I have a confession to make. I have wanted to watch Maniac (1980) for some time now, simply because I have heard so many things about how gory and violent it is. While the movie is certainly that there is so much more to it. Turns out I had seen at least parts of this movie before. This is not the first time that has happened to me, and I think it's because I have either been changing channels and caught parts of movies or because I have watched a few shows that have clips of movies in them.
Maniac got a very bad rap when it was first released, by women's groups and the press mostly. It was said that this movie just glorified violence against women. Hasn't anyone figured out by now that protesting something only makes people want it that much more? If for no other reason than to see why it is being protested? Anyways, the killer of the movie, Frank Zito (Joe Spinell), does go mainly after women, but did kill a few men along the way. The men were killed because they happened to be with the woman Frank was after. I think those that protested the loudest missed the whole point of the movie. All but one of the female characters has no character development, and it's supposed to be that way. This isn't a movie where we are put into the lives of people and then watch what happens when they are being killed off. We aren't suppose to know anything about these victims. We are seeing everything through the killer's eyes, and that is the horror of this movie, not the blood and violence.
There really isn't much of a plot to Maniac and maybe that is why it was partly put under fire. We are placed into Frank's life and we go along for the ride. The only female we get to know is Anna (Caroline Munro) who seems to fall in love with Frank, or at least really likes him. They seem like an unlikely pair, because she dresses real nice and has a job as a photographer. Frank, on the other hand, doesn't dress nicely, and in fact he usually looks close to a bum. The only hint of a job is that he tells Anna that he paints. We never see him doing this however, so I was under the impression he just said this to impress her. The plot now becomes will he kill Anna? I didn't think he was going to. While he was around Anna he seemed very much the normal person. He was still thinking, but he had himself under control. In Anna I think he found someone he could relate to in some way inside of his mind. But in the end he even turns on her.
Who is this killer that we are following along? Joe Spinell researched serial killers for this movie and it really shows. Frank was abused by his mother and hated that she sold her body to strange men. Even so he loved her. I would even go so far as to say that he had sexual thoughts about her. In one review for this movie, the person said there was no rhyme or reason to the killings, but I have to disagree with that. I thought Frank was looking for women that caught his eye. Not just any woman mind you. He stalks them and finds the best time to strike. At times the best moment was a little too good, but it is just a movie after all. Frank sees his mother in these women, maybe some looked like her, but that is hard to say really, since we don't see a color picture of his mom. But something reminds him of his mom in these women. He tells one of the women that he kills, "I know you're in there. Oh sure you look different but I know it's you. You aren't fooling me". Frank believes by killing them he is preserving their beauty, much like Anna does by taking pictures of people. He then scalps them and takes their clothes for souvenirs, which he then puts on mannequins in his apartment.
Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro give great performances in Maniac. This was Joe's first lead role and you can tell he put his all into it. Some critics didn't like it of course, probably the same ones that hated the movie for all its gore and violence. The effects were done by Tom Savini, and once you see his work in this movie you will never forget it. The violence in this movie is very real and closeup. You will see throats being cut, stabbings, scalpings, a head being torn away from the body, and seeing one head being blown completely away. Tom Savini gets the small part of the man who gets shot in the head with a high powered rifle. I thought that was pretty cool, since it is not too often you see that in movies.
"Maniac is a film that almost defies description. You can use words like reprehensible, irresonsible, degrading, dehumanizing and sick, but none really gets close to the movie." - Lou Cedrone Baltimore Evening Sun
"This is not entertainment - it is simply propaganda for violence against women!" - Lynn Levey Women's Committee Against Police Violence
"Caters to instincts and feelings of a baseness that I don't even want to think about... Maniac is the epitome of the new pornography, propaganda for an attitude about women that is obscene in a manner not found in sex films." - Desmond Ryan Philadelphia Inquirer
Those quotes were some of the things being said about Maniac back in the day. The film gave them plenty of ammunition but, sadly, these people didn't look past the violence. That is all they were able to see. I said before that the violence wasn't the true horror. Wouldn't you be horrified to be trapped inside a killer's mind? To know his every thought, and his every move. Not being able to warn anyone. All you can do is look away....if you can.
5 out of 5 Killer Instincts
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