Between October 19 and Halloween, we at Full Circle will be celebrating 13 days of slasher movies. For tonight’s review, I get to talk about the special effects god, Tom Savini and the 1980’s grindhouse film, Maniac (1980).
Now, I tend to not throw the word “film” around too loosely. It sounds pretentious and I feel like it should be reserved for movies like The Godfather (1972) and Citizen Kane (1941), but I’ll gladly call Maniac a film! It has a clear vision, takes risks, and has a cult following. Simply put, It deserves to be called a film.
The film starts off with the cheesiest breathing sound effect I’ve ever heard. Our main character, Frank Zito (Joe Spinell), just up and murders this couple for no reason. He then proceeds to scalp his female victim to later put it on a mannequin… for some reason…
The rest of the movie is pretty much just that. He just kills people for an hour! He eventually becomes known as “The Maniac,” a moniker coined by the New York police and newspapers. Eventually, Frank meets Anna D’Antoni (Caroline Munro), a photographer who he befriends. He opens up to her about how his mother died, abused him, and also made her living in the world’s oldest profession if you know what I mean. wink wink, nudge nudge.
Things begin to get a little romantic between Frank and Anna. For a night out, he takes her to the cemetery to introduce him to his mother, because nothing says romantic like graveyards and corpses. He then tries to kill her. Yeah, we all saw that coming. She’s able to escape and get away from him by running through the, seemingly, never-ending graveyard. Like, seriously, I get that it’s New York, but that cemetery was comedically big!
So far, this seems like a perfectly normal slasher. The final girl gets away, so you assume he goes home and prepares for the police to come, right? Wrong! For some strange reason, his zombie mom pops out of her grave. It’s obviously a hallucination, but it just comes out of nowhere. It was one of those things where you go “Yeah, that’s stupid, but it’s also awesome!” Who doesn’t love some zombies in a gore film?
It doesn’t end there, though. The zombies of the women he’s killed end up in his weird person apartment. They start killing him, but we’re not sure if it’s actually him going crazy and committing suicide or actual zombies. But I didn’t watch this movie for a good story. I just like gore and zombies. So, I can actually excuse this weird little plot point.
The blood and effects steal the show! The makeup and effects were done by effects legend Tom Savini. One of the things that make the horror genre so special is that fans don’t just care about who’s on-screen and behind the camera. Horror fans care about who’s doing the effects.
One of the cool things about Maniac is that people think of it as a Tom Savini film, but he didn’t write, produce, or direct it. That’s just how iconic he is! He even showed up in the film just to kill his character! Seeing Savini’s on-screen death makes me feel how anime fans feel watching their favorite couple finally kiss.
Overall, the film is weird. It’s not a movie that critics will love, but it gives horror fans what they want. Crucially, it’s a film that knows its audience. In addition, it’s very grainy looking and I love that. It makes me feel like I’m doing something morally wrong and adventurous by watching it. I would never buy a Blu-ray version of the film because I want to keep the texture. It feels very grindhouse and that’s why people continue to talk about it over 30 years later. It’s not for serious critics. It’s a movie for its fans and I think that should be celebrated.
Rating: 6/10 (but as a horror fan, 8/10)
Maniac is available on Blu-ray and Digital HD. The film stars Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro.