the financial success of John Carpenter’s Halloween
(1978) and Sean Cunningham’s Friday the
13th (1980), movie studios were making slasher films in large
quantities. They didn’t necessarily want
to, they just knew that there were scores to be made at the box office. Producers
and directors alike were trying to come up with the next big franchise to keep
pumping out money makers for years to come. The success of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
directly inspired The Toolbox Murders
(1978). Likewise, Maniac (1980),
released in New York City on Friday, January 30, 1981 (the same day as David
Cronenberg’s Scanners), was the
result of a brainstorming conversation between the film’s eventual director
Bill Lustig and his friend Frank Pesce (who can be seen as the restaurant manager
in James Toback’s 1978 film Fingers
and as fugitive Carmine in Martin Brest’s 1988 comedy Midnight Run. His life story was also the subject of the 1991
comedy 29th Street,
directed by George Gallo who, incidentally, penned Midnight Run). The idea was to make a horror film that could be
billed as “Jaws on land.” Jaws (1975), of course, changed the
cinematic landscape and how movies are distributed and promoted using catchy tag
lines, effective advertising campaigns, and rolling out a film in hundreds of
movie theaters at once. It also provided the basis for obvious and cheap
imitations and rip-offs. Maniac isn’t
so obvious to the untrained eye.
back-to-back in the fall and brutal winter of 1979 with much of the same crew from
Friday the 13th, Maniac stars the under-rated,
under-utilized and, unfortunately, late Joe Spinell, an actor of considerable
range who, despite his intimidating stance and demeanor, was actually a
thoughtful and exceedingly nice personality on the set and behind-the-scenes,
always eager to help fellow performers. Here he plays Frank Zito, a middle-aged
man who lives alone in a New York City apartment amid toys and mannequins who
double as his friends and personal company following a childhood ruined at the
hands of an overbearing and physically abusive mother whom he lashes out
against when he comes into physical contact with women. Following in the
footsteps of the slasher films of the time, Maniac’s
theme of an outcast with sexual hang-ups has provided more than enough fodder
as a theme for disturbed young men who engage in ruthless killing sprees. Frank
converses with the mannequins which are adorned with the real scalps and
clothing of women who met their end at his hands, thus giving credence to the
notion that serial killers keep trophies of their victims, a point spouted by
Clarice Starling in The Silence of the
Lambs ten years later. Not all his victims are women, however. One night he
follows a couple and shoots the man (Tom Savini!) point blank with a double-barreled
shotgun before adding his girlfriend to his macabre collection. On another night he spots two nurses at a
hospital (one of them is played by former porn actress Sharon Mitchell) and
follows one of them into a subway bathroom in the film’s creepiest and most
chance encounter with a photographer named Anna (Caroline Munro, who actually
got her start as an actress after someone took her photograph and entered the
winning image into a contest) leads him to her apartment. Anna doesn’t appear
to be the slightest bit concerned that he obtained her name and address from
her camera bag and invites him in! They soon begin a platonic friendship, but one
of Anna’s model friends, Rita, catches Frank’s eye at one of her photo shoots
and soon meets a terrible end. Anna is oblivious to this fact until she
accompanies Frank to his mother’s grave with flowers and all hell breaks loose
and heads towards an ending that is inspired until the final shot which is
often relegated to the domain of slasher films, most notably Michele Soavi’s
1987 stylish giallo classic Stagefright.
Maniac developed a notorious reputation for
its then-shocking violence, angering feminists from coast to coast. While it’s
still fairly disturbing even by today’s standards, there is an argument to be
made that AMC’s The Walking Dead is
infinitely more savage. Shot on 16mm, the film holds up very well and has now
been made available on Blu-ray in a three-disc set that includes a transfer
mastered from a 4K restoration of the original camera negative.
extras, which are plentiful, are ported over from both the 2001 Anchor Bay DVD
and the 2010 30th anniversary Blue Underground DVD. There are also a
good number of new and noteworthy items added into the mix:
Blu-ray disc #1:
NEW: Maniac in a 4K restoration
Commentary #1 with co-producer/director William Lustig and co-producer Andrew
W. Garroni from July 2010. As far as commentaries go, this is very jovial and
informative as the speakers come off as die-hard movie fans.
Commentary #2 with co-producer/director William Lustig, special make-up effects
artist Tom Savini, editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Joe Spinell’s assistant Luke
Walter. The track was recorded in 2001. This is another inspired and fun
commentary, the first one done for the film, so some of the stories from this
track find themselves repeated later on in the 2010 commentary mentioned above.
Blu-ray disc #2:
These extras are
separated into three categories: Featurettes, Publicity, and Controversy.
NEW – Maniac Outtakes Featurette.
This is a collection of scenes that, if you’re a big fan of the film, is worth
the price of the new disc alone. It consists of 19 minutes of faded 16mm
footage recently unearthed in a warehouse, with slate intact. It consists of
alternate takes of shots as well as a good chunk of raw footage that Mr.
Spinell and a crew member shot along 42nd Street which, as Mr.
Lustig points out in his running commentary over this whole sequence, is the
real Deuce (a reference to the HBO
show about the porn scene in 1970’s New York City). The footage was shot in both
November and December 1979 right around the time that Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 1941 were released (you can even see 1941 on the marquee at the long-gone Rivoli) and is an authentic
record of what New York looked like back then. I wish that they had shot some
scenes at Radio City Musical Hall as I went there for the first time that month
to see the Christmas spectacular.
NEW – Returning to the Scene of the Crime with William Lustig. This runs 8 minutes and the director
revisits the locations of some of the areas where the film was shot. Much of it
is completely different now and unrecognizable. Mr. Lustig also stops by Mr.
Spinell’s gravesite in Calvary Cemetery where he is buried under his real name,
Joseph J. Spagnuolo.
Anna and the Killer – This is a 2010 interview with actress
Caroline Munro who plays the photographer. She admits to having mixed feelings
about the film when she first saw it but also being complimented by Robert
Duvall for her performance. Ms. Munro is a sweetheart of a woman in real life
as anyone who has met her on the horror convention circuit knows and she
reminiscences about their first meeting. She explains how the role was originally
to be played by Dario Argento’s then-girlfriend Daria Nicolodi, who was at the
last minute unable to commit as the Italian production that she was working on,
presumably the mini-series The Games of
the Devil, was running over its shooting schedule. The interview runs 13
The Death Dealer – This 2010 interview with special make-up
effects artist Tom Savini features a wonderful little story about Sam Raimi in
addition to the bust of Mr. Savini that he had to blow up (and the car that he
drove!). Mr. Savini discusses his acting role in the film similar to the work
that he did for Dusty Nelson’s Effects
(1980). It runs 12 minutes.
Dark Notes – A 2010 interview with composer Jay
Chattaway wherein he discloses starting out writing jazz music. Prior to
recording his score to Michael Winner’s Firepower
(1979), his meeting with the excited Maniac
cast made him want to work with them and ultimately score the movie. Mr.
Chattaway bemoans missing the way that films were made back in the 1970’s as
opposed to the studio conglomerate method nowadays. It runs 12 minutes.
Maniac Men – Interview with songwriters Michael
Sembello and Dennis Matkosky from 2010. This story is amazing and their
rendition of the original Maniac song
that was changed and adapted for Phil Ramone for 1983’s Flashdance made me laugh out loud. Very entertaining. This runs 11
The Joe Spinell Story. This is a 49-minute documentary from
2001 that takes a loving and heartfelt look at the life of Joe Spinell. The
ending is very sad, but it’s a lot of fun along the way, with interviews from
fellow friends and co-stars.
Mr. Robbie: Maniac
2 Promo Reel. This is footage of the sequel to Maniac and is included for fans. The scenes consist of master shots
and do not appear to be final edits.
Category Two: Maniac Publicity
Wunder” Radio Interview with William Lustig, Joe Spinell & Caroline Munro. I
completely forgot that I used to listen to Soundtrack
with its host, Paul Wunder, on WBAI in the early 1990’s! My gosh, did this
bring back memories! Very enjoyable interview. They talk a little bit about The Shining (1980) also. I was saddened,
however, to learn that Mr. Wunder passed away at the age of 59 in 2000. This is
audio only and runs 19 minutes.
William Lustig on Movie Madness – This is a 47-minute interview with Mr. Lustig on Manhattan
Cable Television broadcasted live on February 18, 1981 in black and white
wherein callers call in to ask questions about the film. It’s a very
interesting show from the days before any little piece of data regarding a film
was just a computer keystroke away. One caller bemoans Steven Spielberg’s 1941 (1979), having no idea that Raiders of the Lost Ark would be
released in four months!
Spinell at Cannes – 1 minute – very quick. Wish it was longer!
Spinell on “The Joe Franklin Show” – My gosh, who wasn’t on The Joe Franklin
Show back in the day?! I really miss him. He was such a sweet man, and Joe
Spinell is very entertaining in the 13 minutes that this segment runs.
Caroline Munro TV interview with Chuck
Scarborough and Katie Kelly in New York on Live
at Five – Ms. Munro is sweet and sincere and looks fantastic with blonde
highlights in her hair. This runs 3 minutes.
Bag Review Policy – This is a review system by the late Katie
Kelly (she passed away in
May 2018 at the age of 81) on Live at
Five wherein they assign “bags” as a review rating for bad movies – duration
is 2 minutes.
Film Festival Q&A – This is a terrific video of a Maniac screening at the New Beverly
Cinema in Los Angeles. Actress Sharon Mitchell is on hand with Mr. Lustig to answer
questions for 22 minutes.
Category Three: Maniac Controversy
I love this section, thank you to Mr. Lustig
for including it! When I was a child in the 1970s the only place to hear really
anything at all about the new movies that were being released was on the local
news programs when a reviewer would throw in their two cents for the new
releases of the week. Who could forget the sardonic Stewart Klein on WNEW in
New York? This section presents the reports on staged protests against the presentation
of Maniac in the following cities: Los
Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia, as well as pieces on censorship on “Newsbeat”
and “Midnight Blue”, headed by (drumroll) Al Goldstein!
NEW: BONUS CD – Maniac Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Jay Chattaway. I love when these companies include the
soundtrack album as a bonus! Mr. Chattaway also wrote the score to 1985’s Silver Bullet. This is a terrific and
affecting score. Elements of it sound very reminiscent of the Henry Vrienten’s
eerie theme to George Sluizer’s magnificent 1988 film Spoorloos (The Vanishing)
and it would not surprise me if Mr. Vrienten drew inspiration from Mr. Chattaway.
NEW: BONUS Collectable Booklet with new
essay by author Michael Gingold.
I love Mr. Gingold’s text in these illustrated booklets as they are so
informative and well-researched. Something I never knew was that both Dario
Argento and Daria Nicolodi were initially attached to this film, but plans changed
as Mr. Argento became involved with Inferno
(1980), his follow-up to his previous directorial outing Suspiria (1977). Ms. Nicolodi had to bow out for the aforementioned
Maniac was made during a far more liberal
time when cigarette ads adorned billboards and porn movies played in theaters
on 42nd street. Maniac,
like Dawn of the Dead before it, was
released without a rating. The new Blu-ray contains enough extras to warrant
the film’s most die-hard fans to purchase it again. Those of you who may be
unfamiliar with the film are strongly cautioned as it’s very gory and bloody.
However, if you would like to see a package that demonstrates a cast and crew’s
excitement and enthusiasm to make a film, this three-disc set fits the bill.
personal thank you from me to Mr. Lustig and his amazing DVD/Blu-ray company,
Blue Underground, for unearthing so many previously unseen and forgotten artifacts
for these incredible special editions!