Maniac (1980)

Starring Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Abigail Clayton, Kelly Piper, Rita Montone, Tom Savini, Hyla Marrow

Directed by William Lustig

Expectations: High. Lustig, Savini, how can it not be good?


Sorry to those hoping for rainbows and unicorns, Maniac delivers manic thrills and nothing else. As long as you’re OK with that, and you’re down for some brutal Tom Savini FX work, then you should enjoy Maniac. It’s a unique take on the slasher film, and one that I won’t soon forget. This was William Lustig’s first legitimate film (after a few legitimate pornos), and it’s a frontrunner for the best thing I’ve seen from him. Maniac Cop and its sequel are both superb, and Vigilante is fun, but Maniac has a guerrilla quality to it that makes it seem just as seedy and grimy as the film’s main character, Frank.

The plot of Maniac is rather sparse, instead doing its best to deliver a character study of a madman. What this equates to is watching Joe Spinell stalk and brutally kill female victims for most of the movie. There’s no cops trailing him, or any real story to speak of. Even the dialogue scenes are all somewhat meaningless. This makes the film feel gratuitously sadistic, and it’s rather hard to watch at times. A slight story comes in during the second act, but even this is just a means to provide Frank with another victim, and ultimately bring us to the climax of the film. It does add some interesting situations for Frank, and ones that allow us to further explore his character, but the film still retains its initial structure. This might sound like it would be boring and hard to get through, but the film is incredibly watchable thanks to Spinell’s perfect portrayal of the madman, Lustig’s inspired direction, and Savini’s gory, ultra-realistic FX.

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