Of the many first generation Slashers that arrived in 1980, none are more sleazy, vile, and disgusting than Bill Lustig's MANIAC. Critically despised for being the depraved filth that it is, MANIAC has never-the-less gained a notorious cult following amongst Slasher fans for its subversive tone and gruesome gore. Murderous madman Frank Zito hits the streets of New York City in search of his next victims, mainly women who remind him of his abusive mother. Frank returns home to place the scalps of the women on the various mannequins that decorate his dingy apartment, making sure that they will never leave him again... MANIAC never tries to rise above its roots in the 42nd Street theaters; in fact, it embraces them. There is no protagonist in MANIAC, only a series of victims that exist only to be killed off as horrifically and painfully as possible. In reality, there is hardly even a tangible plot line. So why has it remained, where others have fallen into obscurity?
Two things separate MANIAC from the average low-budget Slasher films of its kind. The first is the creepy and terrifying performance put forth by Joe Spinell in the lead. He displays a surprising amount of pathos throughout his psychotic ramblings, and the audience truly believes him in the role of the deranged killer. No one wants to meet up with Frank Zito in a dark alleyway. The second, of course, would have to be Tom Savini's incredible special effects work on the film. This is Savini in his finest hour. The make-up work in MANIAC looks so authentic that it could easily be mistaken for a snuff film. What director Bill Lustig may lack in refinement, he more than makes up for in gritty realism as he brings out the sordid underbelly of early 80's New York. MANIAC cannot be judged against genre standards like ROSEMARY'S BABY or FRANKENSTEIN. It fits into an era of filmmaking where reckless abandon and shock value were the name of the game, and where filmmakers like Abel Ferrara, Wes Craven, and Bill Lustig could establish themselves by pushing the limits of acceptability and moral decency.
If you liked MANIAC, check out:
TOURIST TRAP, NEW YORK RIPPER, THE PROWLER, COMBAT SHOCK, FANATIC, THE DRILLER KILLER.