"Maniac" is a 1980 released film directed by William Lustig, who has made a few films with the word maniac in the title. He directed the popular films "Maniac Cop" 1&2, and co-directed 3 with Joel Soisson (a writer/producer on many straight to dvd films like "Highlander: Endgame", "Mimic 2", & "Hollow Man 2"). William Lustig is also the CEO of the entertainment company Blue Underground which has released a nice 2 disc region free blu ray of this film.
The film revolves around a lonely figure called Frank Zito (Joe Spinell), who lives in a dingy apartment with his collection of mannequins. He is a serial killer who stalks and kills women, then afterwards he scalps them and takes their clothing to dress up his mannequin collection. He often has conversations and even sleeps with these mannequins. These conversations give a bit of background on Frank. He talks to the mannequins like they are his mother who we find out was an abusive prostitute who orphaned poor Frank after a car accident.
One day Frank notices a photographer in the park called Anna. After a visit to her apartment they start dating and things seem to go well. On the last date, Frank asks if he can visit his mothers grave before going to the cinema. When he visits the grave he goes completely insane and tries to kill Anna, who manages to escape. I hate spoilers so saying anything after this point would ruin things!
Joe Spinell began his film career with a non speaking and uncredited role in "The Godfather". This part opened to door to many other films where he usually played some sort of violent thug. He was a close friend of Sylvester Stallone and starred as the loan shark who employs Stallone in "Rocky". They were already friends beforehand when Stallone was a struggling actor, and Spinell later on became Godfather to his son Sage Stallone. He later starred in other Stallone related films. Spinell wrote, co-produced and developed the story for "Maniac", which is probably his best performance. He is truly believable as this unhinged psychopath who at times can be very charming to people and sometimes be someone you can really sympathise with due to his past. The scenes when he is alone in his flat are the most disturbing to me. A planned sequel was in the works, though there is a short promo that is unfortunately Spinell's last time on camera before his death in 1989. This short promo was directed by Buddy Giovinazzo who was also supposed to direct the sequel. Giovinazzo is famous for his first film "Combat Shock", which is one of the best films Troma ever distributed. I'll put the trailer at the bottom of the post.
Another person who contributes to the notoriety of this film is Tom Savini who done the special effects. The special effects are quite realistic and very bloody, and Savini keeps the best special effect to himself and one of the most infamous effects in horror film history! He stars as a guy who drives his girlfriend out to a nice, dark, secluded area, where they attempt to make out. Spinell jumps onto the front of the car with a double barrelled shotgun and shoots through the windscreen, blowing Savini's head apart in realistic slow motion. This really is the "money shot" of the film. The prosthetic head was filled with animal innards and bits if animal brain, then really shot apart with a shotgun.
As I said before, horror films were being attacked for their violence mainly against women, and there is no denying that this is a violent film. It doesn't have a body count like "Nightmare On Elm Street" or "Friday the 13th", but what it does have is highly realistic, very bloody deaths. At the time, New York was crime capital of the USA, and street violence was commonplace. It wasn't unrealistic to think people like this would be roaming the streets, especially with American serial killers like Ted Bundy and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) only recently being caught and still in people's memory.
If you like your horror films gritty and bloody try and get or borrow a copy of this film, I thinks it is without doubt an underrated classic. Very soon the remake will be released, starring Elijah Wood and written by Alexandra Aja and directed by Franck Khalfoun (a very successful team who made "Haute Tension" and the excellent "P2"), and it looks like it could be very good. I'll put the trailer underneath this post too!
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