Maniac (1980 film)

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Maniac (1980).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by William Lustig
Produced by Andrew W. Garroni
William Lustig
Written by C. A. Rosenberg
Joe Spinell
Starring Joe Spinell
Caroline Munro
Music by Jay Chattaway
Cinematography Robert Lindsay
Edited by Lorenzo Marinelli
Distributed by Analysis Film Releasing Corporation
Release dates
  • December 26, 1980 (1980-12-26) (NYC)
  • March 6, 1981 (1981-03-06) (US: limited)
Running time
87 min. (uncut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $350,000

Maniac is a 1980 American exploitation slasher 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.

With a minuscule budget, many scenes in the film were shot guerrilla style. Originally considered an exploitation film, Maniac has since attained cult status. The Hollywood Reporter called it "something of a grubby touchstone among genre fans."[1] The film was remade in 2012 by director Franck Khalfoun and produced by Alexandre Aja, starring Elijah Wood in the lead role.


The film starts with a young couple lying on a beach, unaware that they are being watched by an unseen person. The woman asks the man to get some firewood, and as he leaves, the unseen man approaches the woman and slits her throat with a utility razor. The man returns to the campfire and is attacked from behind. The killer wraps wire around the man's neck and pulls, killing him.

Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) then sits up in his bed in sweat, screaming after having a nightmare. He lives in a small, one-room apartment that is full of bizarre paintings, artwork and a framed picture of a woman decorated with candles and trinkets. Frank also owns a collection mannequins, one of which is wearing the beach girl's clothes and bloody scalp. Frank puts on a heavy winter coat and gloves and leaves the apartment. Somewhere in downtown Manhattan, Frank passes by a seedy hotel where two prostitutes are standing outside. One asks him if he would like a date. The two go inside and Frank checks into a room. After she dances, the hooker and Frank kiss, where Frank suddenly becomes angry and begins choking her until she is dead. He gets queasy and throws up in the nearby bathroom. Later Frank slowly scalps the woman with his utility razor.

Frank returns home with the body, intending to add to his mannequin collection. He puts the hooker's bloody clothes on to the mannequin and nails the scalp to the mannequin's head while hearing a voice telling him that beauty is a crime punishable by death. Frank pauses and looks at a newspaper headline detailing about the murdered couple at the beach. Sometime later, Frank dresses up to go out again, this time as a hunter. He disassembles a double-barrelled shotgun in a violin case, with the ammunition and his utility razor, along with a machete, an Italian switchblade and an Argentinian bayonet, shortly before leaving

Driving around the nighttime Brooklyn and the Queens area, Frank spots a couple outside a local disco getting into a car and driving off. The man (Tom Savini) and woman park in a lot beside the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano Bridge. The woman wants to go home, but her pick-up date refuses. Frank arrives near the couple's car and begins to spy on them. The disco woman sees Frank by the car window and notifies the disco man to drive her home. The man starts the car and turns on the headlights, only to see Frank is standing right in front of them and both murders the couple with his shotgun.

Later, Frank is back in his room with another mannequin in the disco woman's clothing as he watches a TV news report about the double murder. Soon, Frank begins talking to himself and the other mannequins, as he whimpers and moans himself to sleep. In Central Park the next day, Frank is walking around when he stops a little girl riding on a bicycle who almost rides into him. He sees a woman (Caroline Munro) in the distance snapping a photo of him as Frank follows the woman, which finds out that she is Anna D'Antoni.

Later that night, two nurses are leaving the Roosevelt Hospital. One of the nurses is picked up by her boyfriend, leaving the other nurse alone outside the hospital. As Frank begins to follow the nurse, she finds out and she hides into a nearby subway station. She gets through the gate, but a train leaves without her. Seeing Frank approaching, she runs and into a nearby restroom and hides in a stall. The nurse then walks to a sink, only to have Frank murdering her with his bayonet. Frank now returns with another mannequin resembling the nurse as he decorates up the figure.

Some days later, Anna is in her darkroom of her apartment developing the photographs she took of Frank when the doorbell rings. Frank arrives to her and tells her that he's the man whom she took his photograph. Anna lets him in and they begin to discuss about Anna's work as a photographer. He notes that all her models are women, and she tells him that she hopes to sell some of her photographs of the models. Frank tells her that she should keep them to preserve their beauty. Frank asks Anna out to dinner, and she accepts. During dinner, Frank shows Anna a photo of his mother in which he tells her that he and his mother lived in Queens until she died several years ago in an automobile accident. Anna finds that she is from Italy but has done photography work mostly in England. Frank asks Anna if she would like to go out with him again and she invites him to an art gallery on Thursday. Another few days later, Frank arrives at a studio where Anna is taking photos of three models at a photography session. After taking a break, Frank gives Anna a stuffed bear as a gift and she introduces him to one of the models named Rita. Anna and Rita go back to shooting, and Frank eyes the two women casually talking and holding hands together. Frank impulsively steals a gold necklace that Rita set aside and leaves.

Later that evening, Rita arrives home at her apartment, and begins to run bathtub water to take a bath. Frank arrives and gives Rita her necklace. With Rita distracted for a second, Frank slyly pushes in the door's lock, and leaves. Rita goes into the bathroom to take her bath. Later, Rita is grabbed by Frank who jumps out of a closet and finds herself gagged and tied to her bed. Frank then rambles and begins talking, where he addresses her as his mother, declaring his undying love for her before stabbing her to death with his switchblade. Frank scalps her, adding her scalp to his collection and later disposes of it, eventually attending the funeral with Anna.

Some days later, Frank calls Anna and invites her to a show and picks her up. Frank drives Anna to a cemetery and says that he wants to put a wreath of flowers on his mother's grave which she died on Christmas Day. At the cemetery, Frank lays the wreath beside the headstone of his mother, Carmen Zito. He abruptly grabs Anna by her neck as she flees, after mourning over one of his early victims. As Frank stops to look around, Anna wounds him with a nearby shovel and runs, as Frank cries out. A young Frank was abused and neglected by his own mother, leading him to go on this killing spree. As Frank returns to his mother's grave, he begins to suffer a hallucination about his deceased mother grabbing him. Frank goes home to his apartment, saddened about his mother. Suddenly, the mannequins come alive and soon, they all mutilate Frank, in which one hacks his arm, one stabs him and all of them brutally behead him via hands.

Early the next morning, two police officers arrive and burst into Frank's apartment. They find the body of Frank on his bed, apparently having committed suicide after having a nightmare about his mannequins murdering him. As the officers leave, Frank's eyes suddenly open as the film ends with the title printed onto the screen.


  • 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. Principal photography began on October 21, 1979 and wrapped on January 18, 1980.

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 fake blood 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.[2]

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.

Spinell and co-star Caroline Munro went on to work together again in The Last Horror Film in 1982.


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, but eventually later it received an R-rating. 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.

Critical reception[edit]

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.

The film received mixed reviews from critics, currently holding a 43% rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 14 reviews.[3]

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."[4]

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)."[5]

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."[6]


Maniac was nominated for a Saturn Award by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, USA, for Best Low-Budget Film in 1981.[7]

Home media[edit]

The film was originally released on DVD and VHS in North America by Anchor Bay Entertainment in 2001. Blue Underground re-released Maniac on Blu-ray on October 26, 2010.[8]

Popular culture[edit]

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.

The song "Maniac" was inspired by the movie Maniac.[9]


Main article: Maniac (2012 film)

Lustig planned a remake.[10] 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.[11] 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,[12][13][14] 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 would not 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.[15]

On May 25, a red-band trailer for the remake was released.[16] The film officially stars Elijah Wood as Frank Zito, Nora Arnezeder as Anna and America Olivo as Angela, Frank's mother.[17]

On December 28, 2012, a trailer of the first 6 minutes was released.[18] The film was released on June 21, 2013.[19]


  1. ^ Lehmann, Megan (May 26, 2012). "Maniac: Cannes Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 31, 2013. 
  2. ^ Maniac DVD commentary by William Lustig and Tom Savini
  3. ^ "Maniac!". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved August 20, 2014. 
  4. ^ Vincent Canby (1981-01-31). "Maniac". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-04. 
  5. ^ Stuart Galbraith IV. "Maniac". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2011-05-04. 
  6. ^ Tom Becker. "Maniac". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2011-05-04. 
  7. ^ "IMDb Awards page". IMDb. Retrieved 2009-09-30. 
  8. ^ "Blue Underground Unleashing Maniac on Blu-ray". DreadCentral. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ "Bill Lustig: Maniac Remake on the Way / Possibly Maniac Cop as Well". DreadCentral. 
  11. ^ "Elijah Wood is a Serial Killer in Maniac Remake". Retrieved 2012-06-07. 
  12. ^ "America Olivo Lands Motherly Role in 'Maniac' Redo". Retrieved 2011-12-09. 
  13. ^ "'Maniac' Gets a Mommy". Retrieved 2011-12-09. 
  14. ^ "America Olivo and Morgane Slemp land Maniac Remake". DeadCentral. Retrieved 2011-12-09. 
  15. ^ Evry, Max (2012-01-31). "Exclusive: Nora Arnezeder On the Maniac Remake With Elijah Wood". Shock Till You Drop. Retrieved 2012-06-07. 
  16. ^ Spill, The (2012-05-25). "Red Band Trailer For Elijah Wood's 'Maniac' - The Spill Movie Community". Retrieved 2012-06-07. 
  17. ^ Maniac at the Internet Movie Database
  18. ^ "Spend Six Bloody Minutes with a Maniac". DreadCentral. 
  19. ^ Barrone, Matt (March 7, 2013). "Elijah Wood Will Be Scalping Beautiful Women This Summer". Complex. Retrieved March 31, 2013. 

External links[edit]