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Film Review: Maniac (1980)

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Although his mother mistreated him and is now dead, Frank (Joe Spinell), a photographer by day, misses her. In a grotesque act of reminiscence, he kills young women at night and puts their scalps on mannequins masquerading around his New York apartment. He befriends a fellow photographer, but soon his day and night lives begin to meld, blurring the lines of reality. William Lustig directs this disturbing tale known for its graphic violence.


Written by: C.A. Rosenburg and Joe Spinell
Directed by: William Lustig
Starring: Joe Spinell, Tracie Evans, Kim Hudson and Tom Savini

Hell-o, nocturnal wanderers and lunar drifters and especially night walkers… “I warned you not to go out tonight.” He’s out there… He’s watching… and he’s waiting to strike again. His name is Frank Zito He is played by the late Joe Spinell (who also came up with the story blueprint), which has gone from Troma’s Fanatic… to Bill Lustig’s Maniac. Joe also starred in Rocky and The Godfather. Sylvester Stallone, himself has been spotted and captured in photo wearing a Maniac shirt.

Rue Morgue Magazine calls it “Some of the most unprecedented, graphically detailed depictions of violence ever put before a viewing audience.” The Director, Bill (or William) Lustig also directed Maniac Cop and Vigilante. He was also known to direct p*rn films once in his career. Maniac has been called more than one of the most relentlessly depraved films of our time, but quite possibly one of the most disturbing Horror films ever made. Bill has quoted on Nick Palumbo’s Murder-Set-Pieces as to taking the Horror film to a place that it has never seen before in history… and M-S-P has been called the “Maniac of the new millennium.” This film pushed (and scalped) boundaries for its time and is still considered a highly regarded eighties classic of the genre. Of course, the unrated version is the only route to take when watching. This is one of those films that can not be viewed properly in any other way or shortened cut. It is a monumental piece of slasher history. A film that will always stalk our beloved genre for decades to come. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were an official re-make that reared its ugly head in the future… although not surprised, I would be disgusted… and not in a good way.

The idea of this serial killer flick came about as Bill was on a car ride with a friend that suggested he should make a Jaws on land. Lustig took the idea and ran with it, hence the Jaws like tribute during the opening scene… which takes place on the beach. After he had the basic blueprint set in his mind, Lustig let Joe Spinell, the star of the film, take it from there. Joe once asked Bill what the most horrible thing that could be done to a woman would be. He said that if castrating a man was the worst thing you could do to the male genre, then cutting out the vagina was the worst a woman could endure. Bill said that was taking graphic matters a little too far and the idea was canned. Coincidentally, during the filming of a decapitation scene near a New York hotel, the police tampered with filming to investigate an actual beheading that had taken place just minutes before around the same hotel. This is just one of the gruesome ways in which the victims die in this film. The body count is quite high.

Did someone say, body count? This brings us to the Gore Score of the film, which is quite high. The Special Effects were done by none other than one of the victims of the film, a personal friend of mine… and a legend in the industry, Mr. Tom Savini(Dawn of the Dead, The Prowler, Friday the 13th one and four: The Final Chapter, the Night of the Living Dead remake, in which he also directed, the more recent The Tribe: The Lost Boys 2… and countless others). Tom, himself probably has one of the coolest and more gruesome deaths in the film. His head is blown completely off at almost point blank range to the face, and through a windshield. It is shown in both front and back view. The aftermath is splattered all over the girl in the passenger’s seat (in slow motion) that he is trying to score with. Adding to this supremely executed carnage are throat cutting strangulations, all out throat cuttings and many scalpings. The scalped trophies are placed on the plastic heads of mannequins as the killer talks to his deceased mother. Yes, the conversing dead mother factor has been shown before (mostly about movies based on the murders of Ed Gein, such as Psycho, Deranged (which Tom Savini also did the effects for) and of course, the newer cinematic biography simply entitled Ed Gein.

The acting throughout is disturbingly swell and of course, the Special Effects are mighty brutal for its time. This is a must see for any fan of the genre. Again…”I warned you not to go out tonight,” stay inside, lock your doors and windows… and watch this killer flick in the safety of your own homes. Overall, I give this film, Maniac, FOUR (BRUTALLY BLOODY) HORNS UP.


All kinds of extras make their way onto to the bluray version. we got news clips, TV & radio clips. audio commentaries and all sorts of interview additions. The Joe Spinell story, a documentary from the previous extra inclusion releases is of course included here with plenty of material surrounding the “Maniac” controversy from the time.

The featurettes here each focus on a different talent from the production. (Tom Savini, Caroline Munro, composer Jay Chattaway, and songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matosky)

It’s pretty safe to say that this 30th anniversary release is your “all things” Maniac bundle. Grab this and other fantastic releases from the masters at Blue Underground

Disc 1 Extras:

  • Audio Commentary #1 with Co-Producer/Director William Lustig and Co-Producer Andrew W. Garroni
  • Audio Commentary #2 with Co-Producer/Director William Lustig, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Joe Spinell’s Assistant Luke Walter
  • Anna and the Killer – Interview with Star Caroline Munro
  • The Death Dealer – Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini
  • Dark Notes – Interview with Composer Jay Chattaway
  • Maniac Men – Interview with Songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • TV Spots
  • Radio Spots
  • Mr. Robbie: Maniac 2 Promo ReelDisc 2 Extras:
  • The Joe Spinell Story
  • MANIAC Publicity
  • MANIAC Controversy

Order Maniac per MVD


Maniac (1980) is now available from Blue Underground in its 30th Anniversary edition


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