Release Date: May 10th, 1980 (Cannes)
Directed by: William Lustig
Written by: C. A. Rosenberg, Joe Spinell
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Tom Savini, William Lustig
Magnum Motion Pictures Inc., 87 Minutes
“I told you not to go out tonight, didn’t I? Every time you go out, this kind of thing happens.” – Frank Zito
William Lustig made some really interesting horror films in his heyday. While I knew about Maniac Cop first, I spent a lot of my time in mom and pop video stores in the ’80s and discovered this at a pretty young age. It was one of those horror movies that left a lasting impact on me because I was much more scared of the real and plausible than I was of supernatural monsters or ghosts.
I definitely saw this film at a much younger age than I should have but us ’80s kids didn’t have great supervision and a lot of video stores would rent anything to anyone because society wasn’t overly pussified back then.
Anyway, this always had a special place in my mental nostalgia locker due to its impact on me, the fact that it has the mesmerizing Caroline Munro in it and because Joe Spinell was one of the coolest actors of his era. That could also be because I knew Spinell from the Rocky films and because he just has a very unique and memorable appearance. He, along with Dick Miller, were the two character actors that I started to notice in all the cool movies.
The one thing that is really cool about this picture is that it is American but it really has an Italian giallo style to it. Granted, it’s not as vivid, visually, and relies more on the gritty realism of New York City, at the time, but it still feels like it belongs in that very specific, short-lived genre.
I’ve talked before about how giallo kind of gave birth to the American slasher movie. This might actually be the best example of that. And while this isn’t specifically a slasher flick, as the killer uses guns and other tools, it really sort of bridges the gap between the two genres or styles.
Honestly, it just feels like it is both parts, a product of it’s influences and something that was a wee bit ahead of the cinematic horror trends. I don’t think any of that was something that Lustig thought about or planned for but it’s the way I see it and it really cements this film as one that is eternally relevant due to its significance to the larger picture.
Plus, this also has an awesome cameo by special effects maestro Tom Savini. The scene where he blows up his own head is one of the absolute best head splatter shots in motion picture history.
Also, this has an ending that is absolutely bonkers and kind of surprising.
Maniac isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination but it is a culturally significant one for those who love these sort of flicks.
Pairs well with: other William Lustig films, as well as late ’70s/early ’80s slasher flicks and Italian giallo.