Would you just LOOK at that poster art?! If ever there was a Horror movie poster that accurately described to the viewer exactly what they were in for, it's this one! Genre favorites Joe Spinell and William Lustig came together to leave a very unique (and very bloody) mark on Horror movies with this 1980 shocker.
I'd first heard about Maniac sometime in the early to mid 90s as I was diving head long into Dawn of the Dead and everything Tom Savini! I clearly recall a review of Elite's special edition laserdisc in an issue of Fangoria and found myself wondering aloud "how did I miss this one?!" I quickly found a copy of Anchor Bay's VHS port of that special edition (you know the release...the one with the white box) and immediately fell in love with the lurid tale of Frank Zito: super for a low-rent apartment building by day and Night Stalker by, er, night.
If you know Joe Spinell's story, you know how close he famously was with Sylvester Stallone -- hence his appearence in the first two Rocky films. Bill Lustig has often stated that Maniac was "Spinell's Rocky" in that it was the actor's pet project, much in the same way of his famous friend. Spinell researched newspaper articles and clippings about real-life killers to come up with a composite that would eventually be the script for this film.
The story follows Frank Zito as he deals with some severe mother issues and, much like the shark in Jaws, hunts and kills innocent women on the streets of New York City, circa 1979/1980. On the surface, this could have been just another exploitative piece of garbage; a guy hacking up women just because. But no...because of the heart that Spinell and Lustig poured into this one while shooting it guerilla-style . . . it's got something more to it.
|I imagine this is probably what it looked like while Spinell was writing!|
One of my favorite elements to Maniac is its portrayal of New York's seedier side in its locations; Old New York, if you will . . . a place that I can never visit thanks to "flippin' Giuliani". Even though it wasn't exactly the safest place to be, I'd love to spend just a few hours on 42nd Street sometime in the early 80s, checking out all the Grindhouse movie theaters (the Horror ones of course).
|Forget going back to the future, give me Old New York any time!|
The other standout here is, of course, Tom Savini's incredible special effects work. Here, Savini found himself the equivalent to a Michael Jordan Three-peat: Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th, and Maniac! The guy was simply on fire and quickly earning the many fan and press-appointed titles bestowed upon him throughout the 80s.
|Here, Savini sees George Romero's first draft for Day of the Dead!|
One thing that has always made me sort of scratch my head about Maniac though is the budding romance that occurs during the picture's second half between Spinell's Frank ZIto and Caroline Munro's Anna D'Antoni. A guy who could be Ron Jeremy's stunt double meets (and woos) a beautiful fashion photographer who was probably once a model herself. Not only does the physical attraction seem odd, but the way that Frank sleezes his way into Anna's life . . . the creepo factor is definitely at an 11!
|Caroline Munro: Maybe I should take him to the zoo?|
Let's go back to that poster art shall we?
THIS is how they used to make posters for Horror movies back in the day kiddos! You won't find any of that "floating heads staring back at you" or "generic font for the title" BS on this classic poster! No sir...this is straight-up and in your face about what this film is all about. In fact, it's art like this that really makes me yearn for the old days of having actual art on a poster instead a Photoshopped collage combined with the other two tropes I mentioned.
When it comes to Maniac, it's also worth mentioning the 2012 remake helmed by Franck Khalfoun (of High Tension fame) and starring Elijah Wood in the titular role. While it transplants the action from seedy New York to the brighter lights and bigger city of Los Angeles, on paper, this combination may sound silly...but it actually works. There are some really great nods to the original (including a great shot replicating the classic poster image) and the film's first-person POV style amps up the grizzly factor. Surprisingly, it's a worthy successor to Lustig's original!
Even though the days of seeing (and making) films as brutal and filthy as the original Maniac may be long gone, we still have countless VHS, laserdisc, DVD, and bluray releases (and the odd midnight screening in your local theater if you're lucky! to pour over. Not just a typical "slasher" film, this is one that gets up under your skin and leaves a stain that stays with you forever!