Maniac (1980)
By: David Michael Brown on April 12, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 88 minutes
The Movie
Director: Bill Lustig
Starring: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munroe
Screenplay: C. A. Rosenberg, Joe Spinell
Music:Jay Chattaway
Tagline: "I warned you not to go out tonight"
Country: USA
Even horror fans were shocked by William Lustig's Maniac. Many were expecting yet another Halloween or Friday the 13th clone, the name of gore make-up superstar Tom Savini on the garish poster wetting the appetites of the horror hoards. Few would have expected the squalid, disturbing film that Lustig gave them. Gone were the good looking American teenagers and killers in hockey masks, Maniac tried to portray its killer as a real human being, a mother fixated, deranged, inept figure with almost no redeeming features whatsoever.

Spinell's performance is central to the films effectiveness, completely immersing himself in the role. He is an ugly, sweaty sociopath and the hero of the film. Lustig follows the life of the killer rather than the victims and it makes for uncomfortable viewing. Ex Bond girl Caroline Munroe also makes a good impression as an Italian photographer, a role originally intended for Dario Argento's ex-wife Daria Nicoldi.

It's doubtful we'll ever see another film like Maniac, its uncompromising performance by Spinell is a one of a kind. In fact Spinell rejoined Monroe to try and repeat the success of Maniac with The Last Horror Film, also known as Fanatic, but that film failed at the box office.

Tom Savini had shocked everyone with his work on Dawn of the Dead, Martin and Friday the 13th but nothing can prepare you for the gruesome delights that Maniac has to offer. This is a hyper realistic grim stuff as Spinell collects the scalps of his victims. Savini even makes a cameo appearance and blows of his own head with a sawn off shotgun. The set pieces are indeed grotesque stuff and caused Maniac all sorts of censorship problems, its still not available uncut in the UK. Watching Maniac's many gory set pieces untouched in Australia for the first time it is astounding that the powers that be have no trouble with Lustig's killer but have banned Herschell Gordon Lewis's The Gore Gore Girls which in comparison is rather tame. As always the censors make no sense whatsoever.
The image looks a bit washed out but from memory the film has looked like this on every medium I have seen it on. It's a dark and grimy film at the best of times and this actually adds to Maniacs disconcerting effect but saying that the disc is still the best the film has ever looked (in Australia).
The Dolby stereo track is clear. Nothing really spectacular to report, it doesn't push any boundaries but with the source materials available I'm sure if Umbrella had remixed this in surround you wouldn't benefit too much.
Extra Features
The excellent selection of extras is a perfect example of why we love DVD. The documentary The Joe Spinell Story is a great place to start. The story of an unsung hero of Seventies hero; the all singing, dancing and painting thespian with a mother fixation appeared in an astounding array of classic features including The Godfather, The Godfather 2, The Ninth Configuration, Brubaker, Nighthawks, Taxi driver, Sorcerer and Cruising working with the likes of Copolla, Friedkin, Scorcese and Redford. Featuring fascinating anecdotes from Robert Foster, Caroline Munroe, Jason Miller, Richard Lynch and Spinell's #1 fan Tom Rainone we discover some fascinating facts about the late actors career. He was great friends with Sylvester Stallone and helped bank roll Rocky, he was married to a porn actress and took Lustig to watch her films, he was the second highest paid actor on The Godfather after an accounting oversight. It's a tragic story about an actor who didn't know when to stop and is almost worth the price of the disc alone, excellent stuff.

Lustig provides an excellent audio commentary joined by Tom Savini, Lorenzo Marinetti and Luke Walter. Lustig is now a major player with US DVD company Blue Underground and knows what we want to hear about. We also get a radio interview with the director with Munroe and Spinell, TV Spots, a Gallery of outrage, the theatrical trailer and a selection of trailers for Umbrella's goriest releases.
The Verdict
William Lustig's Maniac is a hard film to like, let alone recommend. It's one of those films that's so sleazy you want to shower after watching it but its also a landmark of exploitation cinema and pushes boundaries that no one would ever dream of crossing nowadays. A fine selection of extras try to position the film in a social and historical context and the whole package makes for fascinating viewing.
Movie Score
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