1980/Director: William Lustig/Writers: C.A. Rosenberg,Joe Spinell
Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Abigail Clayton, Kelly Piper, Rita Montone, Tom Savini
For my article about the William Lustig film Maniac I simply scanned over the disk for some new screen captures and watched a few scenes over to refresh my memory. I will probably rewatch the film in its entirety soon but I have seen the movie a few times in the past and will rely more on my general impressions of the movie from past viewings than from a fresh rewatch. I first rented the film on VHS back when I lived in San Antonio Texas. It was time when I was renting stuff I read from films books I owned, like The Psychotronic Video Guide and my collection of horror books. There was no Internet back then to learn about films. The reason I watched the film was because Tom Savini did the effects and it was a period when I wanted to see every film Savini had something to do with. Sadly the guy now has decided to be an actor rather than a special effects master. In fact even back then he appeared in many of the films he worked on, such as George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Martin. Savini’s make up work on this feature are some of his goriest to be sure. One classic scene is almost universally reviled by critics and it features Savini himself getting his head blown off by a point blank range shot gun blast. It still looks horrible three decades later.
Now the real problem with this movie is not Savini’s graphic make-up effects or the over top performance by star and co-writer Joe Spinell. Both Savini and Spinell are great, as is Carolyn Munro as Anne who is pursued by Spinell’s psychotic and sexually disturbed Zito, but the trouble is with Lustig’s often shoddy direction and the overly bleak story by Spinell and C.A. Rosenberg. Of course I still recommend the film. All films here at The Uranium Café are recommended and films I like. But there is some reason I did not want to sit through it yet one time to do a better review. And yet it must say something about me that I have seen the film three or four times already. I just am not in the mood for the film’s despairing atmosphere right now is all. The same issue with the German film Necromantik. I have been wanting to rewatch it for a review but do not want to put myself through the experience right now. And I may be too harsh on Lustig’s direction since the film had a very low budget of about $350,000 and was shot, like The Last Horror Movie, guerrilla style (meaning usually without filming permits for locations). But some of the editing and production guffaws are simply creative negligence. And yet those glitches give the film some much needed campyness as the overall tone is otherwise unrelentingly grim and oppressive.
The story is about a lonely and schizoid landlord named Zito who keeps a collection of mannequins in his apartment. He likes to adorn the mannequins with the scalps of real women and then have conversations with them in his bed. He has monologues with his dead mother who was a cruel, over bearing prostitute. After a while Zito gets bored with his current bed partner and set off to find a new victim. Any film like this requires suspension of disbelief and acceptance of certain implausibility’s. But the relationship that develops between obviously sleazy Zito and photographer Anne is a little too much. Anne accidentally snaps a photo of Zito and while attempting to retrieve the picture, for whatever reason, Zito develops an appreciation for Anne’s work and soon he and Anne are dating and she actually seems attracted to the scum bag in some scenes. Now whether Zito is a twisted serial killer or not is beside the point. It is stretching things a little too much to think hot looking professional photographer Anne would waste much, if any, time on him or give a damn about any of his opinions on her work. The gore sequences are great if you like that sort of things and Spinell is over the top in a fun sort of way but the film lacks any of the wit or humor found in The Last Horror Movie and one wonders if Spinell is trying to deliver a film similar to Taxi Driver in which he a small role.
An interesting piece of trivia is that the song Maniac, used in the film Flash Dance, by Michael Sembello was inspired by the film. It was not, as some sites report, written specifically for the film. Nonetheless the score was disqualified for an Oscar award after it was discovered it was not written specifically for Flash Dance. In fact some lyrics were altered for the Flash Dance version. Here is an example of before and after maniac lyrics:
He's a maniac, maniac that's for sure,
He will kill your cat and nail him to the door
She's a maniac, maniac on the floor
And she's dancing like she's never danced before
I would like to hear that original version myself if a version was ever recorded.The movie was released without a rating and it is felt it would have received an X rating at the time of its release for its extreme violence. Spinell wanted to do a sequel to the film but died in 1989. It was certainly a film role only he could pull off. However that has stopped Lustig from sealing a deal in 2009 to do a remake of the film. I just think one Maniac is enough and who in God’s name could ever weep over a mannequin wearing a bloody scalp the way Joe Spinell could?