Maniac (1980 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William Lustig|
|Story by||Joe Spinell|
|Music by||Jay Chattaway|
|Edited by||Lorenzo Marinelli|
Magnum Motion Pictures Inc.
|Distributed by||Analysis Film Releasing Corporation|
|Box office||$10 million|
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 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.
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 then returns home and adds the hooker to his mannequin collection by placing her clothing and nailing the scalp onto the mannequin; he 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 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 her necklace, before then attacking her and tying her to the bed. Frank begins disorientingly talking by addressing 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
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 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 truck of a waiting car driven by an assistant Luke Walter, who was a friend of Spinell, to avoid being caught by the police.
According to a Variety report, Maniac was scheduled for a midnight screening at the Cannes Film Festival on May 10, 1980. 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.
Since the film was not submitted to the MPAA, the film was released unrated, with the designation "For adults only." 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.
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.
Upon its theatrical release, Maniac received numerous unfavorable reviews, with many critics lambasting the film for its depiction of violence. 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. 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.
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."
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." 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.
Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie
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. The short was done to raise financing for a sequel to Maniac.
The short film was included with the 30th anniversary edition release of Maniac.
The feature-length version of the film was never shot after Spinell died in 1989.
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 produced the film and Franck Khalfoun was 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 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.
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