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 date(s)
  • 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 later had success as a cult film. 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 as a young couple are lying on a beach, being watched by an unseen person. The woman asks a man to get some wood for the fire and while he is gone, the unseen man approaches the woman and suddenly slits her throat with a utility razor. After gathering some driftwood from the surf, the man returns to the campfire where the killer attacks him from behind and wraps wire around his neck and pulls, practically decapitating him.

The killer, Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) then sits up in his bed in cold sweat, screaming after having a nightmare. He lives in a small, one-room apartment which is full of bizarre paintings and artwork. There is a framed picture of a woman in a corner of the room decorated with candles and trinkets. There are a few mannequins in the apartment, one of which, wearing the beach girl's clothes and bloody scalp, is lying on the bed beside him. Frank takes off his pajama top and examines some old scars on his chest. He dresses, puts on a heavy winter coat, gloves, takes a gym bag, and leaves into the cold winter night of New York City.

Somewhere in downtown Manhattan, Frank passes by a seedy hotel where two prostitutes are standing outside and one of them asks him if he would like a date. The two of them go inside and Frank checks into a room. In the room, Frank asks the woman if she ever modeled and tells her to show him some poses like the models in the fashion magazines. After she dances a little bit, the hooker and Frank kiss, and she relaxes him after he stops. When they resume kissing, Frank suddenly becomes angry and begins choking her until she is dead. He gets queasy and throws up in the nearby bathroom. Frank begins mewling and asks himself "Why did you make me do that?" Frank then pulls out his utility razor and very slowly and carefully, scalps the woman.

Frank then goes home to his seedy apartment building somewhere in the Brooklyn region of New York. He is carrying a new mannequin to his basement apartment, and tells a passing tenant coming from the building that he is Christmas shopping. In his small one-room apartment, Frank wraps the plastic folding off the new mannequin, puts on the hooker's bloody clothes, and nails the bloody scalp to the mannequin's head, while hearing his own voice telling him that beautiful women whose beauty are crimes 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-barreled 12-gauge shotgun in a violin case, with some buckshot shells and the utility razor. Beside the case is a machete, a switchblade and an older bayonet. He puts on his gloves, winter coat, and he tells the mannequins in the room that he will "be right back".

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 overlooking the narrows towards Staten Island. The woman from the disco wants to go home, but her pick-up date wants her to stay and view the sight. Frank pulls up near the couple's car, gets out and begins to spy on them as they climb into the back seat to make out with each other. The disco woman stops when she sees Frank by the car window. Upset, she asks the disco man to drive her home. The man climbs in the front seat, starts the car and turns on the headlights and Frank is standing right in front of them. He jumps on the hood of the car, and fires the shotgun through the windshield at the man literally blowing his head apart with his blood spattering on the woman's face. The woman ducks in the back seat of the car as Frank approaches, points his shotgun at the woman and fires, killing her.

Later, Frank is back in his room with another mannequin made to look like the murdered disco woman as he watches a TV news report about the latest double murder. Frank begins talking to himself and the other mannequins. He mentions stopping the fancy girls and he says they must stop or "they'll take you away from me". Frank then whimpers and moans quietly as he goes to sleep. In Central Park the next day, Frank is walking around when he stops a little girl riding on a bicycle near a playground, who almost rides into him. He sees a woman (Caroline Munro) in the distance snapping a photo of him, beside the little girl. Frank follows the woman, pauses to take a sneak peek at her bag and sees her name and address. The woman is Anna D'Antoni, shortly before walking off.

Later that night, two nurses are leaving the Roosevelt Hospital after their shift and one of them mentions about a killer being on the loose. One of the nurses is picked up by her boyfriend, leaving the other nurse alone outside the hospital. Frank, standing nearby from across the street, begins to follow the nurse. She soon realizes that he is following her and she ducks into a nearby subway station. She gets through the gate, but when she arrives on the platform, the train leaves without her. Seeing Frank approaching, she runs and into a nearby restroom and hides in a stall. Frank walks inside, looks around, and after a minute of tense silence, he relinquishes and walks out. The nurse comes out of hiding, looks around the empty and silent bathroom and relaxes. Relived, the nurse walks to a sink to wash the sweat off her face, only to see that Frank appears behind her and stabs her through her back with the bayonet, killing her. Frank now has another mannequin resembling the nurse as he decorates up the figure while he is play-acting as a hairdresser.

Some days later, Anna is in her darkroom of her apartment developing the photographs she took of Frank when the doorbell rings. Frank is at the door and tells her that he's the man whom she took his photograph in the park. Anna lets him in and they begin to talk 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 small 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 reveals 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 show for her photographs 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 teddy 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 (again implying, but not fully revealing, that Anna and Rita's friendship is more than that). Frank impulsively steals a gold necklace that Rita set aside and leaves.

Later that evening, Rita arrives home at her apartment, looks through her mail, and begins to run bathtub water to take a bath. Rita answers a buzzing at the front door and it is Frank who returns her necklace (claiming that he found it at the studio). 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. A little later, Rita is making tea for herself when she is grabbed by Frank who jumps out of a closet. When Rita wakes up, she finds herself gagged and tied to her bed. Frank then rambles at Rita saying that her hair is different, but he knew he could find her. He begins talking to her about abuse and leaving him, implying that he is talking to his mother. He soon tells Rita that he is going to keep her so she will never go away again and when Frank was done talking, he pulls out the switchblade and after a minute, stabs Rita in between her breasts and through her heart, killing her. Frank then begins to scalp her, then adds her hair and bathrobe as another trophy to his growing number of mannequins he keeps in his apartment. In his apartment, Frank sits in front of the woman's picture, which is his late mother, and talks about hiding in the closet when his mother said so.

Some days later, Frank calls Anna and invites her to a show and picks her up. Anna thanks Frank for sending flowers and attending Rita's funeral. 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, and begins to cry. He says that Rita knew about him and he suddenly grabs Anna by the neck. Anna hits him and runs, and Frank chases her through the cemetery. Anna wounds Frank by jumping out from behind a gravestone and hits him in his left arm with a shovel and flees out of the cemetery. Frank howls: "Mother!"

As Frank then begins to hear voices in his head and the voice of a younger Frank, it is fully revealed here that Frank was abused and neglected by his own mother, leading him to go on this killing spree. Frank returns to his mother's grave and kneels at the headstone until suddenly the corpse of his mother bursts out of the ground and grabs him, as Frank starts screaming in agony. This only shows that it was just a hallucination, Frank sits back alone at the grave and sobs for a short amount of time.

Frank goes home to his apartment and lies on his bed with his wounded arm, sniveling over his mother. As he looks around the room, the mannequins suddenly turn into the bloodied murdered women and they all approach Frank with his weapons that they pick up off his table. As the mannequins start to attack Frank, one of the mannequins stabs him in his chest with his bayonet, spitting up blood from his mouth. Another woman hacks off an arm with a machete, as Frank starts screaming in agony, before finally two other woman graphically rip off his head, killing Frank.

Early the next morning, a police car arrives outside the apartment building where Frank lives. Two plainclothed police officers (having obviously been called upon by Anna), get out of their car and burst into Frank's apartment. They find the body of Frank on his bed with his bayonet penetrated in his bloody stomach, with all the mannequins standing around the room. Frank was having a dream that resulted in him killing himself. As the two leave the room in complete silence, Frank continues to lie motionless on his bed. His eyes suddenly open and the camera quickly zooms in on him as the title of the film appears onscreen, shortly before it fades away and the credits roll.


  • 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 21st 1979 and wrapped on January 18th 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. 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.

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."[3]

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)."[4]

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."[5]


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.[6]

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.[7]

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. [8]


Main article: Maniac (2012 film)

Lustig planned a remake.[9] 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.[10] 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,[11][12][13] 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.[14]

On May 25, a red-band trailer for the remake was released.[15] The film officially stars Elijah Wood as Frank Zito, Nora Arnezeder as Anna and America Olivo as Angela, Frank's mother.[16]

On December 28, 2012, a trailer of the first 6 minutes was released.[17] The film was released on June 21, 2013.[18]


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

External links[edit]