To the mainstream audience or casual horror fan, Maniac! is either a completely unknown film or an outdated slasher. To many avid genre aficionados however, Maniac! in many ways marks a moment in horror cinema that was simply about brutality. It wasn’t about hacking and slashing away at silly, horny, stoned teenagers This was a movie that was about an adult doing terribly vile things to other adults. The subject matter was (and still is) brutal, disturbing, and genuinely unsettling stuff. What really cements Maniac! as a nightmarish narrative of mental illness and the homicidal tendencies that can accompany it, is the performance of Joe Spinell. In real life Spinell was a big teddy bear who just wanted to have a good time. The gusto with which he lived his life, in many ways paralleled the fervor with which he took on the role of Frank. Although abused by his mother, Frank can not help but mourn her death and take his suffering to extreme lengths. As his realities, fantasies, and nightmares begin to slowly converge into one heaping pile of homicidal chaos; the “Maniac” unleashes every unspeakably haunting emotion onto a wide variety of unassuming innocents. Keeping his trophies stashed away in his apartment and interacting with them as if real, Frank doesn’t just descend into madness; he puts his head down and charges gleefully into it’s welcoming arms. Directed by William Lustig in a deliberately bare bones fashion, this feels like found footage. It’s almost as if there just happens to be a camera nearby to capture the festivities. I would be dishonest if I said that Maniac! registered on my classic meter, because in fact it’s merely an adequate film. What makes it so watchable and disturbing, once again, is Spinell. The simple fact that he was able to commit to, and deliver, such an uncompromisingly despicable character makes you absolutely positive that somewhere out there; there really are Maniacs waiting to uncork their hellish bloodlust.
Director: William Lustig
Starring: Joe Spinell