Monday, October 27, 2008

HORROR EPICS: Maniac

MANIAC (1980)
I’ve mentioned this movie in previous reviews this month, but the truth is that Maniac deserved to be included here well before any of those other films. Although Maniac is something of an obscurity, it is by far the best cinematic rendering of a serial killer that I’ve seen as of yet. Frank Zito is an overweight rat of a man, lonely and tormented by memories of an abusive childhood at the hands of his mother. When his trauma becomes too much to bear, Frank stalks and kills women on the streets of New York. He then scalps them and takes their clothing, adding them to his collection of department store mannequins at home. Frank introspectively expresses his guilt over the murders, but the desire to kill is far too strong for him to stop. Not the most technically sound at times, but that can be forgiven due to a nearly nonexistent budget. In fact, to raise money, they expanded Catherine Munro’s (The Spy Who Loved Me) role as Frank’s would-be love interest. Unfortunately, his courtship of the fashion photographer starts to drag the movie down and comes off as an effort to fill time. (The most recent video and DVD release actually trims two minutes from their dinner scene.) But what they managed to achieve with the money they did have is impressive. Most impressive is early on when Frank jumps onto the hood of a car and blows the driver’s head off with a shotgun, a cameo by special effects master Tom Savini that is worth the price of admission. As the killer, Joe Spinell proves that he had more up his acting sleeve than portraying wiseguys in The Godfather and Rocky movies. His performance is three-dimensional, allowing you to understand Frank’s motivations and maybe sympathize with him even though he’s slaughtering hookers and nurses and whatnot. Mainstream horror fans can have their Silence of the Lambs, which I was never a particularly big fan of in the first place. You can keep your stylized modern slasher retreads too. Maniac is a gritty, nasty piece of trash that makes you feel dirty when it’s over—and is a must-see. Since it sometimes plays like a porno, it’s no surprise that ‘70s porn starlets Gail Lawrence (aka Abigail Clayton) and Sharon Mitchell have bit roles as nurses in this film. Now what’s this I hear about “Maniac” from Flashdance originally being written as the title track for this movie?

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