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Frank Zito is a deeply disturbed man, haunted by the traumas of unspeakable childhood abuse. And when these horrific memories begin to scream inside his mind, Frank prowls the seedy streets of New York City to stalk and slaughter innocent young women. Now Frank has begun a relationship with a beautiful photographer, yet his vile compulsions remain. These are the atrocities of a human monster. This is the story of a MANIAC.
For more about Maniac and the Maniac Blu-ray release, see the Maniac Blu-ray Review
Starring: Joe Spinell, Kelly Piper, Caroline Munro, Abigail Clayton, Rita Montone, Tom Savini
Director: William Lustig
» See full cast & crew
Maniac Blu-ray Review
He's a man-i-ac, man-i-ac in the city!
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 14, 2010
It's got to stop.
Maniac. That's as succinct and apt a title as there ever was, and it's the perfect descriptor of the main character in Director William Lustig's disturbing profile of a psychologically-warped individual who struggles through his violent outbursts but can't stop himself from doing wrong, even as his moral compass desperately tries to steer him away from his perverse actions. Maniac is about the mind of a killer and not his physical misdeeds; while the stalking and killing of his prey form the bulk of the picture's runtime, it's those moments where he attempts to rationalize his actions or, more relevant to the plot, prevent himself from going against his better judgment by once again killing innocent women that truly shape and define the film. Maniac is one of the more purely frightening pictures on record, not for its violence but for its incredible portrayal of a man at war with himself, struggling to ward off those maniacal desires from which he simply cannot escape, ignore, or prevent. Backed by a stunningly complex and poignant performance by Joe Spinell (The Godfather), Maniac is a terrifying portrait of a man torn between right and wrong who can distinguish between the two but cannot stop himself from acting on his most unspeakable desires.
Frank Zito (Spinell) is a diseased man. Haunted by a past he cannot forget and unable to control his action in the present, he hunts down women and murders them in an effort to cope with past wrongs and misdeeds that left him a broken and scared man. Although he hates what he does and who he's become, the temptation to kill proves too much, and he puts a city on edge with every new and grisly killing. Zito scalps his female victims, takes their clothes, and decorates his collection of mannequins with his prizes. Hs creations satisfy him only for a short time; when the novelty has worn off, he goes against his better judgment and begins the cycle all over again. While in search of his next victim, Frank's picture is snapped by a local photographer named Anna (Caroline Munro, Starcrash), and the two develop a relationship with romantic possibilities. Around Anna, Frank is a different person; he's a perfect gentleman and the perfect date, a man of many charms and an innocence and humbleness that Anna cannot resist. As their relationship blossoms, Frank continues to kill. Can an unaware Anna salvage whatever humanity may be left inside Frank, or will his addiction make her just another victim to decorate Frank's newest mannequin?
For Frank Zito, killing is an addiction. Whereas some people struggle with a guilt complex that's a result of eating too much junk food or smoking too many cigarettes, Zito finds that he cannot stop killing, even against his better judgment and even as he understands the damage it's doing to himself and the world around him. He knows what he does is wrong, but he can't break himself of the habit, that innate desire, that nagging urge that won't go away, and once he's done the deed, his guilt and the pain he suffers as a result tears at his very core. Frank doesn't kill for no reason; he's rationalized the murders as a means of coping with personal tragedy and loss, but he knows that murder isn't the proper outlet for his regrets, frustrations, and senses of despair and loss. William Lustig's Maniac is a carefully-constructed film, one that's deliberate almost to a fault but that allows the true horrors that play out both on-screen and within Frank's mind to saturate the screen and permeate the deepest recesses of the audiences' consciousness. Maniac is at once both disgusting and beautiful; it's a film that's almost impossible to watch for both the violence on display and the agony that tears through a man's soul, but viewers at the same time cant help but admire the craftsmanship and impeccable performance that makes it one of the most psychologically terrifying films ever made. That it can find such an intimacy in the way it frames Frank Zito and make the audience both disgusted with and sympathetic towards him is almost a singular achievement in cinema. Maniac is gripping stuff, and despite the gruesomeness that plays out on the screen and the uneasiness that quickly settles into the viewers' collective gut, it's a film that's impossible to resist, if only to see how much good can be found in a movie that's this visually and thematically ugly and upsetting.
Although Maniac begins with a sequence that just screams Horror cheese -- highlighting a grunting killer, punctuating the terror with a score built around shrieking highs, and capped off by an awfully phony-looking pair of kill scenes -- it becomes clear as the picture moves on that there's much more here than a simple slasher picture. The emotional and psychological depth that separates Maniac from most other genre films is readily evident, but there's plenty more in store that elevates the film to heights rarely achieved in the Horror genre. The combination of William Lustig behind the camera and Joe Spinell in front of it makes for one of the best one-two punches in Horror movie history. Spinell's disquieting performance is exceptional, and Lustig's direction accentuates Frank Zito's instability to unsettling perfection. Spinell's ability to play what amounts to three distinct characters -- a crazed killer, a remorseful victim of his own doing, and a sweet and honest boyfriend to a local photographer -- makes his one of the best performances ever to grace a Horror movie, and no doubt Maniac simply wouldn't work without an actor capable of pulling off all three of the diverse styles the part demands. Spinell's remarkable effort is supported by both Lustig and special effects technician extraordinaire Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead), neither of whom shy away from the here necessary ultra-violence that plays throughout the picture. In Maniac, the excess gruesomeness only serves to accentuate the story and further reinforce the ugly deeds and the resultant torn conscience of the lead character; the grotesque scalpings, severe shotgun blasts, stabbings, and mutilations are tough to look at but they're done with purpose rather than merely for the sake of covering the screen with excess gore. That balance between the unspeakable acts of violence and the resultant further tearing of Zito's soul is necessary in making the movie work at such an effective level. Finally, Maniac uses sound and score to excellent effect; the picture captures a haunting, shrieking, almost otherworldly soundtrack to accentuate both the physical violence and the internal struggle of the main character, putting the finishing touches on one of Horror's best and most effective films.
Maniac Blu-ray, Video Quality
Maniac's 1080p transfer looks awfully rough, to say the least. One can expect a lesser quality from a picture filmed at 16mm, but Maniac looks particularly murky and flat, even for a lower resolution film. The image is home to some chunky background noise -- differentiated from its heavy grain structure -- plenty of blocking, and generally poor color gradations. Colors are dim throughout, and details are flat and almost nonexistent in most every shot, whether analyzing close-up shots of actors, building faēades, or a streetwalker's fur coat. Black crush is evident in some places, and blacks look pale in others. Several static white spots appear and remain for extended periods of time, while the image briefly stutters in chapter 11. A few random pops, scratches, and stray lines are also visible throughout. Maniac's transfer is simply tough to judge. This isn't a pretty film by any means, and the lower resolution of 16mm film, combined with a generally dark atmosphere, low light conditions, and small budget certainly do no favors for the film's innate picture quality; that roughness is ever-present on this Blu-ray release.
Maniac Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Maniac's DTS-HD MA 7.1 lossless soundtrack fares much better than its video counterpart. Full, crisp, spacious, and clear, Blue Underground's soundtrack excels on the high definition format and supports the movie extremely well. The track's score features a string of strongly-realized highs, a solid midrange, and an excellent low end, with the highs and lows in particular playing off one another and making for some superbly chilling sonic Horror elements. The surround speakers offer their full support to the music, whether helping out with Jay Chattaway's ("Star Trek: Voyager") excellent score, various restaurant atmospherics, or echoing voices. The film's famous shotgun blasts play as startlingly real and with that powerful but somewhat tinny sound that accompanies them; listeners who have fired such a weapon in real life will be surprised with how accurate the blasts sound. Dialogue is clear and precise, even if it comes off as a bit shrill at times, and it remains focused up the middle. Blue Underground is to be commended on the incredible quality of this lossless soundtrack.
Maniac Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Blue Underground has splurged on this Blu-ray release of Maniac, providing a plethora of bonus features spread across two discs. Disc one begins with a pair of audio commentary tracks, the first with Co-Producer/Director William Lustig and Co-Producer Andrew W. Garroni. Recorded in July 2010, this track is typically excellent of a Lustig commentary. He speaks on the film's inspiration (Jaws, oddly enough), trivia from the set, parallels between the film and a real-life event, the challenges that presented themselves during the making of the film, Joe Spinell's performance, the film's budget and sources of the monies needed to finish it, the picture's gore and special effects, securing the rights to use music, the picture's unique feel, selling the picture, its legacy and reaction, life on home video, and much more. As always, Lustig is energetic, honest, and eager to share his insights into the film. This is an excellent track that fans will adore. The second track also features Co-Producer/Director William Lustig, this time accompanied by Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Joe Spinell's Assistant Luke Walter. Though some information repeats, there's plenty of interesting tidbits to be found. The commentators discuss the history of the production, the low budget and technical limitations, shooting locales, Joe Spinell's off-screen contributions and dedication to the picture, production design, special effects, and plenty more. Again, this track is full of energy and sincerity, making it, too, a must-listen.
Disc one continues with Anna and the Killer -- Interview with Star Caroline Munro (1080p, 13:08), a fine piece that features the actress discussing her reaction to the film, her personal history, her work with Joe Spinell on Starcrash, landing the role in Maniac, the character she plays, her reaction to the final film, and more. Both The Death Dealer -- Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini (1080p, 12:11) and Dark Notes -- Interview with Composer Jay Chattway (1080p, 12:13) feature the legendary effects guru and composer, respectively, discussing their work on the film. Next up is Maniac Men -- Interview with Songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky (1080p, 10:38), a piece hosted by William Lustig that looks at the controversy surrounding an Academy Award-nominated song for Flashdance but that was, supposedly, originally written for Maniac. Next up is a series of trailers: U.S. 'Hard' Trailer (1080p, 1:34), U.S. 'Soft' Trailer (1080p, 1:21), International Trailer (480p, 3:48), French Trailer (480p, 1:22), German Teaser (480p, 0:55), German Trailer (480p, 2:50), and Italian Trailer (480p, 3:24). Nine TV spots (480p, 3:09 combined runtime), four radio spots (1080p, 3:13), and Mr. Robbie: 'Maniac 2' Promo Reel (1080p, 7:28) are also included. The easter egg William Friedkin Talks About 'Maniac' (1080p, 0:54) may be found by using the left arrow to highlight an invisible option on the main menu screen.
Disc two is a DVD with several additional features. The Joe Spinell Story (480p, 49:12) is a captivating documentary by David Gregory that features Joe's family, friends, and colleagues recalling his childhood, his personality, his courage in approaching top directors like William Friedkin and Francis Ford Coppola for parts, his natural acting abilities, the sort of characters he played, his life and hobbies outside the world of cinema, the films in which he starred, his unique personality, and more, with an emphasis in the second half of the documentary on his work in Maniac and the actors' personal downfall and untimely death. 'Maniac Publicity' contains a host of extras not found on the primary disc. 'Paul Wunder' Radio Interview with William Lustig, Joe Spinell, and Carline Munro (480p, 19:11) is an interview piece with the film's cast and crew discussing Maniac's violence, its purpose, the picture's quality and legitimacy, and more. William Lustig on 'Movie Madness' (480p, 47:18) features Lustig fielding questions from the host and callers on a black-and-white call-in show, originally recorded on February 18, 1981. Joe Spinell at Cannes (480p, 0:44) features the Maniac actor at the famed festival. Joe Spinell on 'The Joe Franklin Show' (480p, 13:13) and Carline Munro TV Interview (480p, 2:54) both feature the main actors giving televised interviews. Next is Barf Bag Review Policy (480p, 2:10), a short piece that features television critic Katie Kelly setting up a new ratings system for bad movies, but she fails to actually give Maniac a rating (though it's not hard to guess what she'd give it). Grindhouse Film Festival Q&A (480p, 22:20) features Lustig and others fielding questions from an audience prior to a screening of Maniac. Rounding out this section is Maniac Publicity, a still gallery.
The last tab features 'Maniac Controversy', an assortment of regionally-categorized negative reactions to the film. Things begin in Los Angeles with three segments: Channel 7 News, 3/6/81, 11:00PM (480p, 2:19), Channel 11 News, 3/6/81, 10:30PM (480p, 1:35), and NBC Tomorrow Show, 3/10/81 (480p, 3:55). Chicago features Channel 2 News, 2/3/81, 10:00PM (480p, 2:14). Philadelphia contains four segments: Channel 10 News, 3/2/81, 11:00PM (480p, 0:29), Channel 3 News, 3/3/81, 6:00PM (480p, 1:13), Channel 3 News, 3/3/81, 11:00PM (480p, 0:51), and Channel 6 News, 3/3/81, 5:30PM (480p, 0:54). Newsbeat contains two segments, Violent Movies (480p, 12:45) and Movie Violence (480p, 8:27). Next is Midnight Blue, featuring two clips: Al Goldstein Rants Against Violent Movies (480p, 3:54) and Al Goldstein Mutilates His Love Doll 480p, 2:39). Finally, Gallery of Outrage features a plethora of negative critic quotes, as well as a letter from the Philippines' Board of Review for Motion Pictures & Television.
Maniac Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Maniac isn't for everyone. Even seasoned Horror veterans may be put off not by the gore but instead by the deeply unsettling psychological overtones that permeate the film and haunt the audience. It's one thing to watch a hulking killer slaughter his prey for no real reason; it's another entirely to bear witness to a man who is almost detached from his body, unable to stop his actions and paying the price at the expense of his devastated soul. Maniac works thanks to a one-of-a-kind performance from the late Joe Spinell that's supported by well-done gore, fantastic direction, and an incredible soundtrack. Maniac is a tough watch, but for those who can look past the superficial faēade and see the film's value beyond its shock factor will be rewarded with a masterpiece of Horror. Blue Underground has once again delivered a high quality Blu-ray release for one of the top titles in its catalogue. Although the video transfer is rough, the lossless soundtrack is fantastic and two discs worth of wonderful extras make this a package that's easily recommended.
Maniac: Other Editions
Maniac Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Maniac Cop Blu-ray - September 8, 2011
This October, Synapse Films will bring Maniac Cop to Blu-ray. Directed by William Lustig (Maniac) the horror film tells the story of a former police officer (Robert Z'dar, Tango & Cash ) butchering innocent civilians in New York City. Co-starring Tom Atkins (Drive ...
• Maniac Blu-ray in Time for Halloween - June 29, 2010
Blue Underground has announced Maniac for release on a two-disc special edition Blu-ray on October 26. Directed by William Lustig and featuring landmark gore effects by Tom Savini, this relentlessly shocking and disturbing film was originally censored all over ...
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