Maniac (1980) movie poster

(1980) director William Lustig
viewed: 12/17/2011

Maniac is not your average slasher film.  It opens with a scene that might suggest otherwise.  A couple on the beach, sleeping out overnight, get stabbed and scalped by a faceless killer.

However, the film isn’t about a faceless killer.  It’s about Frank Zito, a mixture of David Berkowitz and Norman Bates, with a predilection for scalping women and sleeping with mannequins.  He’s played by character actor Joe Spinell, who also co-wrote the script.  And the film is about the killer.  The only other people who show up are either victims or potential victims.  We don’t have a heroine who we follow throughout, hoping she gets away.  We don’t have a cop or anyone hunting him down.  We just have this overweight, blue collar, middle aged schlub of a killer, rife with Mommy issues.

In a sense, it’s a very realistic portrayal of a serial killer, someone who can appear “normal” on the outside, but is driven by whatever demons.  For Zito, his mother was a tramp who abused him and died in a tragic accident when he was still a child. He’s all about the abandonment issues and carries on dialogues with his mother and his imaginary girlfriends.  He’s almost sympathetic.  More just pathetic, but it’s quite a contrast to the faceless, voiceless, personality-less maniacs who menaced the slasher genre.

The film also features some pretty effective gore.  Special effects master, Tom Savini, pulls off some gruesome scalps and even has his own head shotgun-blasted in one of the film’s signature scenes.

It comes from director William Lustig, he of Maniac Cop (1988) fame.  And Maniac Cop 2 (1990).  And Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1993).  I guess he likes the word “maniac”.

Maniac is an oddity.  Not a bad oddity, just unusual.