Story by Joe Spinell
Screenplay by Joe Spinell and C.A. Rosenberg
Directed by William Lustig
Maniac is an infamous film, a violent slasher that is almost entirely focused on the killer. The film faced criticism upon release due to violence against women, but became a hit and has gone on to become a genre classic. The film is far more complicated than just a simple slasher film. Co-written by and starring Joe Spinell, Maniac is disturbing, but well-crafted and delivers suspense and terror in a way modern horror has shifted away from.
I saw Maniac at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (yes, Maniac was screened at a museum!) in their Bay Area Now 7 program, under the Invasion of the Cinemaniacs! heading, specifically the part curated by Jesse Hawthorne Ficks of Midnite for Maniacs, who hosted two William Lustig triple features (a sextuple feature?) spread across two days. Maniac screened with Vigilante and Hit List, while the next night was all three Maniac Cop films. William Lustig himself was in attendance, and did some entertaining Q and As. Lustig is very charismatic and shared stories about filming and some of the actors/producers of his films. I’ve included some of what he mentioned in the reviews. What I like about screenings like this is I would probably never just watch Maniac on my own. Horror/slasher films aren’t really my bag, but to see it as part of a screening group like this makes it just fit in. Watching film is all about expanding your horizons, because you never know what you will discover when you leave your comfort zones. I try to follow that philosophy at TarsTarkas.NET, hence part of why we cover such a diverse range of global cinema.
Maniac follows Frank Zito as he embarks on a crusade of terror in the streets of New York City, stalking and slaying women, then scalping them and dressing mannequins up in their clothes, with the scalps nailed to the heads. Much of the film is Frank following the various women and the ladies responding in terror, the tension building as their attempts to escape become dashed again and again. In between we see Frank breaking down in his apartment, conflicted by his compulsion, but unable to do anything to stop it. Frank has issues about his abusive dead mother. In a conversation with photographer Anna D’Antoni (Caroline Munro) in the film’s loose plot narrative, Frank talks about photos as a way to preserve the women forever. Frank’s talks with Anna are about as normal as he gets, but the facade can’t last long and soon he’s breaking down and hallucinating his dead mother is attacking him in a graveyard. Frank’s demons are his ultimate undoing, his destructive force turning upon himself.