Maniac (1980) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

I never thought I'd say this, but I wish this were a bad movie.


You see, it's like this. This is a movie about a guy who commits brutal murders, scalps his victims, and places the hair on the heads of his personal collection of department store mannequins. The star is a highly competent veteran character actor named Joe Spinell, a hulking, scary-looking 250 pound Italian-American New Yorker, who is usually seen in minor roles as crazies or violent thugs. You'll see him in the first two Rocky pictures and the first two Godfather films, for example. In this movie, Spinell got a rare lead and was also one of the writers. 

And it's just too damned realistic. It's well acted. The violence seems real. The settings are like real urban streets and fleabag hotels. The creepy killer is a complex character who is sometimes capable of normal social interaction, and who hates himself for his inability to control his sociopathic urges. In fact, the script uses his bursts of normality to lure us into some sense that he may have a chance at redemption. 


It only has one brief nude scene -- a bath scene with the last victim, porn star Gail Lawrence (AKA Abigail Clayton).
The whole thing has a cinema verite quality that makes it seem like a documentary. And I find it just plain creepy. Not so scary, not so interesting to watch, just down in the gutter creepy. Leonard Maltin gave this no stars, but I don't think that can be right. If a film makes you react, it has to have a certain power. In fact, I hate it just as much as Maltin does, but I don't think it's because the movie stinks. The scene where he stalks a victim through the subway station, for example, is tense and absolutely first-class, and the killer is completely believable.

I wish it were a bad movie, so I could laugh at it instead of being haunted by it. 

Although it has some power in certain scenes, I can't really recommend the movie to you unless you're a genre addict. The pacing is just too slow for my taste. 

But it is creepy.

Really creepy.

If you rent this, be sure to watch the bonus biography of the late Mr. Spinell, which is more interesting than the movie. Absolutely fascinating!

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • separate soundtrack CD

  • 49 minute biography of lead actor Joe Spinell

  • full-length commentary by the director and makeup artist

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Maniac (1980) is an "abused child grows up to be serial killer" film. In 1980, it was way to far ahead of its time, and received nothing but criticism and bad press. In point of fact, it is no more violent or bloody than most of the Euro-shock material.

 Veteran character actor Joe Spinell plays the psycho. After years of abuse at his mother's hands, her death sends him around the bend, and he starts killing women, scalping them, using the scalp on a mannequin, and pretending the mannequin is his missing mother. If this film had been released 5 years later, it would not have caused a stir at all.

The new special edition is loaded with extra features, and comes in a spiffy tin, but it is still a run of the mill psycho slasher film shot on 16 mm (which accounts for the graininess). Spinell is good, as always, some of the make-up was effective, and they did manage suspense a few times, but that isn't enough to make me recommend this film. 

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 4.8 
  • with their money ... Maniac was highly profitable. It took in several million at the box office, and was made for $350,000.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this is somewhere in the C's (C Scoopy, C- Tuna), a shock movie ahead of its time, or maybe on the wrong continent.

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