Sunday, February 05, 2012

MANIAC still holds up as an unsettling masterpiece after 32 years

Much like the original TEXAS CHAINSAW which impacted me growing up, so did this film. It's unrelenting slow pace carries us to witness the unfortunate death of several characters making this an incredibly striking film that has stayed with me.

20+ years later I revisited this movie again last night. My memory began kicking into high gear on what scene was coming next and what to prepare for. But what I was too young to understand or even acknowledge at the time was the care that everyone took in making MANIAC come to life. Regardless on how you may feel about the subject matter this is a little masterpiece much like HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986). MANIAC was made between $48K-$150K back in 1980 and shot on super 16mm with a small crew and a lot of favors being pooled together.

It lends it longevity to several bolts of lightning that struck during this time. One was the relationship between director William Lustig who was in his early 20's and by no means a seasoned director, yet legendary character actor/friend Joe Spinell (ROCKY, GODFATHER 1,2, TAXI DRIVER) etc. found something in Lustig and went with it when presenting him with the idea of doing a horror movie such as MANIAC. Lustig himself admits in the commentary that he gave Joe some pointers, but said overall that this was, "Joe's movie, Frank Zito was his character that he created." Sometimes the best direction is letting the actors do what they do best.

From the various docs I've now watched and material I read in the last 24 hrs. Joe wanted to be a headlined actor and with Hollywood putting him in movies as a character heavy. He wanted more than that. So he came up with the story of Frank Zito a building superintendent that suffers from a host of mental illness and child abuse who goes on a killing spree in New York trying to fulfill the void left by his dead mother.

Most of the film was shot guerilla style even the infamous Savini head blown scene. But when the film comes back to Zito's apartment it's as if we've entered a the fun house of a literal maniac. Deep purple walls that are reminiscent of the Joker's colors to strange surreal paintings hanging on the wall to the copious amounts of mannequins that Zito uses for his own dress-up sessions and tea parties.

Veteran FX artist Tom Savini came to this project delivering 120% The old school effects are affective and stomach churning not to mention they go on and on which in this day and age is a rare commodity in film. To Jay Chattaway delivering an unforgettably scary, sympathetic soundtrack which is available btw on for $114 bucks. A hot item for die hard fans. To cinematographer Robert Lindsay who captures perfectly the gritty, dark 70's feel of New York we all know and love as cinefiles.

The final kayro syrup that holds this film together ultimately is Joe Spinell delivering the goods. After watching all the hub bub around this movie when it came out it's a shame that his performance wasn't recognized more. I went back to watch the commentary today and between listening to the stories and watching Joe again. There is a reason why this guy has gone down in history as one of the most memorable killers in film ever.

MANIAC is not for everyone, but if you do decide to venture out to rent it or stream it. You will be in for a mad candy treat that will sit in the confines of your subconscious for many years to come.