PLOT: A disturbed man stalks and kills women in New York City.
It’s the simplest of plots, but Maniac is just that grimey type of movie any horror film fan loves to come across. Low-budget, practical effects-driven, and just enough seediness to make this one a great watch.
I always loved the aesthetic of 1970s/early 1980s New York. My parents grew up around that time in Brooklyn, and just the dirtiness of the city fascinates me. Now, while still with its own amount of filth, New York feels more corporate than this by-gone era. And sure, for quality of life, this is assuredly a good thing, but I miss seeing this unkempt side of the Big Apple in films.
This movie plays much like a cross between Taxi Driver and Psycho, as our lead character, Frank Zito (played by Joe Spinell) takes his sexual hang-ups out on the women he meets. Spinell looks like a fully-clothed Ron Jeremy, and it’s a shame that we don’t seem to get many movies that look like imperfect people, because Spinell is kind of great in this movie, and I can only assume that there’s something missing in the remake starring the objectively handsome and non-threatening Elijah Wood in the lead role. Spinell fits right in with the dirty streets of New York City, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Spinell was a lifelong New Yorker, and as the co-writer, the film surely owes Spinell for its authentic feel.
Zito stalks a number of women, eventually murdering them in some truly gruesome ways, whether by strangling with his bare hands, choking them with piano wire, or blowing her away with a rifle at close range. Zito feels inspired by a number of different serial killers, but perhaps he most aligns with David Berkowitz, given the time and place this movie calls home.
The kills in the movie are well done, and should be surprising when you see that the film boasts special effects from Tom Savini, which is always a great thing to see in the credits. One scene in particular, including himself being exploded is a treat for the gorehound. In addition to all that, this film also has Caroline Munro, and not only is she easy on the eyes, but both her and Spinell had roles in the absurd sci-fi flick Starcrash, so that’s an added little value.
Maniac takes the slasher film and puts you in the shoes of the killer, which is unique enough, but we hardly ever get true urban horror films, so this film scratches an itch I didn’t really think I had. It’s equal parts Psycho, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and Taxi Driver in one grimy package and I appreciate that wholly.
OVERALL Rating: 7 out of 10