Maniac (1980 film)

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Maniac (1980).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam Lustig
Produced by
  • Andrew W. Garroni
  • William Lustig
Screenplay by
Story byJoe Spinell
Music byJay Chattaway
CinematographyRobert Lindsay
Edited byLorenzo Marinelli
Magnum Motion Pictures Inc.
Distributed byAnalysis Film Releasing Corporation
Release date
  • January 30, 1981 (1981-01-30) (New York City)[1]
  • March 6, 1981 (1981-03-06) (Los Angeles)[1]
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$10 million[2]

Maniac is a 1980 American psychological slasher film directed by William Lustig and written by C. A. Rosenberg. It stars Joe Spinell as Frank Zito, an Italian-American serial killer residing in New York City who murders and scalps young women. Spinell was also co-writer of the film.

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[3] despite receiving polarized reviews and being released in limited theaters by Analysis Film Releasing Corp. The film was remade in 2012 by director Franck Khalfoun and produced by Alexandre Aja, starring Elijah Wood in the lead role.

While not prosecuted for obscenity nor officially listed as a video nasty, Maniac was seized by various police forces across Greater Manchester and Lancashire during the video nasty panic, presumably based on the film's notorious reputation overseas.[4]


Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) was abused as a child by his prostitute mother, and as a result, becomes a serial killer who murders young women, scalps them and attaches their hair to mannequins. After he awakens from a nightmare about killing a couple on a beach, he dresses and leaves his apartment towards Manhattan into Times Square. When Frank is randomly invited inside a hotel by a prostitute (Rita Motone), she kisses him before he abruptly strangles and scalps her. He returns home, dresses a mannequin with the dead prostitute's clothing and nails her scalp to its head. Frank tells himself that beauty is a crime punishable by death.

Sometime later, he dresses again and takes a collection of weaponry with him, including a double-barrelled shotgun, before leaving. He drives around Brooklyn and the Queens area, where he finds a couple exiting a local disco and parking near the side of the Verrazano Bridge. When the boyfriend (Tom Savini) starts up the vehicle after his date sees Frank spying on them, Frank kills the couple with his shotgun and then adds the woman to his mannequin collection. After seeing his recent crime on television, he talks to himself and the mannequins as he sobs himself to sleep.

During the next day in Central Park, Frank follows a photographer named Anna (Caroline Munro) after she takes a photo of him and a little girl riding a bicycle in the distance. At night, Frank sees a nurse (Kelly Piper) leaving the Roosevelt Hospital, where he then stalks her inside the subway station and murders her with a bayonet before adding her to his mannequin collection. Days later, Frank heads to Anna's apartment and is invited inside by Anna after she recognizes him from the photo she took of him. Upon him asking her out to dinner, he later shows her a photo of his mother who died in a car crash years ago. A few days later, Frank is invited by Anna to a studio during a photography session, and she introduces one of her models Rita (Abigail Clayton) to him. After seeing the two talking and holding hands, he steals Rita's necklace and leaves. Later that same night, he arrives at Rita's apartment to give her a necklace, before then attacking her and tying her to the bed. Frank begins talking and addresses her as his mother and stabs her with a switchblade before scalping her for his collection.

One night, Frank takes Anna on a date and they stop by a cemetery to visit his mother's grave. While laying some flowers beside the headstone, Frank begins to mourn over one of his early victims and attacks Anna. He chases her around the cemetery, but she hits him in the arm with a shovel before fleeing. He hallucinates his decomposing mother attacking him from the grave. He runs back to his apartment, where he sees his mannequins suddenly coming alive. They mutilate Frank with his weapons before ultimately tearing off his head.

The next morning, two police officers break into Frank's apartment and see Frank lying dead on his bed; he has committed suicide. As the officers leave the apartment, Frank's eyes suddenly open.


  • Joe Spinell as Frank Zito
  • Caroline Munro as Anna D'Antoni
  • Gail Lawrence as Rita
  • 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


Director William Lustig, who previously had worked as a director of pornographic films, used profits from his 1977 film Hot Honey to make Maniac.[5]

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.[citation needed]

The infamous sequence where Frank murders the boyfriend (played by Tom Savini) was loosely inspired by the "Son of Sam" murders committed by serial killer David Berkowitz, who shot people in parked cars with a .44 Special revolver. Savini, who served as the film's make-up artist, received the role for the male victim from him having already made a cast of his own head, which was filled inside with leftover food and fake blood. Since Savini used live ammunition for the scene, he immediately threw the shotgun into the trunk of a waiting car driven by an assistant Luke Walter, who was a friend of Spinell, to avoid being caught by the police.[6]

Maniac was one of the three films that Spinell and co-star Caroline Munro worked together; the other films being Starcrash and later The Last Horror Film.[citation needed]


According to a Variety report, Maniac was scheduled for a midnight screening at the Cannes Film Festival on May 10, 1980.[1] The film had its U.S. premiere in New York City on January 30, 1981, followed by a Los Angeles premiere on March 6, 1981.[1]


Since the film was not submitted to the MPAA, the film was released unrated, with the designation "For adults only."[1] Despite the poster stating "No one under 17 will be admitted", a severely-edited version of the film received an R-Rating in the South and was distributed in March 1981 in several other States such as California, of the unrated version shortly after its first U.S. domestic release in New York in January 1981.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

In Australia, the film's promotional campaign featured a censored version of the theatrical poster image, which blacked out the scalp held in the killer's hand.[7]

Home media[edit]

The film was originally released on Beta and VHS by Media Home Entertainment in 1981.[citation needed]

The film was 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]

Critical reception[edit]


Upon its theatrical release, Maniac received numerous unfavorable reviews, with many critics lambasting the film for its depiction of violence.[9]

Film critic Gene Siskel described how sickened he was by the film on Sneak Previews and had walked out of the theater after the shotgun murder scene, citing the film could not redeem itself" after the amount of violence shown up to that point.[citation needed] However, when Siskel had been asked if he had ever walked out of a movie, he did not mention the film, responding he left the 1996 film Black Sheep due to his dislike of Chris Farley, and the 1971 Disney film The Million Dollar Duck.[citation needed]

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."[10]


On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Maniac holds a 40% approval rating based on 20 critic reviews, with an average rating of 4.59/10.[11]

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)."[12]

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."[13]

The Hollywood Reporter cites the film as "something of a grubby touchstone among genre fans."[14]

Film scholar John Kenneth Muir wrote that the film "positively oozes sleaze and despair, and that's a compliment...After watching Maniac, you'll want to take a deep breath, maybe even a shower, but you won't have wasted ninety minutes on something that has no meaning, no pulse, and no heart."[15] Jim Harper, in his book Legacy of Blood: A Comprehensive Guide to Slasher Movies, praised Spinnell's performance, noting it as the "centerpiece" of the film.[16]


Maniac has been cited by some media outlets as one of the greatest slasher/horror films ever made. Esquire placed it at #18 in their list of "The 55 Scariest Movies of All Time".[17] It was ranked at #44 in Paste magazine's "50 Best Slasher Movies of All Time".[18]

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 as a remake of the 1973 film The Psychopath, about a psychopathic children's television show host who murders abusive parents.[19] The short was done to raise financing for a sequel to Maniac.[19][20]

The short film was included with the 30th anniversary edition release of Maniac.[21]

The feature-length version of the film was never shot after Spinell died in 1989.[19]


Lustig planned a remake.[22] 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.[citation needed]

On November 4, 2011, Elijah Wood was cast as Frank Zito and the plan was to begin filming later in the year.[23] Aja produced the film and Franck Khalfoun was signed on to direct the remake. In December, America Olivo and Morgane Slemp were cast,[24][25][26] alongside previously announced Nora Arnezeder and Genevieve Alexandra.[citation needed]

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.[27]


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.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Maniac (1980)". American Film Institute Catalog. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Maniac (1980)". The Numbers. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  3. ^ "New Maniac Poster Released". Daily Dead. February 7, 2013. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  4. ^ Christopher, Neil. "Mr". Hysteria Lives. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  5. ^ Kerekes, David (2002). "Headpress: Journal of Sex, Religion, Death" (#24–27). Headpress: 114. ISSN 1353-9760. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Maniac DVD commentary by William Lustig and Tom Savini
  7. ^ Maniac. Australia: Garland Productions. 1981. Archived from the original (One-sheet poster) on 2018-04-29.
  8. ^ "Blue Underground Unleashing Maniac on Blu-ray". Dread Central. Archived from the original on June 21, 2010.
  9. ^ Schoell 1985, pp. 171–73.
  10. ^ Canby, Vincent (January 31, 1981). "Maniac". New York Times. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  11. ^ "Maniac (1980)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved August 20, 2014.
  12. ^ Galbraith IV, Stuart. "Maniac". DVD Talk. Retrieved May 4, 2011.
  13. ^ Becker, Tom. "Maniac". DVD Verdict. Archived from the original on October 28, 2010. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
  14. ^ Lehmann, Megan (May 26, 2012). "Maniac: Cannes Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  15. ^ Muir 2012, p. 108.
  16. ^ Harper 2004, p. 125.
  17. ^ Schrodt, Paul (October 19, 2018). "The 55 Scariest Movies of All Time". Esquire. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  18. ^ Vorel, Jim (March 21, 2020). "The 50 Best Slasher Movies of All Time". Paste. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  19. ^ a b c Janisse, Kier-La (June 21, 2013). "THE GENTLE MANIAC: Buddy Giovinazzo Remembers Original "MANIAC" Joe Spinell". Fangoria. Archived from the original on August 27, 2017. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  20. ^ Edwards 2017, pp. 111–12.
  21. ^ Dahlke, Kurt (October 13, 2010). "Maniac - 30th Anniversary Edition". DVD Talk.
  22. ^ Barton, Steve (November 23, 2009). "Bill Lustig: Maniac Remake on the Way / Possibly Maniac Cop as Well". Dread Central. Archived from the original on February 8, 2016.
  23. ^ "Elijah Wood is a Serial Killer in Maniac Remake". Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  24. ^ "America Olivo Lands Motherly Role in 'Maniac' Redo". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved December 9, 2011.
  25. ^ "'Maniac' Gets a Mommy". Archived from the original on January 9, 2012. Retrieved December 9, 2011.
  26. ^ Barton, Steve (December 9, 2011). "America Olivo and Morgane Slemp land Maniac Remake". Dread Central. Archived from the original on September 25, 2015.
  27. ^ Evry, Max (January 31, 2012). "Exclusive: Nora Arnezeder On the Maniac Remake With Elijah Wood". Shock Till You Drop. Retrieved June 7, 2012.

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