The Film (4.5/5)
Maniac is the Taxi Driver of Slasher Films!
There I said it.
Maniac came out early in the slasher film boom, and had a reputation early on as one of the goriest, sickest, most demented of slasher films. This reputation was justifiable, it is definitely all of these things, but it is also much more. Most films of the era tended to follow a Laurie Strode-esque lead victim character, as the killer entered his/her life and followed the character around as all the killings take place around her. Maniac subverted this done-to-death template, by being one of the first (if not the first) slasher film that gave the lead perspective to the killer himself. By doing this, Maniac becomes a fantastic serial killer character study, as well as a blood and guts slasher epic.
My friends and I when we were younger used to discuss this slasher film project, that would show the killings and gory deaths of the average slasher films, but would also show the killers actions in between the killings. Jason, sitting around waiting for another victim to stumble through the woods, Freddy scheming his next elaborately planned kill, Michael Myers taking a piss. If this concept were applied to Maniac, it would show the killer sitting around his apartment, communicating with his collection of mannequins baring the scalps of his numerous victims. This is part of what made the film disturbing, the lead character Frank Zito (Joe Spinell), was psycho every second he was on screen. You were expected to spend the entirety of the films running time with a character, you wouldn't went to spend 5 seconds with in real life.
First, and foremost Joe Spinell owns this movie. I have seen pretty much every film that Spinell has been in from the Godfather to Starcrash, and he is always a formidable on screen presence. However, in Maniac, he simply owns the screen. He is pretty much in every scene of the film, and he always commands your attention. Even though I know he is actor Joe Spinell, when he is on screen here he is no one, but Frank Zito. This may be a slasher film, but this character is far from the 2 Dimensional characters that typically populate films such as these.
The direction by fledgling director Bill Lustig is simple, but effective and keeps the flowing at a effective pace. He manages to pull off a grim and gritty atmosphere of absolute horror, while simultaneously conjures up a cinema verite documentary feeling to the proceedings. Because of this Maniac feels like a serious glimpse into the life of Frank Zito. The gore effects courtesy of FX master Tom Savini deserve top billing next to Spinell and Munro, as outside of the performances really separate this film from the pack. It is a really gory piece, and the effects even 30 years on are still highly effective. I dare anyone who watches this not to be shocked by the scene where Frank Zito shoots Tom Savini's Disco Boy character in the head.
That character the titular Maniac, Frank Zito, is an apartment landlord somewhere in New York City. Frank spends most of his days in his apartments talking to his mannequins as if they were his dead Mother. Frank's Mother was a prostitute, and frequently abused him as a child, after a car accident killed her and left Frank an orphan, he refused to let go. Frank now stalks the streets of New York brutally killing women, scalping them, and attaching their scalps to his collection of mannequins as a sort of replacement. While on the prowl one night, Franks meets Anna a fashion photographer. Frank instantly becomes infatuated with her, and rather then kill her, the two begin to date. Unfortunately, this relationship does not keep Frank's sanity in check, and he continues his murderous ways.
To preface this portion of the review, I will state that aside from giving us an excellent sharp detailed image, I believe that Blu-ray also gives us the opportunity to give a home video release the look of film as it would look projected in a theater. Maniac has never been a great looking film, it was shot on 16mm, in rough shooting conditions, and in mostly natural light. It is not a great looking film on any release.
I have seen a lot of the reviews on this disc that have come out already, saying that this is a horrible looking transfer, and I have to disagree. Maniac will never look like a sleek sharp looking film, so the transfer that we have in our hands with this Blu-ray release is the best Maniac is ever liable to look on home video. In my opinion, it accurately reflects how the film would look projected on film.
Blue Underground has presented Maniac in a 1:85:1 1080p anamorphic widescreen transfer. Black levels are solid, and colors (especially blood red) stand out nicely. There are quite a few soft spots, and a significant amount of grain, but as I said, this is more a reflection on the production, and the overall look of the film. When I was watching it more than any other viewing I've had of the film, I felt more like I was sitting in some sleazy 42nd St. Grindhouse watching the film theatrically.
Blue Underground has given this release quite a few audio options. The film was originally presented with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Mix, and that is included here in English, as well as French, German, and Italian. A 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX track, and a 7.1 DTS HD track. I flipped through all of the English language audio tracks, and they all sound good, but I stuck to the 5.1 for the majority of my viewing. The dialogue is audible throughout, and music and effects are well balanced in the mix. Jay Chattaway's score for the film is given the most significant improvement within the mix.
Blue Underground's release of Maniac is completely stacked with extras. I will start by saying that while the first disc is a Blu-ray, the second disc with many of the extras is a Standard DVD. The contents of the first disc include a commentary by director William Lustig and producer Andrew Garroni, and also an older commentary track that includes Bill Lustig, Tom Savini, the films editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and the former assistant to Joe Spinell Luke Walter.
The commentaries are followed by 5 newly created featurettes. The first one is titled Anna and the Killer an is an interview with Caroline Munro, this would make an excellent companion piece to the long form interview featured on the Shout! Factory's recent Starcrash DVD. This is followed by the Death Dealer which interviews special effects maestro Tom Savini, following that is Dark Notes an interview with Jay Chattaway, and then Maniac Men an interview with Bill Lustig and the writers of the Flashdance song Maniac, about how that song was originally supposed to be included in this film. Closing out Disc 1 is the promo reel for never shot Mr. Robbie : Maniac 2, Trailers, TV and Radio Spots for Maniac.
Disc 2 kicks off with the Maniac Controversy a collection of news pieces from around the country documenting the impact Maniac was having on mainstream culture. At the time Maniac was considered a shocking and controversial (it is still quite shocking actually). One of the most amusing bits is from Chicago, and features the late Gene Siskel condemning the film. Also featured is Bill Lustig on a New York Public Access Show called Movie Madness, Joe Spinell on the Joe Frankin Show. A short documentary on Spinell called the Joe Spinell Story crafted by Severin Films David Gregory. There is also Maniac Publicity, which features radio and television interviews with the cast and crew from around the time of the films theatrical release. This set can be pretty much defined as Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Maniac, but Were Afraid to Ask. It was also a lot of fun going through all these, I especially got a kick out of the Movie Madness segment, having worked for a local public access station for a while.
It's Maniac, and it's on Blu-ray. If you're a fan, you either have this, or really want to get this. For those on the fence I will say this, the film we have here is one of the greatest slasher films ever made. I will say it's not for everyone, but if you love freaky gory horror films, then this film is for you. The transfer is solid, but those expecting a slick Hollywood looking transfer will be disappointed. The extras are ridiculously elaborate, and will offer you a major bang for your buck. This disc comes highly recommended.