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An interesting Flick
CMRKeyboadist16 August 2006
Maniac is one of those hard to define flicks. Although, it would seem easy to lump this into one category because of the subject matter, this is actually a hard movie to categorize. It is not really a horror film and not really a slasher. Sure, it has its typical slasher suspense scenes with the random girl running and hiding from the killer and the gory moments are all there, but, there is something about this movie that separates itself from most of the others of its genre. This, in my opinion, is typical of Tom Savini special effects flicks from the early 80's. The grittiness, disturbing nature of most of those films will never be duplicated. And I am not talking about flicks like "Creepshow" or "Day of the Dead" (although, that one is disturbing), I am talking about films like "Friday the 13th", "The Prowler", "The Burning", and "Nightmare in a Damaged Brain" (even though Savini said he never worked on that flick it certainly looks like his style).

Maniac is simply about a man named Frank (played very well by actor Joe Spinell) who was tormented by his mother when he was very young. As a result of this, he grew up to be a sick person who murders woman, scalps them, and uses their hair to nail on to a collection of mannequins. He ends up falling in love with a woman named Anna (Caroline Munro), and when he sees her he seems to be a normal fellow. This all leads up to an interesting climax.

Now, the storyline is rather simple but the movie is suspenseful enough to hold your interest. I will admit, the first 40 minutes were a bit slow, but once when the story starts going more into Franks behavior when he is by himself and then when he acts towards Anna, things start picking up.

Of course, Savini's gore scenes are excellent just like the rest of his stuff. We get to see Savini in the movie himself in a rather famous scene where he gets his brains splattered all over the inside of a car. Though, as a gore fan myself, this is definitely not the goriest flick I have seen. But after listening to the cast and director talk about the movie, I don't think it was meant to be. Joe Spinell himself said that the flick wasn't as violent as a Hershell Gordan Lewis film but was meant to be more realistic and shocking. So, when watching this movie it is important to know this instead of going into the movie expecting a real gore-fest.

I enjoyed this movie, but that is just me. Many people don't like this movie, but if you haven't seen it yet this is for you to decide. I just hope this review helps out. 7/10
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What's a good son to do???
Boggman10 June 2005
Poor Frank.

As a child, Momma was a mean hooker who used to lock him in the closet while she turned tricks. She loved those men and their money more than she ever did her own son. How's a sweet & innocent child to recover?

Kill em all!! That's how!!

As an adult, Frank Zito now wanders the lonely streets of New York nightly, looking out for his next victim. Whether it' a hooker, a cheating spouse, a snooty model, or just someone out and about in the late night hour, Frank's M.O. is always the same : Kill em, Scalp em, take their head of hair home, and nail it onto one of the several female mannequins around his scummy apartment.

Good boy Frank!

Now Frankie doesn't have to be lonely anymore. He has a department store full of victims around his apartment, all to himself! They will never leave, and will be kept always by Frank.

This guy has a lot of heart, and it shows.

Maniac isn't the fastest paced movie, but it has some of the most awesome graphic violence that 80's horror produced (thank you Tom Savini!). The late Joe Spinell (who also co-wrote) is simply irresistible as Frank Zito. He's terrifying, childish, maniacal, and downright lovable as the crazed New York madman.

Maniac is gritty, dark, horrifying, and directed in many parts as a "documentary" film, allowing the viewer to see things through Franks eyes. You feel like your right along for the ride with this fine gent!

It's a beauty of a horror film, one not to be forgotten after the credits roll.
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Excellent make-up FX and claustrophobic atmosphere.
capkronos10 July 2002
I'd first like to applaud Tom Savini for his work here; MANIAC contains some of the most realistic and unrestrained gore fx I've seen; possibly THE best up until the time of its release. Anyone who says that horror film make-up men (and women) don't deserve to be called artists is an idiot. Here you get explicitly bloody murders and scalpings, plus a show-stopper head-being-blown-off-with-shotgun murder and a man being ripped apart nightmare and it all looks pretty damn convincing to me.

Aside from the effects, director William Lustig does an OK job with color schemes (especially considering the budget) and the grimy, sleazy underbelly of New York is brilliantly exploited to give this film a truly nihilistic and seedy feel. The film itself, I thought, was scary, disturbing, intense and even suspenseful in parts (the subway sequence was especially well handled), which is how it should be. Reliable character actor Joe Spinell (from TAXI DRIVER, THE GODFATHER, etc.) also offers an effective performance as the sweaty, overweight, emotionally- scarred killer.

On the down side, a plot would have been nice and it's unforgivable to waste British actress Caroline Munro on such a poorly scripted nothing role. Her beauty, charm and smile light up the screen and could have been better harnessed to counteract the ugliness on hand. Anyway, the film at least provokes some kind of reaction from its audience. Seeing a few of my squeamish female friends appalled and horrified by the film made it well worth the watch to me!
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Grand Guignol revived for the eighties...
RareSlashersReviewed8 April 2004
Over one century ago (1897 to be exact) in the dingy back streets of Montmartre, Paris, an eccentric ex-secretary to a Police commissioner named Oscar Metenier, opened the Theatre du Grand Guignol. For 65 years, groups of performers staged one-act plays that depicted graphic scenes of murder, mutilation and torture. Famous works by authors such as Charles Dickens and James Hadley Chase were adapted for Grand Guignol and made into, some might say, horrific gore-laden masterpieces. People's morbid curiosities kept the shows ever popular, all the way up until the Nazis invaded France during World War II. Perhaps because the French population was experiencing true horrors of their own, the urge to see such events portrayed on stage, quite obviously became a lot less alluring. The theatre never recovered, and it finally closed its doors for the last time in 1962. William Lustig's Maniac is basically Grand Guignol for the cinematic audiences of the eighties. A movie that viewers of a quainter disposition will describe as depraved, demoralising and redundantly mean spirited, while others have touted its story telling as artistic, ballsy and daring. Although its often labelled as a formulaic stalk and slash offering, it is actually a member of the sub, sub-genre that differentiates itself from the Halloween and Friday the 13th created format. Along with Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, Mardi Gras Massacre, and Don't go in the House; Maniac offers something refreshing, by giving the killer characterisation and making him more than just a loony in a mask with a machete.

The plot portrays the life of Frank Zito, an insane and stammering psychological mess of a man, with more than a few severe problems upstairs. His story unravels around his decent into madness, which stems from his seclusion and isolation from the outside world. He is a lonely, redoubtable character, with no friends or companionship; he's just alone with his fragmented mind to torment him. His desperation to feel accepted by civilisation results in him creating his own 'family' from female mannequins. To add realism to their beings and to make them as human-like as could be possible, he furnishes their heads with the scalps of women that he butchers remorselessly. In the first ten minutes, an unfortunate prostitute is ruthlessly slaughtered for no apparent reason, and the misogyny continues all the way through the movie; as nurses, models and innocent bystanders are gorily slain for nothing more than the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The creepiest thing about these murders, is the fact that Zito has no apparent understanding of the results of his actions. He reads headlines, which describe the feelings of a city left in fear by his spate of madness and he watches news updates that inform us of the aftermath of his bloodthirsty rein. But his reaction is non-existent; he shows no knowledge of any wrongdoing, almost like he is unaware that he commits such atrocities. His mental downfall takes a U-turn, when he meets up with Anna D'Antoni (Caroline Munro) a photographer that attracts his attention for the first time when she snaps him wondering through a park. We finally get to see a thoroughly different side to his character, - a romantic, insecure personality that's been buried beneath years of self-inflicted misery and emotional torture. There is a constant battle between two separate personalities that rages inside Zito's mind however, and Anna's fate depends upon whether the good or evil side emerges victoriously...

The opening sequence stays true to its stalk and slash counterparts; as the masked, heavy breathing Zito kills a loving couple on a beach. Lustig describes the scene as a homage to Jaws, only this time the monster is out of the sea and on land, thus explaining the beach setting. It's a well-handled commencement, with Savini adding the magic that he is most reputed for; and Robert Lindsay's competent photography creates energy that prevails throughout the whole movie. Although body count material is introduced without any characterisation or development, it can be argued that the story resolves around Zito; and to him, victims are only objects or playthings anyway. I have always considered Bill Lustig to be a highly underrated filmmaker. Maniac Cop was yet another great movie, although I would consider this to be one of his best - probably because he was relatively unknown when he worked it. The parts that were filmed inside the killer's flat are shot in complete silence, which effectively adds to the feeling of seclusion and abandonment. It's like the viewer is inside the character's apartment, but also inside his own remote world, where his loneliness has degenerated into an unrelenting insanity. It's added moments like these that make Maniac all the more creepy. The subway scene adds some awe-inspiring suspense, as Frank stalks a nurse through the station. Lustig does well to keep the atmosphere tense and the viewer is always aware that something is about to happen, meaning there is never any allowance for comfort in the fact that any of the characters will escape to safety. He also manages at least two effective jump-scares, the final Carrie-esque jolt being particularly memorable. Jay Chattaway provides a superb score to accompany the visuals, and Lorenzo Marinelli's editing is equally impressive.

Although you could never call Joe Spinnell a fantastic dramatic performer by any of his pre-Maniac work, Frank Zito (named as a nod to Joseph Zito the director of The Prowler and friend to Lustig and Savini) was undoubtedly the part he was put on this planet to play. It's a convincing performance that allowed the actor to immerse himself deep into something that he had researched thoroughly and accurately, giving his character a vivid portrait of realism that was necessary to create the child's nightmare-like quality that the movie possesses. Spinnell is Maniac and Maniac is Spinnell, there's no doubt about it; it was his signature role. It's impossible to imagine another character actor fitting the bill so perfectly. Not only does he play the part; he also looks and sounds it too. He wasn't the only one that hit a career high under Lustig's direction though; the ever-adorable Caroline Munro gave her most realistic portrayal too. Her star had just reached its zenith in 1980, before she became a scream queen in less memorable flicks such as Slaughter High and Faceless, which would supplement her income, well into motherhood. This also offered a chance to break away from the bikini-clad bimbo roles that she had been given up until that point; and it gave her the chance to try something a little different. I strongly respect her refusal to do any nudity, which cost a further contract with Hammer in the early seventies. It takes a strong women to reject such offers for the sake of her modesty, and Munro proved that she was just that; and her career strengthened because of it. It's worth noting that the pair were reunited two years later for Fanatic (aka The Last Horror Film), which lacked the gritty edge and invitingly sleazy surroundings of its predecessor, but attempted to cash-in on the fame that Lustig's film had earned from its gruesome reputation.

Maniac was filmed on super 16 mm and like the best slashers from this period, it was shot for the most miniscule of budgets ('under a million dollars'). A lot of the on-location work was staged illegally, without any insurance or authorised permission. Lustig anecdotes about the exploding head scene (no less than Tom Savini's, by the way), where they had to fire a shotgun through the windscreen of a car and then make a quick getaway, before the Police arrived to investigate the gunshot! Munro was given only one-day to rehearse the script before starting work, due to replacing Dario Argento's wife of the time, Daria Nicolodi. Admittedly, it does seem pretty strange that a woman with a name as Italian as Anna D' Antoni, would be played by an English Rose; but she does a good enough job and is truly a sight to behold. Many, MANY countries rejected this movie on the grounds of its unnecessary violence towards women; including the censors here in the UK, who made sure to add it to the DPP list almost immediately. The Philippines' board of film review was so outraged by what they discovered that they told the producers to take it to Satan instead of their country, and went on to describe it as 'unentertaining' and 'unfit for Human consumption'! Of course, knowledge of those monstrosities, only made it seem all the more curious to youngsters that had heard such tales of unruly degradation, and were eager to check it out for themselves; thus earning it a massive cult following. Upon release, it became immensely popular, although it was heavily criticised for its brutal violence. Spinnell said that the blood was never on screen long enough for his creation to be considered too gruesome. He lied; - there are parts of the movie that are limitlessly gory and blood-soaked. You'll find decapitations scalpings and dismemberment, - if you can name a gory way to slaughter a female, then you'll find it somewhere in here. Maniac is one of the only video-nasties that have managed to retain its shock factor, even after twenty-four years!

I saw an edited copy of this in the mid-nineties and was unimpressed. Perhaps my attentions were elsewhere or I was expecting something more? I can't be sure, but last night, watching it once again for this review, I found myself captivated. There are flaws, yes for certain. It's unlikely that a beauty as striking, as Anna would give the time of day to a misfit like Zito in the first place, and the end sequence is a little bizarre to say the least. But all niggles are forgiven when you acknowledge the effort that has been put into making this production as realistically as they possibly could. Credit has to be given to Spinnell for believing in the project and his dedication and research into serial killers deserves recognition. I haven't yet seen Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, although I'm told that the two movies have a great deal in common, so I'm after a copy right now. Maniac has earned itself another fan, and I believe that it deserves to be seen. There has never been, and probably never will be, another movie so depraved and disturbing; so grab a copy whilst you've got the chance. It's an innovative and daring take on the standard slasher genre, which succeeds because it is just that.
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Claustrophobic gorefest with a bad reputation.
DeadMilkboy25 November 2001
William Lustig's MANIAC wasn't a critical hit in 1980, but it garnered the attention of horror fans in its gory homicidal story. It was a low-budget film with some disturbing violence which many people deemed misogynist (TOTAL BULLS**T) because he kills off women here. It's good to notice two of the best murders happen to the fellas too (Tom Savini gets it the worst obviously). But that aside, MANIAC is neither the best horror film of all time or most enjoyable, but damn is it intense.

Joe Spinell is absolutely strong in his portrayal of Frank Zito, a real man who has a nasty habit of slaughtering random individuals, mostly female ones so he can dress up mannequins with their scalped hair and clothes. This guy isn't Michael or Jason: when he bleeds, he feels pain. And because he feels guilty a bit over the tragic death of his abusive mother, he feels the urge to murder. Frank falls in love with Anna (Caroline Munro), a photographer who is unaware of Frank's dirty deeds, until Frank sets his unrested demon upon her in the end. The ending is bizarre, and the love story subplot feels a tad unsuitable (although the restaurant scene sets up some exposition, including the knowledge of Frank's mom being killed in an auto wreck). But when the gory carnage sets in, its realistic and graphic. Most other gore flicks seem timid.

The DVD version from ANCHOR BAY is a keeper, with audio commentary, a documentary on the late Spinell, the obligatory trailers/TV ads, a radio interview pitting the Spinell, Lustig and Munro against a DJ who roasts the film despite not seeing it, and some more angry comments from the critics in a "Gallery of Outrage". Tin box version contains the moody and effective Jay Chattaway film score on CD.
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One of the greatest Horror Films of All TIME!
pinkeye27 May 2002
From the amazing performance of Joe Spinell to the Brutal Make-up FX of Tom Savini, this is perhaps the mother of all Horror Slasher Flicks...Written to be "Jaws on Land"...this film captures to wonderful vibe on New York City in the late 70's
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He's a Maniac, Maaaaaniac!
TomBofthelivingdead19 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This one's a sick flick. If Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer and The New York Ripper chugged beer till they were sick(er), they would probably puke up Maniac. Mmmm, nice image, huh? Well, get used to it, cause if you're watching Maniac, you'll be seeing plenty of sick sh*t. You might wanna even skip the Suds & Buds. This one will kill your buzz and if you watch it with friends, they might expect an apology afterwards.

So, Frank Zito (an absolutely nutty Joe Spinell) has Mommy issues. A lot of guys do... they just don't handle them the way Frank does. He destroys women (and a couple guy who were unfortunate to be involved with the women Frank had his eye on). He's a creepy dude alright. You see, he has this thing for scalps. And as most girls are rather attached to theirs (chortle), he's gotta take them. So he stalks young ladies till he finds a window of opportunity and then gets down to business.

This is pretty much what Frank does with his life, till one day he meets a photographer named Anna. For some reason, Frank tries to play it normal with her (2 guesses how this turns out). He wines and dines her, all the while letting her keep possession of her scalp like a perfect gentleman. Things go swimmingly till Frank decides it would be nice to take Anna to pay his Mother's grave a visit. Frank kinda loses his grip and tries to get familiar with Anna's scalp. Anna thinks the date is over and flees accordingly, leaving Frank to stumble home to his rat-hole apartment and have a total psychotic breakdown and a happy ending is enjoyed by none.... except Anna's scalp.

OK, so Maniac is not a date movie. This is that special kind of horror movie that exists to make you regret watching it, in the sense the it leaves one feeling kinda depressed and dirty afterwards (like the other 2 movies I mentioned at the start). Let me state right now that I don't think it's "wicked cool" that Frank has it in for women. I have nothing but love and respect for women (my Mom is a woman). But this isn't a nice movie.

Actually, it's a very ugly and mean spirited movie. So why the good rating? Cause I can appreciate ugly, mean spirited movies. I mean, this IS a horror movie, right? This isn't mainstream Hollywood horror, like The Grudge or Final Destenation, where the idea is to put pretty people in precarious positions. This is low budget '80s sleaze. This is from an era when horror movies wanted to make you uncomfortable. And it does just that.

The Good: Joe Spinell (who also wrote the screenplay) is, uhhh, very convincing. As are the effects, handled by the one and only Tom Savini. Speaking of Tom, he has a cameo in one scene as a disco dude taking a lady down to the docks for a little rub and tug... till Frank shows up and blows his head off (one of my all-time fave gore effects, really, ya gotta see it). Some of the other effects are almost too much to bear.... which is a good thing? Seriously, if you're looking for a "fun" horror movie to watch, don't even bother with this. But, if you know what you're in for and you're still down, Maniac is nasty and truly horrifying.

The Not So Good: See: ugly, mean spirited, nasty. Some people (about 99.9%) will wonder how and why this ever got made. As I mentioned above, some of the effects are really harsh. The first time we see Frank scalp a girl, it's really quite unsettling, to the point where if you don't dig stuff like this, you might feel sick. It could be labeled misogynistic and irresponsible but, I'm of the mind that if you watch this and think it's OK to scalp women, your screws were loosening already. Don't blame movies, music or books for f'd up people.
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Gory as hell no-holds-barred slasher flick.
HumanoidOfFlesh30 March 2002
"Maniac" is one of the most visceral examples of the horror genre.Along with Romano Scavolini's "Nightmare"(1981)it is one of the most disturbing horror films ever made.The killings presented here are cold-blooded,extremely brutal and gory."Maniac" in its almost pornographic depiction of violence makes any "Friday the 13th" film look tame.Joe Spinell is perfect as a maniac killer Frank Zito,who graphically murders and scalps his victims.Caroline Munro("Kronos","Slaughter High")is really hot as a young fashion photographer.The gore effects made by Tom Savini are simply spectacular-the head explosion scene has to be one of the most amazing moments in cinematic history.The amount of gore splashed in this sequence is incredible.The direction by William Lustig("Maniac Cop" series,"The Violation of Claudia")is well-handled,the acting is fairly convincing and the atmosphere is really ugly and disturbing.Definitely one to avoid if you're politically correct,but if you like confrontional stuff you can't miss it.10 out of 10.See it now!
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Maniacal For Sure.
Mr_Ectoplasma29 July 2006
"Maniac" is one of the few horror movies that I have seen that actually got under my skin a little. It made me feel uncomfortable while I watched what was happening on screen, and very few movies have ever done that to me. The movie follows a psychotic murderer as he wanders the streets of New York City, in cheap restaurants, rundown apartment complexes, and subway stations, searching for his next victims, each of them savagely murdered.

The plot for this movie may not seem very scary, but the way the movie is crafted is genuinely grisly and really made me feel uncomfortable. Rather than going from the victim's point of view as they are slashed to pieces (like most horror movies tend to do), this movie rather focuses on the actual killer himself. We learn about the abuse that he suffered as a small child at the hands of his domineering mother, which is presumably the reason he's become a murderer, taking out his own personal revenge on other people. The one thing about this movie that was so interesting was how the audience got to enter the mind of the killer, so to speak. Joe Spinell gave an excellent performance as the maniac in this movie, he portrayed a tormented human very well. There are some very grisly murders throughout the movie, all of which are fairly gruesome. But the most disturbing aspect to the film was the sense of psychosis that the killer is experiencing.

"Maniac" is surely similar to "Psycho", which makes me wonder whether or not the writers of this film were basing the plot on the real life serial killer Ed Gein, who also grew up with an abusive mother and suffered psychological problems later on as an adult, which ultimately drove him to grave-robbing and murder. There are some striking similarities between the story of this film and Ed Gein's life.

Overall, "Maniac" is one grisly, nasty movie. It displays the psychological torment that many real-life serial killers suffer from and does a good job at it, leaving it's audience uncomfortable in their seats. And from what I have seen, not many movies do that. 7/10.
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Classic slice of early 80s gore.
BA_Harrison6 July 2006
Co-written by, and starring Joe Spinell, 'Maniac' is a grim, bloody and horrific journey into the world of a psychotic murderer. Spinell gives a bravura performance as Frank, a deeply disturbed individual haunted by childhood memories of his mistreatment at the hands of his mother.

As a result of his lousy upbringing, Frank is now a first-class loony tune; he slaughters women (although the occasional man gets in his way and ends up dead too) and removes their scalps, taking them home to place upon the mannequins that he keeps in his apartment.

When Frank has his picture taken in a park by photographer Anna (played by the gorgeous Caroline Munro), he tracks her down and almost manages to pass for normal for a while, wining and dining the sexy snapper and being quite charming. But it's not long before the real Frank emerges, and has a go at adding Anna to his long line of victims.

The direction by William Lustig, whilst not exceptional, does the job it was supposed to do; the film never drags and there are one or two edge-of-your-seat moments and a couple of nifty scares.

'Maniac's gory death sequences, by legendary horror make-up legend Tom Savini, are real showstoppers, and include ultra-realistic scalpings, amazing exploding heads and vicious bloody stabbings. The majority of Savini's work on the film is stunning, with only the final decapitation being less than perfect.

'Maniac' is a great example of low-budget 80s splatter and will appeal to all those who enjoy their horror down and dirty with buckets of gore.
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creepy little NY film
PaulyC18 January 2008
Okay, first of all this movie was shot in New York and there's something I find fascinating about the look of films shot in NY in the 70's or 80's. The movie itself is decent but not great. It has a good look and feel to it and I like Joe Spinell in it. Joe plays Frank, a photographer, who misses his dead mother despite being mistreated by her as a child. He begins killing women at night and keeping parts from the bodies. I however didn't find the relationship he had with the model he stalked all too believable. It has some good scenes and is still a good watch for slasher fans and fans like me of gritty New York City in the 70's and 80's.
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Glory days of 42nd St. - wish I could have been there
Dr. Gore3 May 2003
Warning: Spoilers

While most movies are made to appeal to a generally wide audience, "Maniac" felt like it was made for a very specific audience: The guys who would wander into the movie theaters of Times Square. I wish I could have been there in the late 70's and early 80's. Those were the golden years for exploitation movie fans. "Maniac" hit the nail on the head. It set out to make a sicko movie as realistic as possible and succeeded.

Joe Spinell is the Maniac. He is the movie. We watch him be a sicko. He hunts and kills numerous women and couples throughout New York. There are a lot of gory scenes. Every stalking scene has a sufficient payoff of blood and guts. Joe wants to remember his women so he scalps them and nails them to the various mannequins he has in his apartment. Seems the Maniac has mommy abandonment issues. He tries to work it out through stalking and slashing pretty girls.

One reality problem I had with this flick was the instant attraction Caroline Munro, a very hot babe, has to the unbelievably foul Maniac. I didn't buy it for a second. Surely a hot photographer wouldn't waste her time with the portly, slimy Maniac. He fit the part of a psycho killer but being a ladies man was just too crazy.

Aside from that, "Maniac" is a great slasher movie. Granted, Joe Spinell is not the prettiest face to look at for 90 minutes. Also, hearing him whine and act loopy can get a tad tedious. But overall he plays one of the more memorable movie sickos. The filmmakers wanted to show the ugly and nasty side of murder and "Maniac" delivers.

Two last thoughts, I loved that song that was playing while the models were dancing. "Going to the showdown...' Also, I thought one of the nurses looked familiar. Scanning the credits, it was indeed Sharon Mitchell. I always get a kick out of seeing porn stars in normal movies, (non-porn).
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Excellent Exploit/Slasher...
EVOL66627 September 2003
Gave this one a watch after not having seen it in a few years - and it still remains probably my favorite psycho/slasher-style film. There's a good balance of "atmosphere" with the brutal violence that makes MANIAC a twisted "classic"...

Frank is a messed-up guy that has a big mommy-fetish. He goes around stabbing and scalping local New York girls to provide "wigs" for the mannequins that he lays around his apartment and talks to. He handles himself pretty well socially when he's not stabbing people and even goes on a few dates with one broad, that is...until he tries to choke her. Finally, Frank's delusions get the better of him...

MANIAC is a rare film amongst the typical 80's slasher trash, as you actually get a look into his (warped) mind. Some of the scenes of him talking to his mannequins are straight-up creepy, and the way that he is shown to sometimes be a very pleasant guy is in strong conflict with his twisted tendencies, which is a refreshing way to write his character. There's a good bit of the red stuff for the gore-heads out there, including: several stabbings, a couple of scalpings, a gory dream sequence where Franks arm is chopped off and his head is pulled off, and of course, the "infamous" shotgun-head-blast. The level of violence plus a little nudity (including a bit of brief full-frontal) makes MANIAC an excellent choice for sleaze, gore, and exploit fans. Definitely Recommended - 9/10
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How low can you go?
abeales11 December 2000
I can't say that "Maniac" isn't an interesting movie. It presents itself as an "exploration of the mind of a madman" in much the same way that the 1934 "Maniac" did and with about as much candor (which is to say none at all). "Maniac" is undeniably a classic of its type: an early-80's slasher/splatter movie stripped down to its absolute essence. It's probably the purest, the cruellest and the most corrupt example of the genre ever to exist on film. In fact, it exaggerates the cliches and easy criticisms of the genre to such an outrageous extent that it often seems more like a straw-man set up to deconstruct the mechanics of slasher movies than an example of the real thing. But don't be fooled. Although "Maniac" pretends to assume a sort of artistic gravity and a seriousness of intent, it's a Hershell Gordon Lewis movie at heart.

The film itself consists of almost nothing more than a prolonged series of suspense-building set-ups, each of which climaxes in a beautifully executed and lovingly presented piece of state-of-the-art special makeup gore. The special effects makeup, by George Romero regular Tom Savini, is truly spectacular. A scalping presented early in the film and a shotgun blast to the head presented later are especially memorable. Tom is even allowed a small part in the film, which culminates in probably the finest "exploding-head" effect ever presented on film (for the special makeup fan, it is truly gratifying to see this master craftsman allowed to "execute" himself in such a fitting manner). More than anything else, it is the gore which has earned the film what little fame (or infamy) it can be said to possess.

All that said, Maniac remains an extremely troubling film. Many of the comments posted here mention its "cheapness", a description based largely, I suspect, on the poor treatment the film has usually received in it's home video presentations. But as made abundantly clear in its recent repackaging as a remastered, widescreen, "director's cut" fan item, Maniac is anfairly well-crafted film. Its pacing is deliberately austere, and it very effectively generates an atmosphere of grimy, claustrophobic tension. In its technical finesse and industrial chill, "Maniac" resembles a George Romero movie made by Brian DePalma. Each shot appears to have been carefully framed, and the cinematography is generally fine, occasionally even excellent. In many respects it's an accomplished piece of filmmaking, especially when measured against slasher/splatter exploitation movies as a genre. The harsh and grating soundtrack, which borrows heavily from the John Carpenter school of minimal synth arpeggios, is probably the film's weakest point technically, but only if you ignore the acting.

In the title role, writer/star Joe Spinell turns in an amazingly overblown and dull-witted depiction of a man at war with his own demons. (Don't get your hopes up, though. It's not even good for camp laffs.) The character wobbles back and forth between raving, drooling monsterhood, and everyday-joe-ness without justifying the transitions or making either state really credible. Many writers seem to argue for the validity of the central performance, and, measured against films like "Friday the 13th", "Maniac" may seem like a reasonable and nuanced portrait of mental instability. In any broader context, however, the performance is absolutely atrocious. Furthermore, the script insists that we accept the villain as a professional artist, rather than the janitor or plumber he in every resembles. The supporting parts are equally underdeveloped and wooden, drawing clear attention to the fact that character development is not of much interest to the filmmakers.

Joe's performance would be bad enough if the filmmakers didn't insist on placing him in the middle of almost every single shot. "Maniac" never strays outside the killer's view. There is no pursuit, no detection, no "good guys" at all. We (the audience) know the victims only as the killer knows them. They exist only as fodder for their own exquisitely rendered death scenes. Which gives the movie a certain purity and simplicity, but exacerbates a repulsive sort of audience dynamic. The killer is the only real identification point in the movie. We see much of the action in straight point-of-view. Which could be said to draw attention to the viewer's complicity with the spectacle, but this is clearly not the filmmaker's intent. Instead we are forced to INDENTIFY with the killer. We wait on the edge of our seats for the explosions of blood and agony just as he does.

Fundamentally, "Maniac" isn't really interested in much besides the depiction of violence and pain. Violence and pain appear not as mechanisms by which the audience can be manipulated, but as simple ends in themselves. "Maniac" is the purest expression of the dominant 80's "violence as pornography" horror film aesthetic. It delivers extremely strong levels of brutal violence early, to set up audience expectations, and continues to bring the gore throughout its running time. Its very capably handled suspense sequences are based not on the classic "will the bad thing happen?" tension, but on a more modern "how will the bad thing be presented?" tension. And that's all well and good. Grand guignol is a big part of the function of the contemporary horror film. As an audience, we know what's gonna happen, we just agonize over (and at the same time anticipate) the precise congruence of knife and girl that will finish the scene. What makes "Maniac" so dispicable is the black haze of cruelty and lust that rises off the whole thing. The film's basic misogyny and frustrated desire are so fundamental to its nature that it seems almost pointless to mention or criticize them.

It's this pitiless, leering quality that makes the movie so uncomfortable to watch or enjoy in any traditional sense. With many Italian Zombie/Cannibal films of the same era (most notably Ruggereo Deodato's "The House at the Edge of the Park" and "Cannibal Holocaust") it shares a quality of prurient moralism that is extremely queasy at heart. The film seems to glower down on the atrocities it presents with a sort of cold puritanism, but ultimately cannot conceal the glee and fetishized sexuality in it's gaze. What's more, it seems totally unaware that such issues might even be considered (unlike "Cannibal Holocaust" which exploits issues of viewer culpability for cheap effect).* "Maniac" is an extremely self-conscious movie that remains, somehow, utterly unaware of its own psychodynamics. An ugly, witless and nearly inhuman piece of work.

* For reference, see "Man Bites Dog", which exploits viewer culpability to great effect.

*** caveat ***

I admit that these criticisms will seem tediously familiar to anyone who has followed the progress of the horror film over the past thirty years. These are not new arguments and perhaps not interesting ones. Please keep in mind, though, that this review was written by someone who LOVES horror movies and gore flicks, but who f***ing loathes slasher movies and the depiction of suffering for "entertainment's" sake. Most horror fans probably wouldn't find "Maniac" as distasteful as I did. I'm not arguing that movies make people kill. I don't hate horror movies. I don't hate gore. I just hate this movie.
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Soliloquies of the knife
chaos-rampant16 October 2014
Horror is most purely about the violent impulse that surges from behind the eyes, the mist it creates; a story can be anything. Here it's the simplest story, man goes crazy in the big city, unable to contain the impulse, the whole seen through his mist.

There's a trauma that haunts him we find out, his cramped apartment is the mind then that fixates on memory and dwells among the fragments. The walls are lined with old photos of women, mannequins are scattered around; objects of a dead representation that he hoards unable to let go.

Quite a bit more of that story is explained to us later on, not much interesting; Freudian stuff about a mother, a vengeful child who never grew. But there's nothing we can't know by just seeing him pace up and down in his apartment, muttering to himself.

There's later a human connection to a photographer girl who snaps a picture of him one day in the park. The scenario is completely forced, a stranger and complete weirdo knocks on her door one day and they're best friends within minutes. It's something a weirdo much like the character would imagine (or write about).

But it's an opportunity to get closer to the real source, put our finger on the pulse; she a photographer who also freezes life into image but she's able to let go of it and share it in the open, while it just drives him to madness. We see her fuss with her models during a shoot much like he does with his gruesome mannequins; but her fiction has life, playfulness.

There's of course the violence, though it doesn't cut like perhaps it did then. It's still bloody and vivid. But what makes it powerful in its niche is the air of desperation around it, the whole film an internal monologue carving its garbled madness on the body of the night.

New York looks suitably barren, from the time before the makeover when people would walk down streets as bleak as in this film to see movies like it in dingy fleapit cinemas down 42nd street. The film is from that time when horror could still unsettle with the thought that somewhere in the same city, deranged souls very much like the character skulked around with a camera having horrible thoughts like this.
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A Grand Guignol Masterpiece
Saintthomas19854 November 2009
Maniac is hands down the best Grindhouse potboiler ever produced. Even today, 29 years after its release, Joe Spinell's performance as the deranged Frank Zito stands out as the most effective, nausea inducing rendition of a serial killer in cinema history.

William Lustig's direction stands out as superb; his visual style perfectly complements the dark, seamy subject matter. By dwelling on the dark shadows and filthy corners of Zito's den of horrors, we slowly come to the realization that the isolated apartment - all but devoid of any reminder that a world exists beyond the blood spattered walls - symbolizes the flayed mind of Zito himself. Unlike most of today's horrors, not a single aspect was arbitrary - each enhanced the story in some way.

Note how the film begins on a beach, with Zito's pov as he closes in on the lovers resembling that of the shark in Jaws. Or the almost unbearable tension during the "stalking of Rita" scene, and how Jay Chattaway's drones reach into your guts and tug on your intestines. If Halloween was a masterpiece of framing, Maniac was a tour-de-force of the use of sound.

The set-pieces remain the most brutally nihilistic ever captured in an American release. The excesses of Saw and Hostel pale in comparison to the marriage of aesthetic and subject matter in Lustig's film. The site of an obese, sweaty, pockmarked Spinell scalping the corpse of a victim is almost as disturbing as what we might guess he does to the mannequins he nails the scalps to, when the camera is off.

Almost 30 years later, Maniac remains the gold standard for brutal, exploitation cinema.
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The best horror movie you will ever see
polysicsarebest23 May 2008
Really, this has ruined me on horror movies for life. I first picked this up at Big Lots of all places (they also had Opera, Sleepaway Camp, and a Sex Pistols documentary there -- at BIG LOTS -- all uncut and for $5 on VHS... does that make any sense?!) out of curiosity about 6 years ago and it just completely blew my mind into little chunks, kind of like an exploded head shot with a shotgun. I'll never be the same. To me, nothing can compare to this.

The atmosphere, the gore, the pacing, the music, the acting, everything about this film coalesces to create a dramatic, suspenseful, depressing, and endlessly fascinating entertainment experience. I love the sleazy New York locales, the strange and uncomfortable voiceovers, the dirty and dilapidated apartment building where the maniac lives... really, I've seen this film probably more than any other film I can think of, and I can't think of a single flaw.

So, I recommend this above any horror/slasher/gore film I can think of. But be warned that it'll probably ruin you for life; you'll probably never find a better horror movie than this.
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Pure heavy metal!!!!!
locokiller4 July 2003
This is one of my favorite stalker movies. This must be one of the best stalker movie in the world and then we dont forget Lucio Fulcis "New York ripper" thats also is a masterpiece as maniac. Again i must give almost all credit to the master Tom Savini for his great special FX, and for Joe Spinellis high class accting. Joe Spinell is so creeping in maniac, that i can promise you if i had meet that man i had run the other way.
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promising concept but poorly done
hotnoodletuna12 February 2002
Maniac takes a path that few films dare, by allowing us to sympathize with the killer, and presenting him as the protagonist of the film. Indeed, for the first half hour, the film creates a shockingly claustrophobic scenario, in which Frank is the only real character in the film, and the others are all introduced to serve merely as his victims. This structure makes for some powerful viewing, because Frank's worldview is so claustrophobic and stifling that we almost literally feel his isolation weighing down upon us.

The film loses its power when it creates a semi-traditonal love interest for Frank. Inevitably, this opens up the film, by allowing us to assume a perspective other than Frank's at various times throughout the remainder of the film. Though this does come as a sort of emotional relief for the viewer, it also diminishes most of the tension that the stellar first half hour so completely creates.

Were it not for this cop-out, Maniac would be one of those rare films that, while being nearly unwatchably upsetting, is also a brilliantly moving film. Indeed, many of the camera angles used, as well as Spinell's terrific performance lend this film more credibility than it deserves.

In summary, the film starts out as emotionally raw and brutal as "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer", or "Peeping Tom", but about half way through the film it relents and becomes more generic slasher fare. All serious analysis aside, however, Savii's work on this film has to be seen to be believed. Gorehounds can't afford to miss it.
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Scalping at it's finest
jts091 July 2001
The late Joe Spinell plays the seedy Frank Zito. A serial killer who kills various women and uses their scalps to decorate the mannequins that are displayed in his apartment. Zito doesn't need no stinkin' interior decorator. Spinell finally got a staring role since his bit parts in the Rocky movies. Spinell also helped put this movie together. As a kid I was fascinated by the movie poster advertising the film. I was only about 7. I loved horror movies and when my dad tried to take me to see this film I was not allowed in due to the NC-17 type rating. A year or so later when the film came to video I was finally able to see it. I was not disappointed. Tom Savini did a wonderful job on the gory effects which this movie has plenty of. As far as horror movies go this one will give you the most bang for your buck. These were the days when horror movies were horror movies. Today everything is censored. Maniac has plenty of surprises, unexpected twists, a chilling climax, all without the censorship of an R rating. The DVD version is filled with extras including deleted scenes, trailers, interviews and promotional footage for the unfortunately never released sequel. This is a movie that I will always enjoy and is tailor-made for a good scare. Joe Spinell made the most of his 15 minutes. May he rest in `Pieces'
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Just plain awful!
JeffG.20 April 1999
There's nothing redeeming I can find in this sick, depressing slasher flick. Unless you're a diehard fan of Tom Savini (who did the effects makeup) or you have no love for the human race, avoid this movie like the plague.
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A difficult one to rate but overall I liked it.
Paul Andrews22 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Maniac is set in New York City where psychotic loner Frank Zito (Joe Spinell, also executive producer & co-writer) has snapped after spending too much time in his seedy apartment, he now regularly goes out & viciously murders people & in particular young women. You see Frank has a big problem with women & resents them so he kills them, simple. Besides killing them he scalps them & places the scalp on a store window mannequin inside his apartment & he has amassed quite a collection. He then falls for sexy photographer Anna D'Antoni (Caroline Munro) but the fact that he is a brutal serial killer of women is sure to cause problems in the relationship eventually...

This notorious 80's sleazy gore flick was directed by William Lustig (surely the man who has directed the most films with the word 'Maniac' in the title since he also directed all the Maniac Cop trilogy) who has a small cameo at the start as he plays the hotel manager & if we are all totally honest Maniac would be virtually unknown & almost certainly have disappeared into obscurity if it were not for the aforementioned gory & sometimes disturbing special make-up effects courtesy of the main man Tom Savini who also plays the dude who gets his head blown off to save having to mould another fake head presumably since Savini had a fake head of himself lying around anyway. Maniac was a difficult film for me to rate & judge & I am still not sure whether I should give it a six or seven out of ten, on the one hand you have one of the most threadbare films I have ever seen with virtually no plot whatsoever yet it's undeniably effective & those gore effects are just terrific if your into that sort of thing which I am. There are no character's beyond Frank & Anna who barely features anyway, Frank has the whole Psycho (1960) thing going on as he has been left mentally scared by his late abusive Mother just like Norman Bates & as such has a misogynistic attitude towards women & likes to kill & scalp them in his spare time. That's the whole plot. Seriously beyond a shallow relationship between Frank & Anna & his killing if women nothing else happens in Maniac, nothing. At just under 90 odd minutes the pace is alright, there's enough gore & horror to satisfy the exploitation crowd & it is oddly watchable but when all said & done there's just not enough to it to justify 90 minutes of most people's time.

The film definitely has a sleazy, seedy feel & atmosphere to it, those graffiti covered toilets in that New York subway are enough to give anyone nightmares. I wouldn't have liked to take a crap in one of those late at night that's for sure! The whole 80's New York feel is there too which adds a lot & it is generally well made although a bit basic. The one real stand-out feature of Maniac has to be the gore effects, from scalping's to slit throats, from sliced throats to stabbings, from chopped off arms to heads being pulled off & the infamous scene in which a guy has his head blown off from point blank range by a shotgun. Good stuff & the effects by Savini are up to his usual high standards. There's a tight, claustrophobic atmosphere to the film & it can be unsettling at times, the surprisingly suspenseful chase through the subway as Frank stalks the nurse is particularly well shot & put together in this regard.

Apparently shot on a low $350,000 budget the real life New York locations really help sell the film, the production values are alright if basic & the special make-up effects are better than perhaps the film deserves. Also to keep costs down several porn actresses were hired to play the female roles rather than proper actor's. The acting is pretty good actually, again maybe better than the film deserves. I think Caroline Munro was cast after her husband put some money into the film & adds a touch of English glamour I suppose.

Maniac is a film that doesn't sound too promising as it's merely a collection of women being killed by some fat guy but it has a certain compelling atmosphere & the memorable gore effects really are showstoppers at times. So, shall I give it a six or a seven? I'll tell you what I will sit on the fence & give it a six & a half. A planned sequel Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie (1989) had a ten minute promo reel shot but the film was never made after Joe Spinell's death.
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This sucked
strosstrup2 August 2003
I had the misfortune of watching this movie the other night. With all of the reviews, and hype, that I read here and at other sites, I was positive that I was in a for a no-holds-barred, tear 'em up, grind 'em, blood feast. I was sorely disappointed.

In watching "Maniac," I found the movie to be excrutiatingly boring. I like to gauge the value of a movie by the way the effect it has on me. If it has a profound effect on me, and has me thinking about particular scenes days after watching the film, then I know that it was a success. Maniac simply did not have this affect on me. The acting was atrocious, the horror was not that gruesome, and it was just plain stupid. The ending was so abrupt. This movie was not nearly as diabolical or sinister as, "One False Move," "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," or "Confessions of a Serial Killer." Those films were brilliantly produced, scripted, and acted.

The only thing "maniacal" about this film is that it has been embraced so warmly by horror fans.

I give it a rating of 1 star.
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Disturbing and Distasteful
BaronBl00d22 September 2001
I am afraid..yes, afraid...after watching this film that an incredible bad taste has been left in my mouth. I have read all the reviews and, pardon me for saying, am amazed how many people enjoy watching one fat, sleazy serial killer gutting, garroting, scalping, shooting, knifing, and weezing his way through this entire film. Because that really is ALL that happens! Lots of blood. Lots of gore. No story beyond that. Maniac killer Frank Zito kills one person after another and finally the film ends. We get no real explanation for his mental condition other than his mother use to lock him in closets as a kid. Wow! I did not know closed spaces made people into such destructive killers. Missed that in my psych course. The production values are very good. The acting is even pretty good. Joe Spinell plays a distasteful person with real flair. He wrote this crap as well. Director William Lustig directs and shows that he knows what he is doing behind the camera, creating some very terrifying chase scenes, particularly the one in the empty subway station. The film just is too sick in its execution and purpose. I don't mind some blood and gore if it aids a suspenseful story with a real plot, but I just am not into seeing one senseless murder after another. Look at the other reviews. They do not praise this film for its storytelling. They mention things like: "It has the best exploding head scene ever in a film." Well folks, if your criteria for a good film is over-expanded body parts, you need look no farther than Mr. Spinell's magnus opus here. But if you want something a little more textured, a little more refined, a little more entertaining....skip this piece of women-hating tripe. The film also stars the beautiful Caroline Munro...wish we had seen more of her...literally and figuratively. She was the only real bright spot in this for me.
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Undeniably creepy and effective
Bjorn (ODDBear)15 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
One of the video nasties in the eighties concerns a maniac who's stalking the streets and killing people in some very nasty ways.

The plot in Maniac ain't nothing' to write home about but the flick delivers in many other ways. Director William Lustig isn't exactly a cinematic genius but he knows his slashers and can better convey a very sick mind than most of his contemporaries. That aspect of the film is aided heavily with a (all too) convincing performance from excellent character actor Joe Spinell, who here creates a genuinely creepy and disturbing character. The Maniac has a mother obsession, not unlike Norman Bates in Psycho but here it's depicted in such a sleazy and unrelenting manner that I must admit; it does creep you out at times. The talks with the mannequins, his outbursts while killing some victims and of course the "dress up" of his "girls"; well, it's all creepy moments.

Time has done little to diminish the film's gory highlights. Although not the complete gore fest some have made it out to be, a few sequences do shock even today, the "shotgun to the head" scene still looks quite shocking.

The gritty look and feel of the film add immensely to it's unpleasantness and I seriously doubt many people enjoy the film as such. It's well crafted considering it's low budget origins and director Lustig knows a thing or two about milking scenes out of all their worth and delivering on them. The nurse stalking sequence goes on very long but maintains a high amount of suspense I thought, using well the location, music and some nifty POV shots; very well done indeed.

Main stream film critics will never get films like these. I will admit that Maniac is one of the sicker puppies out there; it's not a cinematic masterpiece, some elements in the script should have been used for toilet paper but it's one of the better examinations into the world and mind of a very twisted individual, it's got very effective set pieces, strong visuals and a good central performance. Maniac is undeniably a creepy viewing experience and unsettling, and that's what it's aiming at.
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