Maniac: 3-Disc Limited Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Blue Underground
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (18th December 2018).
The Film

"Maniac" is a horror classic, and for the first time presented in a new 4K restoration, starring Joe Spinell as Frank Zito; a deeply disturbed individual with serious childhood abuse issues, who haunts the gritty streets of New York, in search of the perfect victim. This is a grindhouse classic and whoever sees this film is hardly likely to forget it. This was the third film by director William Lustig and the screenplay was written by Joe Spinell and C.A. Rosenberg, with Spinell getting an executive producer credit as well. This is not your average splatter film by any means. It is actually a character study of a depraved individual who struggles to control his volatile urges.

Talk about a time capsule, this film is exactly that. New York City was a grimy place to live, the crime rate was through the roof, Times Square and its surrounding areas were exactly the sort of places that Frank Zito could be found. Many New Yorkers still recalled the panic that gripped the city during the mid-70's caused by a nut job that called himself “The Son of Sam” and his MO was primarily to shoot at young lovers as they sat in their cars after a night out. The scene with the young couple under the bridge is a grim reminder of exactly this same type of crime. I am sure that theatre goers squirmed uneasily when Frank stalked and killed the lovers with art reflecting life once again.

Joe Spinell was hardly a Hollywood star but he did have a certain something about him that the camera liked and he traded his stocky frame and brooding looks for supporting roles in several Hollywood films: "The Godfather" in 1972 as Willie Cicci, in 1973 he was in Aram Avakian’s film "Cops and Robbers", again in 1973 he had a small part in Philip D'Antoni’s "The Seven-Ups", in 1974 he was once again portraying gangster Cicci in "The Godfather Part II". In 1976 he had a small role in Martin Scorsese’s pivotal film "Taxi Driver" and then he sort of hit the jackpot by appearing in "Rocky". In 1978 Spinell landed a major role in Lugi Cozzi’s science fiction film "Starcrash". In 1980 he played a cop in William Friedkin’s thriller "Cruising", co-starring with Al Pacino. Then he drafted the story of a tortured serial killer named Frank Zito in "Maniac". Spinell usually portrayed various heavies in these films but there is no denying the fact that something happens when he is on screen. Definitely a character actor, Spinell always brought certain level of realism to these roles and even though he may not be a central character, one cannot help but feel a certain connection to his roles.

In the audio commentary track, director Lustig says that Spinell believed that childhood abuse led to a person becoming a killer later on in life. Research has proven that theory to be fairly true and in the first few minutes of the film there is a moment when Frank Zito gazes in the mirror at the cigarette burns that adorn his chest. We are fairly certain that Frank has a mother fixation and he is often heard talking to the mannequins that clutter his room, saying things that only he understands, answering the voices that ring inside his head. Many films in the past have addressed characters with mental instability, but Spinell is absolutely authentic in his portrayal of a mother obsessed killer. Part of the overall believability is the extensive footage of the Times Square area and its environs. The film is like a short circuited memory from the The Son of Sam’s warped brain; Frank’s basement apartment is windowless and cramped, the walls adorned with odd pictures torn from various magazines and scotch taped to the walls. If we take the idea that the apartment is a visual representation of what is inside Frank’s head, then the thoughts that plague him must be hellish and obscene. In the scene that shows Frank in bed with his latest acquisition, he recalls Uncle Charlie in Alfred Hitchcock’s fascinating "Shadow of a Doubt" (1943) when Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) describes the widows of Santa Rosa and elsewhere as “women, middle-aged widows, husbands’ dead, husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and leave their money to their wives, their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands. Drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge. Playing all day and all night. Smelling of money. Proud of their jewelry but of nothing else. Horrible, faded, fat, greedy women....” - Frank Zito is the newer version of Uncle Charlie, decked out in his hunting regalia and armed with an exacto knife in his back pocket, ready to kill some helpless woman simply because she is attractive and not attracted to Frank. The voices in his head command him to kill, to destroy this victim, and that is all the reasons that the viewer needs to understand his motivations.

Frank is also combination of Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates and an early version of Ted Bundy as he sits in his squalid cramped apartment with its chartreuse painted walls and the bizarre mannequins whose hands menacingly stretch out grabbing at nothing, wearing the clothes of Frank’s latest victim, not to mention their blood stained scalps that Frank has so carefully nailed to their heads. These scenes reminded me of what it must have been like when the sheriff and his men first stumbled upon the horrors on display in Ed Gein’s farmhouse in Wisconsin in 1957. I am sure that Lustig had this in mind when he was hired to bring Frank’s twisted world into view.

The plot, if you can refer to it as such, is essentially Frank on the prowl as he walks around looking for a victim. The film begins with a dream sequence where a couple on the beach are both brutally killed, but because Frank wakes up screaming, we are not sure if it is an actual memory or merely a nightmare. A newspaper headline glimpsed later on clues us into the reality of the situation; Frank is indeed the maniac on the loose. What motivates Frank is not discussed but through his actions we gather that his mother was a prostitute and that she used to lock Frank in the closet while she entertained her guests. The scenes in Frank’s dank apartment are claustrophobic and unnerving; in this small space, Frank shares his bed with a female mannequin while several others lean against the wall. The mannequin’s all feature wild heads of hair: unkempt, tangled and blood soaked. Frank uses a zip knife to scalp his victims, bringing their bloody remains home in a plastic bag. Talking to the mannequins and possibly answering the unheard voice in his head, Frank reassures his bedmate that she will never leave him. “You think they don’t know. They do. I heard it, and I know. They all know, and I don’t like it anymore. But you don’t listen, do you? You’re right about all them. They’re all the same. I know what they’re all like. Just because I can’t do all the things you do, doesn’t mean I don’t see it all the same.” - this monologue continues throughout the film whenever Frank is alone in his apartment and it seems like Frank is having a one way conversation with someone that isn’t present. It might be Frank’s mother or it may be a voice in his head. It isn’t clear who the audience is intended to be, but Frank is displaying a disturbing side of his personality.

Later on Frank encounters a woman taking photographs in the park and unbeknown to her, he has secretively obtains her name by slyly getting it from her photography bag address label. This will be a key sequence because the Frank that engages in conversation with her is relatively normal. Frank asks her out to dinner and surprisingly she says yes. The persona that Frank shows Anna (Caroline Munro) is that of an intelligent man who is interested in art and he speaks eloquently about the artist’s intentions and the purpose of art. But knowing that Frank is a killer gives his words a sinister tint; he speaks of possession, of the photographer that captures his model in his lens and who now owns that person for all eternity. Ted Bundy also had mentioned the act of possession as one of the motivations for his killing spree. “Remember, it was the possession of this desired thing, which was, in itself—the very act of assuming possession was a very antisocial act—was giving expression to this person’s need to seize something that was uh, uh, highly valued, at least on the surface, by society.” (Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer, Michaud & Aynesworth, 1989). Bundy was only willing to speak about his crimes in the persona of the third person thus allowing him to speak freely without indicating any guilt. Frank is definitely from the same mold as Bundy and when he talks about photography and the act of possession, it is almost identical in its intent. Frank is addicted to the act of murder and even though he understands that it is wrong and that society suffers because of his actions, he is helpless to control his desires. The voice inside his head speaks to Frank and he is forced to listen to what it says and that is why he tells his newest mannequin “That he needs to go out tonight.” No matter what the body count is, the voice in his head demands more and more carnage.

There is a bizarre balance depicted in the film and at times one wants to laugh at the ramblings of the namesake; “You tell me what I should do. I heard about it. I always do. I can’t go out for a minute. It’s impossible. Fancy girls and their fancy dresses and their lipstick, laughing and dancing. But you stop them, don’t you? I can’t stop them. But you do, don’t you? Then they can’t laugh and they can’t dance anymore. So you got to stop or they’ll take you away from me.” - this speech mirrors what Uncle Charlie tells his innocent niece in the tavern about the rich widows. Essentially it is the victim’s fault that they have been killed. If they only had stayed at home behind locked doors and with the shades drawn, then Frank wouldn’t be forced to go out and hunt. But later on when Frank appears at Rita’s (Abigail Clayton) apartment, he manages a way to enter her home without her knowing that he is there. Frank appears out of nowhere and tackles Rita in the hallway and then while telling her that he isn’t going to harm her, he thrusts his stiletto into her chest. Lying on top of his victim in a post coital embrace, Frank can only moan helplessly and call for his mommy. Soon Frank is carrying into his lair yet another mannequin and fastening her bloody scalp to the dummies head. Frank’s crimes continue to advance in succession, with each killing becoming a little more depraved as he desperately attempts to satisfy his bloodlust. In this sense, art reflects reality, just like Bundy continued to take bigger and bigger risks, exiting from a blood soaked sorority house in Florida only to enter another victim’s house a few blocks away, his hunger still not satiated. Like Frank Zito, the killer is determined to get his fair share of victims, no matter what odds must be hurdled.

The film becomes almost surreal in its ending as Frank has attempted to kill Anna while visiting his mother’s grave site and he images that his mother rises from the grave to give her loving son one last embrace. Anna barely escapes but manages to wound Frank with a shovel in the arm and he returns back to his apartment where he lies sobbing to himself. Then in a moment of pure directorial bravado, the bloodstained mannequins come to life and attack Frank, literally tearing his head from his body. Two detectives arrive the next morning, kicking in the door, only to find the body of the maniac lying in bed, blood soaking the mattress from his wound. It appears that Frank is deceased and then the camera zooms in for a final close up of his pock marked face, only to have an eye open and stare at the viewer. All that was missing was the end credits that read “The End?”

The film looks pretty great for something that was originally shot in 16mm and then blown up to 35mm. Sure there are plenty of under lit scenes and some awkward camera work, but this is nonetheless the best that this film has ever looked. The real reason to seek this film out is simply for Spinell’s performance which borders on unsettling at times. The scenes where Frank is caressing a new mannequin and lovingly combing its hair, all the while speaking about how unfair mommy was to him, is the essence of true horror. Overall this version of the film is superior then ones that came previously and the audio track is superior with Jay Chattaway’s electronic score pulsating in the background. Play the accompanying CD on your home stereo to achieve the full effect of creepiness. I am sure that there are some people that will say no way to checking out this 42nd Street classic, but if you are familiar with Lustig’s twisted vision of a serial killer, then this is the baby to buy. Happy holidays to all you horror fans; have a cool yule!

Video

Presented in widescreen 1.85.1 HD 1080p 24/fps transfer mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression, the film looks a tad muddy at times. I was hoping for a more pristine copy that would display the assorted artwork in Frank’s apartment but it didn’t happen. The film was probably in poor shape to begin with and time has taken its toll on the print quality. However all the extras that Blue Underground sprung for make up for any deficiencies in my opinion. This gem is packed with all sorts of great stuff.

Audio

Many audio options here, in English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround, English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo, French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, and Spanish (Castilian) Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. This is the stuff right here, crisp, clear, 7.1 lossless soundtrack with all dialogue completely identifiable. The surround speakers get a good workout with additional sound surprising me with their production. The shot gun blast scene where Tom Savini loses his head is amazingly reproduced and you would think that someone was firing the gun in your house. Blue Underground did a great job on this front. Optional subtitles are included in Chinese, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Danish, Dutch, English HoH, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Thai.

Extras

Blue Underground has released this film as a 3-Disc "Limited Edition", below is a closer look at these supplements.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

Not one but two separate audio commentary tracks to choose from! The first audio commentary features Producer/Director William Lustig and Producer Andrew W. Garroni. Hear of these crazy filmmakers brave exploits as they bent all the rules shooting guerrilla style on location in NYC.

The second audio commentary is with Producer/Director William Lustig, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli and Joe Spinell’s Assistant/Second Assistant Camera Luke Walter. More madness and behind-the-scenes hijinks with these purveyors of cinematic adventure as they give additional insights into the film’s production, working with Spinell, and the effort that went into the film.

Theatrical trailers, there are seven versions warning you "not to go out tonight", they include:

- "US Hard" theatrical trailer (1:34).
- "US Soft" theatrical trailer (1:21).
- "International" theatrical trailer (3:48).
- French theatrical trailer (1:22).
- German teaser trailer (0:55).
- German theatrical trailer (2:50).
- Italian theatrical trailer (3:24).

There's a collection of 9 TV spots, sanitized versions of the original television ads that ran back in the day:

- TV spot #1: "Stalking" (0:32)
- TV spot #2: "Models" (0:32)
- TV spot #3: "Subway" (0:32)
- TV spot #4: "Helicopter" (0:12)
- TV spot #5: "Car" (0:12)
- TV spot #6: "Cemetery" (0:12)
- TV spot #7: "Toy" (0:12)
- TV spot #8: "Poster" (0:12)
- TV spot #9: "I Warned You" (0:32)

There are also 4 radio spots, these are great and you won’t hear anything like this now talking about a depraved film on the air:

- Radio spot #1 (1:02)
- Radio spot #2 (1:04)
- Radio spot #3 (0:38)
- Radio spot #4 (0:35)

The disc does feature a neat Easter egg William Friedkin talks about "Maniac" can be activated by using the left arrow to highlight the invisible option on the main menu.

DISC TWO: BLU-RAY

Outtakes (18:53), previously lost footage recently found that shows 42nd Street in its heyday with Joe Spinell out walking around the area. Includes some mishaps that occurred while filming. These feature optional audio commentary by Producer/Director William Lustig.

"Anna and the Killer: Interview with Star Caroline Munro" featurette (13:08), a nice piece that features an in-depth interview with Munro where she speaks about her relationship with Spinell, her working with him on previous films, discussion of her character, etc.

"The Death Dealer: Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini" featurette (12:11), a discussion with special effects guru Savini as he talks about working his particular type of magic on the film.

"Dark Notes: Interview with Composer Jay Chattaway" featurette (12:13), an interview with the composer and how he created the appropriate score to this dark film.

"Maniac Men: Interview with Songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky" featurette (10:38), the two men speak about how they composed a song entitled "Maniac", but it ended up being on the Academy Award nominated film "Flashdance" (1983) instead. Even though Spinell insisted that there was a connection between the two, this was a mere urban rumor.

"The Joe Spinell Story" featurette (48:00), Joe Spinell knew everybody in Hollywood and everybody knew Joe. Plenty of stars that have shared screen time with the actor talk about his personality.

"Mr. Robbie, Maniac 2" promo reel (7:00), a proposed sequel to "Maniac" where Spinell plays a children’s television host that is in real life a vigilante.

A sub-section entitled "Publicity" features the following extras:

“Paul Wunder” radio interview with William Lustig, Joe Spinell, and Caroline Munro (19:00). Airing at 5:00 AM, WBAI radio interview with the stars and the director about the production. Sound is questionable but hardcore fans will be fascinated.

"William Lustig on “Movie Madness”" TV segment (47:00), the wildness of NYC Public Access TV, a B&W VHS sourced program that captures the absurdity of these early days.

"Joe Spinell at Cannes" featurette (1:00), Joe Spinell promoting the film at the Cannes Film Festival.

"Joe Spinell on the Joe Franklin Show" TV segment (13:00), this is pure nostalgia served up hot featuring Spinell talking with Franklin about the film.

"Caroline Munro TV interview" TV segment (3:00), an uncomfortable interview with Munro with two simple minded news anchors.

"Barf Bag Review Policy" TV segment (2:00), a NY television film program that features bad films using "Maniac" as its measuring stick.

"Grindhouse Film Festival Q&A" (22:00) this Q&A segment was filmed at a fan festival featuring the usual questions and answers with a live audience.

Still gallery, an extensive collection of 121 still shots from the film including some promotional materials as well.

A sub-section entitled "Controversy" features the following supplements:

"Los Angeles" TV segments, various clips showing the public outrage at the film’s violence and treatment of women:

- Channel 7 News 3/6/81 11:00pm (2:19).
- Channel 11 News 3/6/81 10:30pm (1:35).

"Chicago" TV segments more of the above:

- Channel 2 News 2/3/81 10:00pm (2:13).

"Philadelphia" TV segments, more of the same:

- Channel 10 News 3/2/81 11:00pm (0:29).
- Channel 3 News 3/3/81 6:00pm (1:13).
- Channel 3 News 3/3/81 11:00pm (0:51).
- Channel 6 News 3/3/81 5:30pm (0:54).

“Newsbeat” TV segments, 2 clips from the television show spotlighting violence in films:

- "Violent Movies" (12:45).
- "Movie Violence" (8:26).

“Midnight Blue” TV segments, Screw Magazine Al Goldstein ranting and raving about the promotion of violence while sex is shamefully hidden:

- Al Goldstein rants against violent movies (3:54).
- Al Goldstein mutilates his love doll (2:39).

"Gallery of Outrage" various newspaper reviews (29 text pages), plenty of laughable criticism of the film as a whole.

DISC THREE: CD

A 16 track CD soundtrack from the film.

Includes a 20-page full color booklet with an essay by Michael Gingold.

Packaging

This "3-Disc Limited Edition" comes packaged in a special boxed edition with a 3D cover. A reversible cover is included.

Overall

You can call me a sick fan because of my loyalty to this film, but this is the truest performance of a mentally deranged killer and Spinell’s performance is pure horror gold!

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


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