Maniac (1980 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William Lustig|
|Produced by||Andrew W. Garroni
|Written by||C. A. Rosenberg
|Music by||Jay Chattaway|
|Editing by||Lorenzo Marinelli|
|Distributed by||Analysis Film Releasing Corporation|
|Running time||87 min. (uncut)|
Maniac is a 1980 American cult horror film directed by William Lustig and written by Joe Spinell and C. A. Rosenberg. The plot focuses on a disturbed and traumatized serial killer who scalps his victims. Spinell also developed the story, and stars as the lead character. Filmed in Manhattan in 1980 on a minuscule budget, many scenes in the film were shot guerrilla style. Originally considered an exploitation film, Maniac later had success as a cult film. The Hollywood Reporter called it "something of a grubby touchstone among genre fans." The film was remade in 2012 by director Franck Khalfoun and produced by Alexandre Aja, starring Elijah Wood in the lead role.
Frank Zito is a middle-aged, overweight, Italian-American loner living in an unspecified borough of New York City, where he works as the landlord of a small apartment complex. Unbeknownst to his tenants, Frank is a schizophrenic serial killer who spends his nights stalking and killing women, scalping them and bringing the scalps and their clothing back home to decorate his steadily growing supply of mannequins. Once a mannequin has been decorated to his satisfaction, Frank sleeps with it for several nights, using them to carry on one-sided conversations with his deceased mother, an abusive prostitute who subjected him to years of physical abuse before dying in a car accident and leaving him orphaned. Inexplicably, after several nights, Frank grows tired of each mannequin, posing them around different parts of his apartment before seeking out another victim.
One afternoon, Frank sees that his picture has been taken by a fashion photographer named Anna. Getting her name off of the luggage tag she keeps on her purse, Frank tracks her down, but is impressed enough with her artwork that rather than kill her, he begins dating her. While visiting her on the set of her latest photo shoot, he is so taken with Rita, one of Anna's models, that he steals a piece of Rita's jewelry, using it as a pretext to come to her apartment later that night so that he can kidnap her. Frank takes Rita home and ties her to the bed, where he addresses her as his mother, declaring his undying love for her before stabbing her to death. He then mutilates her body and disposes of it, later attending the funeral with Anna.
His grip on reality quickly deteriorating, Frank takes Anna to his mother's grave one night on the way to the movies. At the cemetery, Frank tries to kill Anna, but she wounds him with a shovel left lying by a freshly dug grave and escapes. Frank begins suffering disorienting, disturbing hallucinations of his mother's corpse rising up from its grave and of his mother beckoning to him from her bed. He returns to his apartment, where he has a vision of the mannequins transforming into the vengeful reanimated corpses of his victims and tearing his body apart.
The next morning, two police detectives, apparently alerted by Anna, break down the door to Frank's apartment. They find him on his bed, bleeding from the stomach as the result of a self-inflicted knife wound. The detectives, upon seeing Frank's mannequin collection, leave the apartment, at which point Frank opens his eyes, implying he is still alive, then the title of the film appears on the screen before cutting to the credits.
- Joe Spinell as Frank Zito
- Caroline Munro as Anna D'Antoni
- Abigail Clayton as Rita (credited as Gail Lawrence)
- Kelly Piper as Nurse
- Rita Montone as Hooker
- Tom Savini as Disco boy
- Hyla Marrow as Disco girl
- James Brewster as Beach boy
- Linda Lee Walter as Beach girl
- Tracie Evans as Street hooker
- Sharon Mitchell as Nurse #2
- Carol Henry as Deadbeat
- Nelia Bacmeister as Carmen Zito
- Louis Jawitz as Art director
- Denise Spagnuolo as Denise
- Billy Spagnuolo as Billy
- Frank Pesce as TV reporter
- William Lustig as Hotel manager
Many scenes had to be filmed guerrilla-style because the production could not afford city permits. The infamous shotgun sequence was one of them; it was filmed in just an hour.
Savini got the part of the male shotgun victim because he had already made a cast of his own head. He then filled the head with leftover food from lunch and fired live ammunition at it. Immediately after firing the shotgun, Savini threw it into the trunk of a waiting car driven by a friend of Spinell's, an assistant named Luke Walter, so they could avoid being caught by police.
Spinell planned to make a sequel entitled Mr. Robbie, a remake of the 1973 film The Psychopath, about a children's television host who murders the abusive parents of his fans. A short promotion film was made in 1986 which was filmed, produced and directed by Buddy Giovinazzo and written by Spinell and Joe Cirillo, but Spinell was unable to find financial backers. Portions can been seen on the latest 30th Anniversary DVD release. After nearly three years, financing was indeed raised and it was scheduled to go into production in March 1989, but the sudden death of Spinell two months prior cancelled all plans for the sequel.
The film is unrated because it was not submitted to the MPAA. The poster stated that "No One Under 17 Will Be Admitted", a practice theatres used for extremely violent unrated films such as Dawn of the Dead. The film was refused a classification by the British Board of Film Classification upon its original cinema release and was additionally banned for video in 1998, but was later passed at an 18 certificate in 2002 with 58 seconds of cuts.
Arguably the film's most graphic scene is the "Disco Boy Scene", in which special effects man Tom Savini, playing a small role and dressed in full 1970s disco regalia, has his head blasted off with a double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun while making out with a woman in the front seat of a vintage car. The gun is fired by the killer through the car windshield at close range (loosely inspired by the real life Son of Sam killings of serial killer David Berkowitz who shot people in parked cars with a .44 Special revolver). The scene, filmed in slow motion from three different camera angles, and lit entirely by the reflected headlights of the car, is extremely graphic and realistic in its depiction of the damage caused by the man's head being blown apart at point blank range by 12-gauge buckshot. Savini was a Vietnam War veteran and used his firsthand knowledge of the carnage he saw on the battlefield to create the effect.
Film critic Gene Siskel vociferously described how sickened he was by the film on Sneak Previews, and walked out thirty minutes into the film (after the shotgun murder scene), saying the film "could not redeem itself" after the amount of violence shown up to that point. However, in the 1990s Siskel was asked if he had ever walked out of a film and did not mention this one, instead saying he left the 1996 film Black Sheep, because of his dislike for Chris Farley, and the 1971 Disney film The Million Dollar Duck.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "Good sense, if not heaven, should protect anyone who thinks he likes horror films from wasting a price of admission on "Maniac," a movie that shows how an aging, pot-bellied maniac slices up young women of no great intelligence."
Stuart Galbraith IV DVD Talk said of the film, "Despite some good direction and a sincere, even daring performance by character actor Joe Spinell (Rocky), who also co-produced and co-wrote its screenplay, Maniac (1980) is alternately repellent and boring, despite the obvious intelligence that went into its making. A low-budget slasher film notable for its extremely graphic splatter effects by Tom Savini - who also appears in the picture - Maniac is mostly a character study, anticipating the much superior (if no less unpleasant) Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)."
Tom Becker of DVD Verdict said, "That the film is so effective is due in no small part to the performance of Joe Spinell as Frank, the schlubby-looking guy whose darkness overwhelms him. This is not the standard, amateurish, paint-by-numbers horror villain turn. Spinell creates a fully formed portrait of this monster that goes far beyond the surface. He mutters to himself, talks to mannequins, growls like an animal when stalking his prey—yet he can be charming as well, and while the pairing of Spinell and Munro as lovers has a definite Beauty and the Beast quality to it, it's not entirely unbelievable. Had Maniac been more of a mainstream film, Spinell might have been remembered as one of the great horror heavies."
An extract of dialogue from the film's trailer was sampled on the song "Frank Zito, The Maniac" by metal band Frightmare on their album Midnight Murder Mania.
Death rapper Necro recorded a song titled "Frank Zito" on his album Brutality Part 1.
Lustig planned a remake. During the 2009 edition of the New York Horror Film Festival, while receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, Lustig announced that the deal for a remake has been sealed. During a Q&A session at the Sunshine Cinema in New York City on November 19, 2010, Lustig announced that the remake rights had been acquired by a French production company with Alexandre Aja attached. He also stated that he would love to see Tom Sizemore take over the Frank Zito role, as he feels Sizemore is a lot like Spinell, and that he had recommended as much to the French production company.
On November 4, 2011, Elijah Wood was cast as Frank Zito and the plan was to begin filming later in the year. Aja is set to produce the movie while Franck Khalfoun has signed on to direct the remake. In December, America Olivo and Morgane Slemp were cast, alongside previously announced Nora Arnezeder and Genevieve Alexandra.
On January 31, 2012, in an interview with Arnezeder, she discussed the remake using POV shots and Elijah Wood's character as half-angel/half-devil. Arnezeder described her role in the film as an artist who develops a friendship with Wood's character. She declined to reveal more but hinted at a different take on the original. She said she was drawn to the concept of the film as a psychological horror, stating it wouldn't be that interesting if the movie was just blood and screams. The film finished shooting in Los Angeles in December 2011 and is expected to be released sometime in 2012.
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- Maniac DVD commentary by William Lustig and Tom Savini
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- Barrone, Matt (March 7, 2013). "Elijah Wood Will Be Scalping Beautiful Women This Summer". Complex. Retrieved March 31, 2013.