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Maniac (1980)

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A psychotic man, troubled by his childhood abuse, loose in New York City, kills young women and takes their scalps as his trophies. Will he find the perfect woman in a photographer, and end his killing spree?


William Lustig


C.A. Rosenberg (screenplay), Joe Spinell (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
1 nomination. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Joe Spinell ... Frank Zito
Caroline Munro ... Anna D'Antoni
Abigail Clayton Abigail Clayton ... Rita (as Gail Lawrence)
Kelly Piper ... Nurse
Rita Montone ... Hooker
Tom Savini ... Disco Boy
Hyla Marrow Hyla Marrow ... Disco Girl
James L. Brewster ... Beach Boy (as James Brewster)
Linda Lee Walter Linda Lee Walter ... Beach Girl
Tracie Evans Tracie Evans ... Street Hooker
Sharon Mitchell ... Second Nurse
Carol Henry ... Deadbeat
Nelia Bacmeister Nelia Bacmeister ... Carmen Zito
Louis Jawitz Louis Jawitz ... Art Director
Denise Spagnuolo Denise Spagnuolo ... Denise


Frank Zito misses his mother, who was killed in a car accident years before. She was abusive to him, and made money selling her body, but Frank still misses her. He tries to keep her from leaving him, and reform her evil ways, by killing young women and putting their scalps on mannequins which he displays around his apartment. Photographer Anna D'Antoni takes a picture of him in the park, and he pursues and befriends her. Is she the one he has been looking for or just another mother wannabe? Written by Ed Sutton <esutton@mindspring.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


It will tear the life out of you. See more »


Drama | Horror | Thriller


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

6 March 1981 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Maníaco See more »


Box Office


$350,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$6,000,000, 31 December 1981
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Michael Sembello recorded a version of "Maniac" as the title track for a soundtrack for this film that was never released. While the lyrics are lurid and violent as reflections of what the movie was like, the song later caught the attention of producers who got Sembello to record a new version that matched the film they were working on. That film was Flashdance (1983) and "Maniac" became a #1 hit song on its soundtrack. See more »


The candles around the portrait of Frank's mother are lit; but when Frank returns home after murdering a prostitute, the candles are not lit. See more »


[looks down at his latest victim]
Frank Zito: Now you tell me what I should do. I heard about it, I always do. I can't go out for a minute. It's impossible. Fancy girls, in their fancy dresses and lipstick, laughing and dancing. Should you stop them? I can't stop them. But you do, don't you? And they can't laugh and they can't dance anymore. You've got to stop, or they'll take you away from me. I will never, ever, let them take you away from me. You're mine now forever. And, I'm so happy.
See more »

Alternate Versions

In Australia, the film had originally been banned for 11 months from 1981 to 1982 until a version with 1 minute and 50 seconds removed was eventually given an R rating. This version was released in cinemas and in 1984, given a video release through Video Classics. In 2004, Umbrella Entertainment submitted the uncut version to the Classification Board and it passed with an R rating. The uncut version was released on DVD in 2005. See more »


Featured in Bleeder (1999) See more »


Goin' to a Showdown
Written by Adriana Kaegi (as Kaegi)
Performed by Don Armando's 2nd Avenue Rhumba Band
Courtesy of ZE Records
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

How low can you go?
11 December 2000 | by abealesSee all my reviews

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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