Maniac (1980)

William Lustig took the profits from 1977’s Hot Honey to make this guerilla shot piece of sleazy, slimy slasher brilliance. The other money came from half of star Joe Spinell’s salary from Nighthawks and British producer Judd Hamilton came up with the rest of the money (around $200,000) with one condition: his then-wife Caroline Munro would be the heroine.

Originally, her role was to be played by Daria Nicolodi, but she was unable to go to New York for filming because she was still filming her scenes for Inferno in Italy. Supposedly, Susan Tyrrell and Jason Miller were both going to be in the movie too.

Just to give you an idea of how outlaw this movie was, for the scene where Frank Zito — the film’s titular maniac — kills Tom Savini in a scene inspired by the Son of Sam, Savini had a cast waiting filled with blood and leftover food. He blasted it with a live shotgun, threw it in the trunk of assistant Luke Walter’s car and they all drove off. No permits. No asking for permission. No prisoners.

PS — That body that gets its head blown off? Its name was Boris and it also shows up in Dawn of the Dead. After this movie, According to Savini, it was locked in the trunk of the car used in the shotgun scene and both were sunk in the East River.

Maniac is nothing without Spinell, whose rantings and maniacal look lend this movie its soul, as gross and covered with muck as it may be. He was abused by his prostitute mother and has turned his rage into a need to destroy women. He does so in all manner of ways, always ending up by scalping them and placing their hair on the mannequins he keeps in his squalid apartment.

This movie is everything horrible that everyone ever told you that horror movies were. It has no redeeming qualities or pretentions to art. It’s as rough as it gets, like Pieces if that movie wasn’t so funny.

Believe it or not — this is a positive review.

I’ve always held off from watching this movie but I’m glad I did. Spinell was nothing short of brilliant in everything I’ve ever seen him in and this one just keeps that trend going. I love him in CruisingNighthawks and the Rocky films.

The only strange thing to me is how Anna (Caroline Munro!) is willing to be in the same orbit as Zito. It’s a small point. After all, they did three movies together (Starcrash and The Last Horror Film are the other two).

Abigail Clayton, who plays a victim named Rita, was an adult actress who successfully moved into mainstream roles. Sharon Mitchell also shows up as a nurse, as does Carol Henry (Bloodsucking Freaks), Hyla Marrow (also in Lustig’s Vigilante), Rita Montone (who was in Bloodsucking Freaks and The Children) and Kelly Piper (Rawhead Rex and Vice Squad),.

Maniac was a green movie, as it recycled two big things from past films: you can spot the headless corpse of Betsy Palmer from Friday the 13th in Zito’s hovel and the helicopter shots were taken from Argento’s Inferno.

This was remade in 2012, but I still haven’t seen that yet. I kind of don’t want to ruin the power of this movie, a film so strange that it’s not even sure of the fate of its main character even as the film draws to a close.

You can watch this on Vudu and Shudder. Also, Blue Underground — Lustig’s company — has an incredible 3-disc version of this that is the last word on the film, at least until we can beam movies directly into brains.

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