Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) didn’t exactly have the best of childhoods what with growin’ up the son of an abusive prostitute and all…but damn it; a boy’ll love his mommy no matter her faults. You can just imagine how ol’ Frank feels when his mother finally buys the farm courtesy of a car accident…yup, he’s all broken up all right…so much so that he wanders ol’ Manhattan-town and murders rando women (hookers, disco chics, nurses…Tom Savini…wait, what?!!) whom he scalps and places their hairy brain flaps on top of mannequins that he keeps littered around his unreasonably terrifying (and purple) studio apartment. All this horror biz does get put on hold here and there however when Frank meets a gorgeous photographer (Caroline Munro)…a girl that makes him function like an actual human being…but how long will that last?
Comprised mainly of a series of hardcore murder-filled vignettes hung on the barest skeleton of a plot (lunatic kills women and keeps souvenirs to try and rectify his feelings for his mother before unexpectedly falling love); Maniac is absolutely the embodiment of what people think when the word “grindhouse” is mentioned. The flick is dark, gritty, lurid, and unbelievably violent…all the greatest hits that made the cinema featured in the flea-pits of 42nd Street such an effective and unnerving experience. And speaking of 42nd Street, the Manhattan of the late ’70’s early ’80’s was one hell of a filthy, unpleasant place to be…and this film illustrates that by the locations featured…in essence the city becomes a main character itself…a cold, uncaring character that provides no solace or care to those harmed within it.
As far as the acting is concerned, I dare say there will never be another actor that can bring crazy to life like the incredible Joe Spinell…he’s an over-weight, sweaty, wild-eyed mess…filled with monologues that take us right into the nightmare that is Frank Zito’s mind…yet when he meets Anna, he can be an absolutely charming and intellectual gentleman (and Spinell and Munro have terrific chemistry…aided by their friendship fostered by working on 1978’s Starcrash). Add to that the unflinching direction of William Lustig (Maniac Cop) and the “don’t give a single fuck about decency or good taste” screenplay by Spinell (as well as co-writer C.A. Rosenberg) and you have one hell of a fright flick that definitely lives up to it’s lascivious legend!
Along with the frightful feature, Blue Underground have included one hell of a selection of bonus features on this Blu-ray release! First up are two audio commentaries; one featuring Lustig and Producer Andrew W. Garroni, and the second again featuring Lustig, as well as Special Make-Up Effects Artist (and Actor) Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Spinell’s Assistant Luke Walter. Both are lively, anecdote packed conversations with nary a bit of “dead air” in sight…the only negative is some of the info is repeated among the two. Also included are a collection of theatrical trailers as well as TV and radio spots.
So ends Disc One…
Disc Two brings us even more bonus content! First up we have a series of featurettes containing outtakes from the film (narrated by Lustig), a melancholy look at the film’s locations as they appear today, interviews with Munro, Savini, Composer Jay Chattaway, and Songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky (addressing the rumor that the song ‘Maniac’ from Flashdance was originally written for Maniac). Also featured is a documentary filled with anecdotes about Spinell from family and friends that illustrated just how he earned his legendary status with often hilarious and jaw-dropping results, as well as a promo reel for the proposed sequel Maniac 2: Mr Robbie.
Next comes a section featuring various promotional materials used to draw attention to the film. Included are: a radio interview featuring Lustig, Spinell, and Munro, an episode of a public access show called Movie Madness featuring an interview with Lustig (and believe me, this is an unbelievably inept shit show where the callers tell Lustig exactly what they think of the film in true NYC fashion while ruining the ending of the picture and being drowned out by screeching feedback…this thing had me howling with laughter, and kudos to Lustig for including it no matter how much it inevitably raised his blood pressure), footage of Spinell at Cannes and on The Joe Franklin Show, an archival interview with Munro, a corny review segment from NBC, one of those ultra-obnoxious, cell-phone shot Q&A sessions from some event or another (my hatred of these poorly shot, lousy audio quality havin’ stink burgers is well-known, and this one doesn’t change my mind…though admittedly the answers given are pretty damn fantastic), and a poster and still gallery.
Last we get an amazing collection of archival news clips (not to mention Screw magazine’s Al Goldstein on about something and a still gallery of bad reviews) all detailing the controversy Maniac kicked up upon it’s initial release…and the film couldn’t have asked for better press than that!
That’s all fiends….well, for Disc Two anyway…
Disc Three contains Chattaway’s off-kilter, near experimental electronic score (peppered with sound bites of Spinell’s dialog from the film).
Maniac is the ultimate grindhouse classic…it’s gritty, violent, lurid…everything fans of the genre crave; an absolute must own!
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