Maniac (1980) Review

Movie: Maniac (1980)
By: Maniac E
Date: May 21, 2012

It will tear the life out of you.

I remember the horridly lurid poster for this movie. It shocked and fascinated me no end: the burly man holding a bloody knife and a woman's severed head. "I warned you not to go out tonight." Can't get more incendiary than that; and the movie sparked a firestorm of controversy simply due to that poster, as clearly none of the protestors had actually seen the film. Had they ventured into one of the sleazy grindhouse theaters that dared show it, they would have found a more-misogynistic-than-usual slasher, with a few bits of serious gore book-ending very little preposterous and pointless plot.

The setting is New York. The nights are dark and there's a constant sense of fear in the minds of the city's inhabitants. There's a killer on the loose and only we can see who it is: Joe Spinnell AKA Frank Zito. At 1 minute 40 seconds we witness his first murder when he cuts the throat of a young girl awaiting her lover's return as she lies on a dark beach. Her boyfriend gets his when he returns, complete with twitching foot spasm. Frank then wakes up in his bed, screaming and rocking back and forth like a madman it was all a dream! It is clear to us that even after about 3 minutes of film, that Frank Zito has got some rather pressing mental health issues.


He then strolls out onto the NY streets, dressed in a big coat with upturned collars, hat and sunglasses, he really makes no effort to make himself look like anything other than what he is. He picks up a cute hooker and makes her pose for him. "Like this?" she says, before he strangles then scalps her. Frank returns to his none-too-charming place of residence and places the said scalp on one of his many mannequins. All this in the first 15 minutes of the movie.


Gore hounds out their understand where this is going towards in the end. Many believe this movie is more than just a gore flick, and in certain ways they are correct. It isn't only about the murders that happen but Frank Zito is really a basket case and really gives you the creeps as he is a sweaty looking bastard. It is portrait in such a way that you really don't want to come across him and you would be getting the hell out of his way if you ever did. Zito's downward spiral of murderous insanity escalates steadily towards the film's climax, which is the most disturbing scene in the entire film and that is saying something!


The movie makes sure you won't forget it and with the head exploding scene and the ending you are certain for a masterpiece. Maniac, like so many other horror movies throughout the years, was a labour of love and had an initial budget of $48,000. Lustig and Spinnell deserve credit for battling against the odds, like any independent filmmaking teams who deliver the goods do. Tom Savini's gore effects are first-rate and could not be more convincing. Of course not everything is perfect some things do look and feel out dated but with the remake coming our way (which for me it doesn't need at all) I just had to rewatch this. And let me say this: It is one of the best things I have done this week!


Maniac isn't for everyone. Even seasoned Horror veterans may be put off not by the gore but instead by the deeply unsettling psychological overtones that permeate the film and haunt the audience. It's one thing to watch a hulking killer slaughter his prey for no real reason: it's another entirely to bear witness to a man who is almost detached from his body, unable to stop his actions and paying the price at the expense of his devastated soul. Maniac works thanks to a one-of-a-kind performance from the late Joe Spinell that's supported by well-done gore, fantastic direction, and an incredible soundtrack. Maniac is a tough watch, but for those who can look past the superficial façade and see the film's value beyond its shock factor will be rewarded with a masterpiece of Horror.



Maniac (1980)


Maniac (1980)


William Lustig






Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro and Abigail Clayton