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
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 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $350,000[1]

Maniac is a 1980 American exploitation slasher 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.

With a minuscule budget, many scenes in the film were shot guerrilla style. Originally considered an exploitation film, Maniac has since attained a cult following[2] despite receiving mixed reviews and released in limited theatres. The Hollywood Reporter called it "something of a grubby touchstone among genre fans."[3] The film was remade in 2012 by director Franck Khalfoun and produced by Alexandre Aja, starring Elijah Wood in the lead role.


Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) awakens in his bed after having a nightmare about killing a couple on a beach. After waking up, Frank later dresses and leaves towards downtown Manhattan. He lives in a one-room apartment consisted of paintings, one being a framed picture of his deceased mother, and a collection of mannequins. Frank passes by a hotel with two prostitutes standing outside. One of them invites Frank and checks in. Inside, the prostitute (Rita Montone) and Frank kiss, where abruptly Frank strangles her and later carefully scalps the woman with a utility razor. Frank returns home and adds the killed prostitute to his mannequin collection by placing her clothing and nailing the scalp onto the mannequin. Inside his mind, he tells himself that beauty is a crime punishable by death. After Frank finishes, he reads a newspaper detailing about the murdered couple at the beach as seen in Frank's nightmare. Sometime later, Frank dresses and takes a collection of weapons with him, including a double-barrelled shotgun, before leaving.

Driving around Brooklyn and the Queens area, Frank finds a couple exiting a local disco and parked near the side of the Verrazano Bridge. The disco boyfriend (Tom Savini) starts up the vehicle after his date uncomfortably sees a spying Frank. Frank appears in front of the vehicle and kills the couple with his shotgun. Frank later returns and adds the killed woman to his mannequin collection as he watches the recent murder on television. Soon, Frank begins talking to himself and the other mannequins as he begins to sleep.

The next day in Central Park, Frank follows a woman named Anna (Caroline Munro) after she takes a photo of him and a little girl riding on a bicycle in the distance. At night, Frank finds two nurses leaving the Roosevelt Hospital, with one of them picked up by her boyfriend and leaving the other nurse (Kelly Piper) alone. Frank then stalks the nurse, but she notices him and escapes into a nearby subway station. She tries to board a leaving train, but performs unsuccessfully and hides into a bathroom stall. Unbeknownst that Frank still awaits, he kills her with a bayonet. Frank then returns with another mannequin to the collection and talks to himself as he decorates the mannequin.

Days later, Frank later heads to Anna's apartment, where she is developing the photographs including the photo of Frank. After telling her about him being in the photo, she invites Frank inside and discuss Anna's work as a photographer. He notes that all her models are women, and she hopes to sell some of her photographs of them, where Frank suggests to preserve them. Frank asks Anna out for dinner and she accepts. During dinner, Frank shows Anna his deceased mother's photo and explains to her she was killed in a car accident years ago. Frank asks Anna she wanted to go out again sometime and she invites him to an art gallery on Thursday. A few days later, Frank arrives at a studio where Anna is taking photos of models at a photography session. On break, Frank gives Anna a stuffed bear as a gift and she introduces him to a model named Rita (Abigail Clayton). Anna and Rita continue shooting, and Frank sees them talking and holding hands together; he then steals Rita's gold necklace left aside and leaves. In the evening, Rita returns to her apartment and takes a bath, where Frank arrives and gives Rita her necklace. Unbeknownst, Frank gains access inside and attacks, where she is tied to her bed. Frank begins talking, addressing her as his mother, and stabs her with a switchblade. Frank scalps her, adding to his collection, and eventually attends Rita's funeral with Anna.

Frank calls Anna and invites her to the theatres and picks her up. Frank then drives Anna to a cemetery, wanting to put flowers on his mother's grave. At the cemetery, Frank lays the flowers beside his mother's headstone. Frank mourns over one of his early victims, and attacks Anna by her neck. As Frank searches, Anna wounds him with a shovel and flees. Frank returns to his mother's grave, where he hallucinates about his decomposing mother attacking him. A saddened Frank returns to his apartment, where suddenly his mannequins come alive and mutilate Frank with his weapons, ultimately beheading him.

The next morning, two police officers appear and burst into Frank's apartment upon Frank on his bed, who committed suicide from the hallucinated event. 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


Principal photography began on October 21, 1979, and wrapped on January 18, 1980. Many scenes had to be filmed guerrilla-style because the production could not afford city permits, including the shotgun sequence, which was filmed in just an hour.

The "Disco Boy Scene" scene features make-up artist Tom Savini in a small role and dressed in full 1970s disco regalia. For the scene where Frank kills the boyfriend with a double-barreled shotgun is 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 head being shot 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. 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.[4]

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]

The film holds a 43% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 14 reviews.[5]

Film critic Gene Siskel 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."[6]

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)."[7]

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."[8]


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.[9]

Home media[edit]

Released in 1981 on Beta and VHS by Media Home Entertainment 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.[10]

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 Michael Sembello song "Maniac" was inspired by the movie Maniac.[11]

Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie[edit]

A horror short promotional film was shot in 1986 by Joe Spinell and director Buddy Giovinazzo entitled Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie about a psychoapathic children's television show host who murderers abusive parents.[12] The short was done to raise financing for a sequel to Maniac.[12]

The short film was included with the 30th anniversary edition release of Maniac.[13]

The feature-length version of the film was never shot after Spinell died in 1989.[12]


Main article: Maniac (2012 film)

Lustig planned a remake.[14] 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.[15] Aja produced the film and Franck Khalfoun was signed on to direct the remake. In December, America Olivo and Morgane Slemp were cast,[16][17][18] 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 was released in 2012.[19]

On May 25, a red-band trailer for the remake was released.[20] The film officially stars Elijah Wood as Frank Zito, Nora Arnezeder as Anna and America Olivo as Angela, Frank's mother.[21]

On December 28, 2012, a trailer of the first 6 minutes was released.[22] The film was released on June 21, 2013.[23]


  1. ^ "Maniac (1980)". The Numbers. Retrieved December 22, 2015. 
  2. ^ "New Maniac Poster Released". Daily Dead. February 7, 2013. Retrieved December 22, 2015. 
  3. ^ Lehmann, Megan (May 26, 2012). "Maniac: Cannes Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 31, 2013. 
  4. ^ Maniac DVD commentary by William Lustig and Tom Savini
  5. ^ "Maniac!". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved August 20, 2014. 
  6. ^ Vincent Canby (1981-01-31). "Maniac". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-04. 
  7. ^ Stuart Galbraith IV. "Maniac". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2011-05-04. 
  8. ^ Tom Becker. "Maniac". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2011-05-04. 
  9. ^ "IMDb Awards page". IMDb. Retrieved 2009-09-30. 
  10. ^ "Blue Underground Unleashing Maniac on Blu-ray". DreadCentral. 
  11. ^ "Michael Sembello, 'Maniac' 17 Fear-Filled Songs Inspired by Scary Movies". Rolling Stone. 2013-10-30. 
  12. ^ a b c Janisse, Kier-La (June 21, 2013). "THE GENTLE MANIAC: Buddy Giovinazzo Remembers Original “MANIAC” Joe Spinell". Fangoria. 
  13. ^ Dahlke, Kurt (October 13, 2010). "Maniac - 30th Anniversary Edition". DVD Talk. 
  14. ^ "Bill Lustig: Maniac Remake on the Way / Possibly Maniac Cop as Well". DreadCentral. 
  15. ^ "Elijah Wood is a Serial Killer in Maniac Remake". Retrieved 2012-06-07. 
  16. ^ "America Olivo Lands Motherly Role in 'Maniac' Redo". Retrieved 2011-12-09. 
  17. ^ "'Maniac' Gets a Mommy". Retrieved 2011-12-09. 
  18. ^ "America Olivo and Morgane Slemp land Maniac Remake". DeadCentral. Retrieved 2011-12-09. 
  19. ^ Evry, Max (2012-01-31). "Exclusive: Nora Arnezeder On the Maniac Remake With Elijah Wood". Shock Till You Drop. Retrieved 2012-06-07. 
  20. ^ Spill, The (2012-05-25). "Red Band Trailer For Elijah Wood's 'Maniac' - The Spill Movie Community". Retrieved 2012-06-07. 
  21. ^ Maniac at the Internet Movie Database
  22. ^ "Spend Six Bloody Minutes with a Maniac". DreadCentral. 
  23. ^ Barrone, Matt (March 7, 2013). "Elijah Wood Will Be Scalping Beautiful Women This Summer". Complex. Retrieved March 31, 2013. 

External links[edit]