Fright Fest Review #28: Maniac (1980)

He really hit the nail on the head.
He really hit the nail on the head.

Subgenre:  Exploitation

Summary:  A serial killer preys on the residents of New York City.

Review:  New York City can be beautiful, especially during the right time of year.  But it can also be a dirty, grimy, foul-smelling place, one that’s as unwelcoming as it is unclean.  Maniac, with its grainy film stock and murky lighting, manages to capture this seediness on screen.  The movie tells the story of Frank Zito, a crazed killer who collects women’s scalps to model on his mannequin collection.

Maniac, with its homicidal protagonist and purposefully unfocused plot, is an unconventional movie, and a hard one to judge by traditional standards.  Between its substandard technical aspects and its inconsistent acting quality, the whole thing just feels off, but in a way that fits the subject matter perfectly.

The one aspect of Maniac I can praise without any sort of caveat is Joe Spinell’s performance in the title role.  With his unkempt hair, pockmarked face, and bushy mustache, he looks like Ron Jeremy’s evil twin – the kind of guy you wouldn’t look twice at in the big city.  Spinell manages to make Frank a disturbingly three-dimensional character.  We can see how insane he is when he’s talking to his mannequins in his apartment, but he comes across as normal and even charming in his conversations with others.  The fact that Frank seems so real is the scariest thing about this movie.

The Verdict:  Maniac will leave you wanting to take a shower afterwards, and I mean that in the best way possible.  I give it six-and-a-half nutso New Yorkers out of ten.

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