Manaic (1980) - This review is part of the Final Girl Movie Club, the talented and entertaining Final girl Stacie Ponder continues to thrill her fans with her comic RPG. Check her out at her website Final Girl. Maniac was made the same year as Friday the 13th but it is quite a different movie. Friday the 13th released in over 1000 theaters with a surprisingly large advertising budget, while Maniac struggled without the push. It was made for $350,000 and took in a total of six million. Sure both killers seek out and murder all based from a past trauma but they are far from the same kind of movie. F13th would go on to create a modern day classic monster in Jason Voorhees while Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) would not be heard of again. Both films have special effects by Tom Savini but Maniac for all its faults have far superior gore.
The best piece being Tom Savini blowing his own head to pieces. It is surprising that this film is getting a remake this year starring Elijah Wood. This is a film on the dark side of the slasher film. Instead of any mystery at all we follow a killer and learn in excruciating detail the trauma that has set the crazy to murdering. We watch his crazy habits and slowly the reveal is what his Mother did to him that made him so nuts.
We start right away in this film with a killing, two lovers are having a fire on the beach and when the man in the couple heads out to collect more firewood the Killer's POV shows the killer moving in on the woman. He slits her throat with a straight edge and then waits in hiding to come up behind the man and strangles him with a wire. Then our killer wakes from a nightmare and the film credits start.
Frank Zito is a disturbed man, scarred from a child hood of abused he lives the life of a maniac. Compelled to keep his prostitute mother with him forever he is constantly seeking her out in the female victims he kills. Then he in his whacked out thinking takes their scalps and nails them onto the heads of mannequins that he sleeps next to.
Early on we are forced to watch him kill a prostitute after an inability to get through the act of fornication. Really what the film is doing is slowly showing Frank's sickness and violent behavior while also giving more and more information about how he became so damaged. After the killing we get to see Frank struggle and cry, really trying to get us to sympathize with him, but then the film shows him as he cuts the scalp from the prostitute and any sympathy gained is lost.
We get this for the entire movie, moments of Frank in anguish and then him doing some base behavior that reminds us there is nothing redeemable in this character. So instead of continuing on droning about his kills let me just say the special effects are exceptional. From the multiple slice scenes to the over the top and wonderfully done shot gun to Tom Savini's head, there is great gore for those who like that sort of thing.
You think things are going to change when he meets photographer Anna ( the lovely Caroline Munro) who for some inexplicable reason is attracted to this fat awkward and ugly man.He stalks her a bit but is charming enough to get her to go out on several dates with him. I suppose the audience is supposed to think that he may be the beast changed by the introduction of his beauty. You just can't with this film though, Frank is completely unlikable and you know there is not a bit of sane in his crazy head. Hell the internal dialog we are forced to hear throughout the film is compelling in letting the viewer know he will never recover from his sickness.
When Frank stalks and kidnaps one of Anna's models, Rita (porn star Abigail Clayton) we are forced to get the reliving Frank does of his relationship with his mother before seeing his victims as her and killing them so he can keep them forever. There is a progression here with Frank going further in each of his kills. So it is just a matter of time before he snaps completely and makes the mistake that gets him caught or killed. So will Anna be a victim? It is really the only compelling question in the film.
I have to say I so dislike Frank that this movie was just painful to watch. I so did not care one way or the other about his condition. I just wanted the gross film to end. When all is said and done a crazy killer is just that, I really don't want to care for him.
Rating (3.5) 5.0 and up are recommended, but some more recommended than others.