Director: William Lustig
Well it's Slasher Saturday and what better way to kick off the first installment of this series then with the grandaddy classic of all slashers, Maniac. This demented flick is given to us by William Lustig, the director behind the Maniac Cop series and stars the ever amazing Joe Spinell, who in this reviewer's opinion is the most underrated actor in the history of actors. How such a nice guy could portray such a warped and disgusting mass murderer, like he does in this film, really proves how good of an actor he really was.
Maniac starts off with a couple enjoying a little beach side relaxation in the wee hours of the morning. Everything seems fine until a terrible killer shows up and spoils there fun by doing what all good slashers do, murder, kill, and decimate. The killer takes out the woman while her hubby is off gathering firewood and then quickly ends the man's life by cutting his throat with razor wire. This is where our happy tale starts off and where we are introduced to Frank Zito, the maniac, played by Joe Spinell.
Good times at the beach.
After the murders at the beach we are treated to a long monologue scene with Spinell shining in the starring role. He can really steal a scene by just the way he moves and his mannerisms are perfect in his depiction of a lone psycho with a cracked mind. He talks to himself and berates himself, then switches it around and begins talking to the many mannequins that rest throughout his apartment. It's obvious by this first scene that we're in for an intimate inside look into a madman's mind. It's a great set-up and Spinell nails it and never falls out of form throughout the whole film. He truly is a disturbed individual and as layer upon layer is pealed away, we get to know what makes this sicko tick.
Spinell does bat-shit crazy so well.
After the intimate crazy session, it's time for our killer to once again scratch that itch and end a life. He prowls the streets of New York looking for his next victim. Now this is the dirty streets of 1980's New York and boy is it a shit hole. I haven't seen New York looking this shitty since the film New York Ripper by Lucio Fulci. I just love movies set in New York in this time period. It's so gritty and real and lends itself to a specific look and style that I don't think will ever be achieved in cinema history again. This New York is a great place to visit on film, but I wouldn't want to be visiting it in reality any time soon. With filth as far as the eye can see, we're treated to the maniac's next prey, a couple of prostitutes. They're standing on the corner of the street looking for there next meal ticket. Spinell, dressed in a long trench coat and wool hat, solicits for a good time and they agree on a fair price and make their way into one of the sleazy hotels nearby.
The sleazy city that never sleeps.
They pay, the most disgusting man I've ever seen in my life, for an hour in one of the rooms and then settle in for some hanky panky. Just when you feel sorry for good old Frank, thinking maybe he's just a lonely guy in need of some companionship from a lady of the night, he goes ape shit and starts smothering the prostitute until she's out cold. Hopefully she's dead because the thing he loves to do is scalp his victims in order to dress up his mannequins at home and make them more lifelike. That can't be sanitary. So off comes the scalp and off goes Frank back to his apartment to de-bald one of his frozen beauties back at the homestead.
He doesn't seem like such a bad guy, now does he?
Each time he kills someone, he has this personal monologue with himself in the morning saying how sorry he was and that they pushed him to do the things he does, proving ever more that he is truly a disturbed individual. He also has some mommy issues, telling her that he's sorry and having an imaginary argument with his late estranged mother.
After getting the apologies out of the way we are back to the streets. Frank sits in his car outside a nightclub talking to himself as he watches a couple leave the club and head to their car. Frank tails the two love birds and follows them to a stretch of abandoned highway where they decide that this is a perfect place to get busy.
By the way, the gentlemen in the car is none other then Tom Savini, make-up effects artist extraordinaire and the special effects man for this very film. He's always playing the douche role, like his character in George Romero's Knightriders or the Pittsburgh horror thriller Effects, and in Maniac he doesn't stray far from those previous roles. He's all about getting it on no matter how bad the chick wants to get the hell out of there once she spots Frankie the pervert watching from one of the side car windows. Finally, she convinces him it's time to go and Tom whips on the headlights only to see Frank standing in front of the car with a loaded rifle. Shit! Frank jumps on the hood like a panther and aims point blank at poor Tom's watermelon head. The head goes up in glorious gory fashion courtesy of one of Mr. Savini's best effects work to date. Needless to say, what happens next for the blood covered girl is not pleasant.
Need a moment? Grab a Twix!
This plot repeats over and over, yet it never gets boring or trite. There's always an extra deposition that Frank spills letting us go deeper and deeper into his mind and keeps it remaining fresh. Plus, if you're watching a slasher movie who really needs a good story, just bring on the inventive kills. But this is one of those classy slashers that gives you more then you bargained for by giving the killer some back story and humanizing him for the audience. It works for this film with great results, unlike how the more recent Halloween reboots slip a little in this department. Maybe it's because Michael Myers is best left as an unknown evil force of nature while Frank Zito is an every man with a snapped mind. During the day he's a normal guy and surprisingly kind of charming as we see later in the film.
Frank's looking for the perfect mannequin and hoping for a starring role in Mannequin 3: The Creepy Ass Bastard.
Our next beautiful victim is a nurse who has just gotten off her late night shift and is stupidly walking home alone. She even reads a paper as she walks, displaying a large bold fonted headline about Frank's latest escapades. Frank slowly stalks behind her and sensing that someone is following her the nurse runs down into the subway and to her certain doom. She locks herself in the ladies restroom hoping that the killer will follow bathroom etiquette and stay out of the ladies room, but I don't think Frank cares about making a social faux pas.
It was a bad time to have to go to the bathroom.
Frank silently glides in and goes from stall to stall, then doesn't check the last one and turns and leaves the bathroom. You just know Frank has something up his sleeve and maybe he's beginning to like to toy with his prey before he guts them. The cat and mouse game between the two is very entertaining but it all comes crashing to a halt once the woman lets her guard down and looks in the bathroom mirror. Here comes Frank and with sword in hand! Another one bites the dust.
Frank works on his human shish kabob for the big neighborhood barbecue next week.
By this time the entire city is living in fear because no one knows who this murderer is and there's a new gruesome death occurring every night. It seems that Frank could get away with this for a very long time as long as he doesn't change his M.O. and get too involved in his next victims life. Hint Hint.
Front page news! You did it Frank! You made it to the big time!
The next morning, Frank is out and about scouting for his next victim, when he notices a photographer named Anna in the park. For some reason he treats this woman differently then the other poor saps that came before her, because he sees this woman multiple times and to boot he's charming as hell when around her. I mean this is a totally different Frank Zito we're getting here. It almost makes you think that this is what he was like before his mind snapped, or if this is all one big front like he's changing up the formula because the old way of killing is getting boring. Whatever his true intentions are, I feel like he really thinks he can have a normal life with this woman and you really get to see the decent person underneath the maniac. Hell, he even changes his style up.
Frank's a real lady killer in his cool new shades.
Unbelievably, Frank even goes out on a date with this woman who is played by the horror veteran and all around stunning vixen Caroline Munro. She's no stranger to the horror realm and has been in such classics as the Dr. Phibes films (only as a silent wife to Vincent Price), Dracula A.D. 1972, Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, At the Earth's Core, and another film with Joe Spinell called The Last Horror Film (or by my dvd title "Fanatic"). She always does a competent role as an actress and for Maniac she brings a different flavor to the small cast.
How'd you do it? Spinell you bastard!
They hit it off so well on the date, that they meet up on another day at Anna's photo-shoot where they're playing the most grooviest song in the entire world of slasher movies, Going to a Showdown by Don Armando and the 2nd Avenue Rhumba Band. This song will get stuck in your head for days and it's the perfect example of how a scene can stand out in a person's mind by what kind of music is playing in it. I can't really explain the appeal of the song, because it's a pop nightmare, but it's just one of those things that show up in 70's and 80's slasher movies that really place it in that space in time and pop culture. It certainly doesn't make the movie timeless but for me it helps me enjoy the movie as a representation of the fads and sounds during the year this movie was filmed. Love it.
Going to a showdown! Yee haw!
Well, just when you think that Frank has left his old ways behind, he starts creeping you out all over again. He finds a locket of one of the models that Anna is shooting and uses it as a way to get inside the girls apartment that night. He returns the locket and then makes sure that the door doesn't lock on the way out. As the girl takes a shower, Frank ceases the opportunity and enters. He tackles her with formaldehyde and she passes out. She wakes up later to find that she is tied to the bed, being watched over by Frank as he spouts his crazy talk. She tries to talk some sense into Frank and at first it appears to be working, but Frank's mind is so convoluted that he snaps and plunges a knife into her midsection while giving her a long hug. The maniac is back and he's passing out death hugs.
Of course this doesn't bode well for Anna. Frank invites her to the graveyard where he wants to pay his respects to his mother. They get to the headstone and Frank starts talking crazy again. Anna doesn't know what to think at first but once Frank goes for her throat, she realizes that Frank is a full blown nut-job.
The date at the graveyard didn't go so well. You're blowing it Frank! You're blowing it!
Anna knocks Frank over the noggin and heads for the hills. Frank chases her but the fog is so thick along the graveyard that he loses track of her. That is until she magically appears from behind a tombstone and attacks Frank with a foreign object that does some pretty mean damage. Where was the ref on that one? Frank now crippled and alone, he makes his way back to his mother's gravestone to tell her that he is sorry. Well she thinks he can stuff his sorry's in a sack, because she reaches up from 6 feet under and proceeds to choke Frank out. But because Frank is a nut-job, this is all happening in his head and his mother is not rising from the grave to teach him a lesson but resting peacefully below. Poor Frank.
Frank's a real momma's boy. Nooooooo Mother!
Frank, the defeated maniac, sadly walks back home to his apartment with his tail between his legs. He wallows in his self pity until his crazy visions begin to come back, but this time in the form of all his dead victims. All of the mannequins in his apartment start to come to life and each one begins grabbing an assorted weapon that Frank so diligently used on them. They surround him on the bed and proceed the rip him apart. Now I haven't mentioned the effects in this movie that much, but this is one of Savini's best works. He really lets the red stuff flow and it's quite convincing seeing that he was a war photographer during the vietnam war. His experience during that time has really effected his craft because boy does it look grotesque.
It's a madhouse! A madhouse!
And here is where our story ends. We are led to believe that Frank's visions led him to kill himself and he bled out from a self inflicted puncture wound. It's a sad ending to a story about a troubled man that just didn't have all his marbles. Everything in this film is top notch from the acting, direction, effects, and music. I haven't talked at all about the music by Jay Chattaway, but boy is it a masterpiece. The film wouldn't be what it is without his haunting score. The melodies that he's put together for this film are so vivid and precise for each scene that I couldn't imagine anything else playing over them. He has composed a separate theme for each key moment in the film and elaborates on those themes as the film progresses. It's really a wonderful composition that is a perfect companion to an interesting study of the human mind gone astray.
Maniac is indeed the cream of the crop when it comes to slasher flicks that delve into the minds of the killer and gives us an inner vision of their daily lives. I really can't recommend this one enough so if you haven't seen this one, then make it your mission to track it down and view it at once. Maniac is a hallmark for what the slasher film can become when done right and when given absolute respect to the material. It is a classic to rule all classics and it sets a standard for all movies made after to reach.
5 out of 5 stars A classic slasher done right! Must see!