You can lock your windows and doors…But you can’t lock the madman out of your mind!
The late great Joe Spinell (“Rocky,” “The Godfather”) completely commands the screen as Frank Zito, a deranged serial killer who prowls the streets of the big apple looking for beautiful women to rip the life out of. Frank was the end result of a childhood filled with brutal child abuse. His beautiful mother Carmen tormented his young mind and savaged his body, leaving him with devastating emotional and physical scars. Despite this abuse, Frank loved his dear mother with all of his heart; and when she was taken from Frank when he was very young in an auto accident… he never fully recovered.
His adult mind frequently becomes lost in a sea of voices. He now harbors a deep resentment for women, in particular the fancy ones the ones that sit and smile and say “yes miss, no miss, not now miss, whatever you say miss?” In Frank’s defense – it really is enough to drive a man crazy. Frank defends himself with a shotgun and hunts for tasty game after dark. His male victims are just random joes caught with their pants down and are quickly disposed of with strangulation or a face full of lead. Frank Zito is a ladies man. The women are treated to more torturous ways of slaughter and are routinely strangled, shot, stabbed, and finally scalped.
The scalps are very important to Frank. He brings them home to his fantastically creepy looking apartment and nails them to the heads of mannequins that also uses for sex. A true renaissance man, Frank also dabbles in the arts. He works as a painter, abstracts mostly, some still lifes, landscapes, that sort of thing. As an artist, Frank lives by the unique philosophy that things change, people die, but in a picture or painting they are yours forever. The mannequins are Frank’s supreme creation, and he captures the beautiful young women so that they may be his forever.
That’s why Frank has such a fancy for fancy girls and their fancy dresses and lipstick, laughing and dancing. He has to stop them because they don’t know when to stop. He warned them not to go out tonight. They can lock their windows and doors, but they can’t lock the madman out of their minds. The voices in Frank’s head implore him to be careful and always warn him that he could be taken away for doing the things he’s doing. This doesn’t stop Frank from stalking and slaying as many women as possible. Everyday a woman is born, and another will die. This cycle never ends.
Frank’s already busy life becomes even more complicated when he takes a stroll in the park one day looking at little girls and winds up being photographed by a stunning young fashionista named Anna D’Atoni. (the achingly beautiful Caroline Munro of Hammer Studios & “Slaughter High” fame!) Frank immediately tracks Anna down and incredibly enough, the two of them hit it off in a big way! Despite possessing an appearance that could be politely described as “creepy looking” or perhaps “weird and greasy,” Frank quickly charms the pants off of Anna and takes her out to dinner at a little restaurant over in Jersey called Clams Casino. Great Italian food. Frank later attends one of Anna’s exclusive fashion shoots. This allows Frank the opportunity to tap his toes to the funky sounds of Don Armando and the 2nd Avenue Rhumba Band’s sizzling number “Goin’ To A Showdown.” It also gives Frank to the perfect chance to follow a model named Rita home and stick a large knife in her chest because she knew. Rita knew.
Frank’s third and final date with Anna sadly didn’t go nearly as well. A nighttime visit to the graveyard to pay respects to the beautiful Carmen Zito sounds like a perfect fun-time date, but Frank ultimately loses all control of his emotions at the gravesite. Now overcome with the feelings of emptiness and loss, Frank desperately reaches out at for woman now closest to his heart and attacks Anna. Scared and confused, Anna lashes back with a shovel and gives Frank a terrible cut on his arm. Losing blood and the final shreds of his sanity, Frank lamely retreats to the comforts of his apartment. But the worst for Frank has yet to come. His many female companions now have revenge on their minds and decide to take matters…and Frank’s head… into their own hands.
MANIAC is one of my all time favorite flicks, and I consider it to be one of the all time greatest horror flicks ever. I can still recall having nightmares about a guy jumping up on the hood of my parent’s car and shooting us after watching Bill Lustig’s fucking masterpiece of sleazy splatter as a wee, still-impressionable Brain Hammer. Tom Savini’s gore effects in this flick are some of the sickest stuff he’s ever done, and that is really saying something. The graphic scalpings, skewerings, and shotgun shenanigans vividly displayed in this flick caused many stomachs to turn when it was first released. Even Stephen King admitted to have been disgusted by it. In his 1981 book “Danse Macabre” he refers to the clas-sick whore scalping scene as “well-nigh impossible to watch.”
This infamous and controversial flick really set a new standard for all other 80′s flicks to follow in terms of grit and grue. Few slashers or exploitation flicks can come close when it comes to possessing such a suffocatingly disturbing, perverse, and violent atmosphere. “Maniac” is a down right brutal film that is clearly “love it or hate it” material… and more than a few critics hated the film and spoke out against it. Some self righteous cunts in California even took it upon themselves to paint over beautiful billboards with the clas-sick Joe Spinell crotch shot artwork. Some newspapers refused to run ads, or even list the title of the film. Despite, or more likely because of this controversy the film was very successful. Joe Spinell was right all along. It wasn’t just a horror picture, it was a HAPPENING.
I really can’t say enough great things about Joe’s performance in this flick.“Maniac” was clearly Joe’s baby. Joe Spinell co-wrote both the story and screenplay and co-produced the film. His performance is completely over the top, but is also really disturbing because it comes across as real. “Maniac” is a genuinely chilling film because there have been more than a few real life Frank Zitos in the world. Joe Spinell was one of the first people to accurately portray a demented serial killer and really delve deep into the twisted mind state and background of the character. He carries the whole movie. You spend every second with the killer and there’s no attempts whatsoever to make sympathetic characters out of the victims. It’s to Joe’s credit that every scene in “Maniac” is fascinating and totally riveting. Not to mention the fact that Joe captured some great moments along with his pal Luke Walter by creeping around after hours with an extra camera. The man never slept, and his passion for the project can be felt in every moment of the film. I’m a huge fan of the late great Joe Spinell, and I’m proud have the Tony Gazzo action figure hanging on my wall.
Bill Lustig did a great job here directing his first non-porno flick. “Maniac” was made on a very small budget but still looks and sounds fantastic. The sound is another big part of why this film is so effective. Jay Chattaway’s original music is absolutely incredible and adds layers of depth and suspense to the film. There’s also also fantastic use of low rumbling noises, and later high pitched stings that really unnerve you. Bill Lustig later went on to direct a string of cult clas-sicks, including the almost equally brutal revenge flick “Vigilante,” and the notorious Bruce Campbell/Robert Z’Dar epic “Maniac Cop!” I personally consider “Maniac” to be Bill’s one true masterpiece, and know I’m not alone on that one. This flick has a well deserved, legendary cult following. “Maniac” t-shirts, fan art, posters, and lots more are all easy to find online. Frank Zito himself is even known to prowl around the net, and even has his own facebook page – which only the coolest people like.
Bill Lustig’s equally legendary and lovable Blue Underground has recently re released MANIAC on both blu-ray and dvd. This special edition release is a must own that includes a wealth of bonus features including audio commentary from Bill Lustig and Tom Savini, a fascinating 49 minute documentary on Joe Spinell, a vintage radio interview with Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro, numerous trailers from around the world, poster and still galleries, and best of all – a “Gallery Of Outrage” consisting of the film’s many bad reviews. Needless to say, if you don’t already have this in your collection you suck.
And speaking of SUCK, it was sadly inevitable that “Maniac” would get a shitty remake. Every horror film ever made eventually will. For some reason, I find this one really painful. It’s silly because I’ve already sat through more of these things than I can count, and I’ve already endured the pain of having FOUR of my other favorite horror flicks get the same treatment – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Dawn Of The Dead, Last House On The Left, and most recently Evil Dead. At this point, it shouldn’t really matter, but at the same time – I can’t wrap my head around this one. Simply put, no one can put themselves in the mindset of Joe Spinell, and I don’t see anyone from the porno industry directing the film. What I am saying, is that no one nowadays has the fucking BALLS to make “Maniac.” It simply can’t be done. If they are trying to “top” it, fuck them, and if this is their “tribute” to it, fuck them. Either way, at the end of the day all they are doing is cashing in on Spinell’s brilliant idea, and the film’s reputation. If they were real fans of the film, they should pay for some theatrical screenings of Bill Lustig’s clas-sick. I don’t see that happening, so once again – fuck the greedy unoriginal bastards and fuck their remake! I won’t spend my hard earned cash on such bullshit, I will not waste my precious time watching it, and I encourage other real fans of MANIAC to do the exact same thing. ACCEPT NO IMITATIONS!
KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!