introduction. I tried to watch it twice and could never finish.

Better Late or Never

BETTER LATE. Maniac stands up well against a lot of the tripe horror films created today. Modern horror filmmakers could learn a lot here. It looks like some horror filmmakers did, Maniac has been remade starring Elijah Wood  as serial killer Frank Zito. Check out the Red Band Trailer

 

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