Review Date: August 31, 2001
Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release date: 8/21/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
"Who's the best killer?" On Internet horror movie message boards, not a day goes by without some kid with a screen name like "Michael_Myers_69" asking an inane question like this. Most of the time, everyone cites their personal "heroes" like Michael Myers from Halloween or Jason Vorhees from the Friday the 13th movies. This always strikes me as odd; aren't these characters supposed to FRIGHTEN us, rather than make us cheer for them? Obviously, the producers feel the same way, as they create tons of sequels about these killers, and not the protagonists. One movie, however, decided to show us a serial killer as a deranged, disturbed, evil person. That movie is 1980's Maniac
. It may not be an entertaining film, but simply put, it's required viewing for any horror fan.
's story is about as threadbare as they come. Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) is an insane killer. The movie opens with him stalking and killing a couple at the beach, and for about 45 minutes, that's all we have: Stalking and killing. Zito kills women, scalps them, and uses his trophies on a crew of mannequins in his apartment. Dialogue is almost nil; most of it being conversations that Zito has with himself.
Midway through the film, Zito meets Anna (Caroline Munro), a beautiful photographer. They begin a rather strange romance, Anna completely unaware that she's dating a vicious killer. But the skeletons in Zito's closet (almost literally!) surface eventually, and Anna tries to escape Zito as he slips completely into madness.
I'd like to say more about the story, but that's really all there is. By stripping down the story to such a minimal level, we're forced to deal with who Frank Zito is. He is simply a mad killer. He picks his victims almost at random and brutally kills them. We get a little insight into Zito's upbringing, when he was apparently a very abused child. Thus he's in some ways a character that elicits our sympathy, yet at the same time we're completely disgusted at his actions. Spinell plays the character perfectly, both brutal and pathetic, often at the same time. His monologues, where he's carrying on a conversation with a non-existent person (perhaps his dead mother) are unsettling to say the least.
's only weakness is the Anna/Frank romance. Director William Lustig felt somewhat the same way, as his director's cut of this movie omits a 3-minute sequence where Frank and Anna have dinner. This scene was added as a supplement on Elite Entertainment's previous DVD/Laserdisc release, but Anchor Bay has placed this scene back in the film. With or without it, the whole story arc seems more than a little out of place. Zito seems suddenly normal, and why a gorgeous woman like Anna would date someone like him must have made several viewers scratch their heads. It does serve some purpose, as Zito uses his friendship with Anna to find new victims, as well as giving the viewer somewhat of a break between the murder scenes which dominate the early part of the film, and the end where Zito descends into complete madness. While I can't argue with someone putting the gorgeous Caroline Munro on screen, it just doesn't quite fit with the rest of the movie's motif.
Overall, Lustig made one of the darkest films of all time. There's no symbolism here, like in Pasolini's Salo. Murder is simply that: Murder. It represents nothing else. This is what makes the film so hard to watch. Even Lustig seems disgusted at times, as he often will follow close-up shots with extreme long-distance shots, as if he's trying to distance himself from Zito. (Or maybe that's just a coincidence. Lustig was a first-time filmmaker). It's not the "roller-coaster ride" that so many films strive to achieve. Yet that's what makes it so important.
The world of horror films is dominated by the "franchise" films (Friday the 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser, A Nightmare on Elm Street, et al). Producers emphasize the killers, not the innocent victims. Yet these killers are almost folk heroes, with their creative killing methods and wisecracks. A serial killer is one we should fear, not one we should root for. To make a movie where we see what a serial killer is really like, and to see things from his point of view rather than the victims, is radically different. Many groups were extremely outraged by Maniac
, and felt it glorified violence against women. It does the exact opposite. We see a killer as a despicable creature, and not a likeable superhero. Lots of people on the Internet use screen names based on Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, or Jason Vorhees, but there's not too many "Frank_Zito" types online. Obviously not too many fans want to associate with this character, which is a sign that people see that a killer is not one to be worshipped.
Elite Entertainment once released Maniac
uncut, remastered, and widescreen on Laserdisc, then made a DVD transfer as well. It was actually an extremely well done version, but the image on this Anchor Bay DVD is even better. The anamorphic enhancement certainly helps, but the color is richer, the blacks are deeper, the image is more defined. Maniac
was filmed in 16mm to begin with, so it can never look perfect, but this is pretty close. The slightly soft picture does lend a gritty realism, which enhances the feel of the picture. For those with 16x9 capability, or the real fans of this movie, the choice is simple: Buy this Anchor Bay version. But if you only occasionally feel the need to subject yourself to the urban torture of Maniac
, Elite's version may still be all right for you.
is one of the first Anchor Bay titles to have THX-approved sound and 6.1 DTS-ES encoding. It's not as crazy as it sounds for this movie, as Maniac
was originally recorded in Dolby Stereo. The original Elite release also had a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but this one's much better. Most of the multi-speaker sound is used for the music, and it creates an enveloping surround feel, very spooky and effective. Sometimes there's non-music sound effects that are directed from specific speakers, not always effectively. Occasionally there's a "gimmicky" feel to certain surround-sound effects, but the music mix is top-notch.
Anchor Bay has made a name for themselves with fully loaded special editions. This Maniac
release is no exception. I have to admit I was skeptical, since they were following in rather big footsteps. Five years ago, Elite Entertainment was to horror what Anchor Bay is now. The Elite version was pretty well packed with extras. Well, Anchor Bay has done them one better.
The biggest supplement is the feature length commentary by director William Lustig, make-up effects man Tom Savini, editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Luke Walter (a personal assistant to Joe Spinell). This commentary is the exact same one as the Elite LD and DVD (they even mention "laserdisc" in the commentary). The only silent space is during the dinner scene, as that scene was omitted on Elite's release.
Personally, I really enjoyed this commentary. Of course, owners of the Elite disc have already heard it, but it was the first time for me. Lustig is intimately familiar with almost every scene, and it's a perfect description of "guerrilla filmmaking". They rarely had permission to shoot the scenes they did, such as the infamous shotgun scene. As soon as the scene was filmed, everyone had to disappear before the police arrived (especially when they were using live shotgun shells!). Not only did Lustig do great work, but Luke Walter and Spinell would go out by themselves at 4:00 AM in New York City for additional shots. A very informative look at a horror classic.
Anchor Bay has produced a new 51-minute documentary about Joe Spinell. Again, I was a bit skeptical, but instead I found this documentary to be extremely enjoyable. It was riveting learning how this New York City guy became a popular character actor. We hear from great people; not only Lustig and Caroline Munro, but also Robert Forster and Jason Miller (who died soon after this documentary was filmed). HIGHLY recommended, and anamorphic too! Check out all those Anchor Bay DVDs behind Bill Lustig, and be sure to look for a young Mike Ness of punk band Social Distortion.
The final supplement of some interest is a 19-minute radio interview. I have to wonder who tuned in at 5:00 AM on a Sunday for this one. Lustig, Spinell, and Munro are basically put on defensive by a radio interviewer, who grills the trio despite not having seen the film. Also, someone in this interview either has the sniffles or... another nose problem, if you know what I mean.
Last are a glut of trailers (Theatrical, TV, and Radio), cast bios, still and poster gallery, and a "gallery of outrage", consisting of negative comments about Maniac
by several film critics. Since Maniac
was so heavily skewered by critics and womens' activists, it's good to see them acknowledged, at least so we can see their misguided critiques of this film.
is like a good swift kick in the groin. It's hard to watch, but also hard to turn away. I'm sure glad it's a one-of-a-kind movie, because I don't think I could take a steady diet of films like this. But it's a very important film, one that everyone should see at least once. The viewer should decide for himself whether upgrading from the Elite version is necessary (but the Spinell documentary alone is well worth the upgrade). Those who've never seen Maniac
definitely need to set aside some time to not only watch this film, but check out some fantastic supplemental material. Another stellar release from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Movie - B-
Image Quality - B
Sound - A-
Supplements - A
- Running Time - 1 hour 28 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital Surround EX
- English 6.1 DTS-ES
- French and Italian Dolby Surround 2.0
- Spanish Subtitles
- Audio Commentary with director William Lustig, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Joe Spinell's Assistant Luke Walter
- The Joe Spinell Story (51 minutes)
- Radio Interview with William Lustig and stars Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro
- Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spots
- Radio Spots
- Gallery of Outrage
- Poster/Still Gallery
- Talent Bios