WRITER: Screenplay by C.A. Rosenberg and Joe Spinell
Story by Joe Spinell
DIRECTOR: William Lustig
STARRING: Joe Spinell as Frank Zito
Caroline Munro as Anna D'Antoni
Gail Lawrence as Rita
Kelly Pipper as Nurse
Rita Montone as Hooker
Tom Savini as Disco Boy
Hyla Marrow as Disco Girl
James Brewster as Beach Boy
QUICK CUT: Frank Zito wasn't happy with how Jay carved up Trisk's Thanksgiving turkey, so decided to swing by and show him how a slasher movie should be done.
Frank Zito - Frank is your everyday guy with mommy and abandonment issues, who one day snaps and goes on a killing spree. He seems tortured by his decisions, but it's hard to sympathise with someone slicing off women's hair.
Anna D'Antoni - One of the few women Frank meets and actually talks to. She's a photographer and seems to get through Frank's issues. For awhile.
Maniac starts out with several troubling signs. First off, the lead character is also our writer. Second, the first thing we hear is a grumble. When even the cast is displeased, you know the ride is going to be rough.
The grumbler puts some money in one of those touristy binnocular things, and watches the credits, and a couple on a beach. If the movie did the whole opening creds in this way, I would be rather impressed at the gimmick, but it doesn't happen.
The woman snuggler sends her boyfriend off so she can get killed, and bring back firewood to cremate her corpse. I mean, keep warm.
Suddenly the movie jumps across the line to the opposite side of the couple, and gives us an ominous view through the beach grass. Is this the killer now? I thought Grumbly was on the other side with the viewmaster? And how come I can't see him from here?
Once the boyfriend is out of the way, Grumbly stands up. It's a good thing he borrowed the Nailgunner's camoflage, because he has his knack for not blending in. He goes over and slits the girl's throat.
The boyfriend returns after not hearing her piercing screams and as he smiles at his girlfriend's corpse, happy he doesn't have to marry her, Grumbly comes up from behind him and garotte's his throat as well. I guess Frank was hiding behind a sand dune.
We next jump to what I can only presume is Ron Jeremy waking up and screaming. Probably because of an itch that won't go away, from what I know of his career.
The movie's bad lighting only had enough in the budget for his eyes, so we spend far too much time on those, and the rest of our killer's face shrouded in darkness.
He cries and sobs for a bit, looking around at his doll collection, and realises he's still living in his mom's basement. That makes me wake up screaming and sobbing too, Grumbly.
The credits roll and we get to see Grumbly get ready for his busy day of killing, with way too many closeups of his creepy doll collection, as well as a framed picture of his mother. He leaves the candles on his shrine burning when he leaves. Hello, fire hazard.
And aww geeze, I did not need to see a hint of ass crack while he dresses.
Once Grumbly leaves his apartment, we float around NYC until we come across a pair of hookers. Aaah, pre-Guiliani Times Square.
It's not long before our friend runs into the hookers and picks one up for a cheap 100. Man, for that price, I could make a killing! Oh wait...
He takes her back to a motel, as one does in these situations, and she proceeds to model for him, until they decide to get down to business. With her clothes on. At least this was by request, and not your usual movie making nonsense.
After way too much rolling around, a switch is finally flipped and Grumbly starts strangling the girl. Thank gods for action finally happening. Bad news for the woman, but at least things are going on again.
She gets out an awful lot of screams while she's being choked, incidentally. I guess they hear that along in the Hooker Hotel.
In a pretty good, if simple, effect, there are cuts of the girl with a different face. They're just edits with another girl, but they blend in surprisingly well, they're almost subliminal they're so short, but not quite. They never cut right from one girl to the other, there's always a shot of Frank looking very insane indeed, so it totally works. I give credit where credit is due.
He then proceeds to throw up as he realises the movie he's in.
As if the poor girl hasn't suffered enough, he comes back out mumbling incoherently, and scalps the poor hooker. I wonder if prostitutes saw this movie like every swimmer viewed Jaws?
Once he peels off the girl's hair, just before the movie cuts to the next scene, the killer leans over out of view and...we don't know. And frankly, I don't want to know.
We next see Grumbles McMumbleson walking down the street carrying a large trash bag covered something. If it didn't turn out to be a mannequin, that would have opened up no end of questions.
He heads home, takes the bloody mannequin out of his bed, and replaces it with a brand new mannequin. All while talking to himself. Or a ghost. I don't put that past these movies.
It seems like one personality is a generally nice guy, and it's the other side that 'goes out' and does the killing. Pretty standard, but not a bad take for a slasher film. Builds up some sympathy for the killer, since half of him might be likable and normal. Well, for a creepy guy who sleeps with mannequins, but who am I to judge?
Oh, this is nice and creepy. He dresses the mannequins in his victim's clothes, but it doesn't stop there. He takes off the wig and puts on the dead girl's scalp. That's pretty damned freaky.
The voice says it kills the girls because it is afraid they'll take the guy away from him. Interesting. Justifying the killing as a means to stay insane.
After he's done prepping his new life sized doll, he packs a shotgun up in a guitar case, offers a baby doll some Cracker Jack, tells his toys he'll be right back, and heads out. Does this guy do anything other than kill? It seems like a full time profession for him. He just got in a few minutes ago.
We find out the guy is actually a celebrity stalker as he waits outside a disco and watches makeup master Tom Savini and his girlfriend get into their car. Our killer proceeds to follow them. There are easier ways to get an autograph.
He creeps up on the well lit car with his own, and despite having turned off the headlights, it's still pretty bright out there.
Tom is totally chewing the scenery as one of those guys with every bad pickup line in the book, and it looks like he is having a blast saying them. You gotta love performances like that.
While the pair make out in the back seat, Grumbles creeps up and enjoys the show. He's clearly looking in the window when the woman declares that she thinks she sees something. Ya think?
Tom actually somehow does not see the big hulking guy staring in the window, and even says there's no one there. Bwah. They try a little to have the guy stand up and act like darkness in his big coat, but come ON.
They scramble into the front seat, and try to leave, but when they turn the lights on, Grumbles is standing there staring at them. At least now they can see him.
He runs forward, jumps onto the hood, and whips out the shotgun, firing it point blank into Tom Savini's face. I guess he's not a fan after all.
But seriously, because this is Tom Freakin' Savini, the head explosion is, quite frankly, a little bit awesome. The head looks a little fakey pre-explosion, but they smartly only show it for a half second.
And bonus touch, the girl gets a nice splash of blood on her face. I love Savini's practical effects.
With that done, he creeps around until the girl thinks she sees something again and starts screaming. The shotgun gets put in her face and he pulls the trigger. No awesome headsplosion this time, and I don't think he'll be collecting a scalp,
The news reports this as one of the most violent killing sprees in New York's history. The guy just killed five people in less than 24 hours. Ya think?
Once he's done his busy day at the office, Frank curls up in bed with his latest hookerquin...wait no. Now it's the girl he just headshot to death, it's wearing her blue dress. He didn't even keep victim #3 in his bed that long. He went right out and got a new one! I guess guys do prefer blondes.
And now he's telling his voice that the killing has to stop, or they'll take the voice away. Wasn't that the other way around? I don't think the movie knows which voice is which anymore, since they're starting to blur. Or just have a confused script. You could guess the former, but I suspect it is more likely the latter.
Nice touch putting a sock over the mannequin's head to simulate her not having one anymore.
The next day, we're in a park, with some mothers and kids, and Grumbly runs smack dab into one of the kids on a bike, getting his picture taken by a woman. Good thing he has no soul left.
He very suspiciously kneels next to her bag like he's tying his shoes, and gets the woman's address, then it's off for more mannequins. I would love to hear a news report about the mannequin crime spree.
But rather than go anywhere with the camera subplot, it's suddenly nighttime, and Grumbles is stalking a nurse outside a hospital. Because the park was apparently unimportant.
He chases the nurse down into the subway, where she just misses a train out of there.
This subway station is remarkably empty. I guess it's late at night, but this is totally abandoned. Not even a bum on a bench. And the girl can't seem to get out, so she hides in the nearest restroom. I'd almost rather get killed than hide in a stall in New York City.
Frank looks around the bathroom, but doesn't see anything. Maybe because he never looked for feet. Had no one thought of doing that in 1980? She hears him leave, makes way too much noise, and pokes her head out.
She stops by a sink to freshen up, glad to be ok, and the camera pans the mirror out of the way. Gee, I wonder if she'll be alone once she looks back in the mirror.
How the heck did he get THAT close without her noticing? I'm just saying.
And he runs her through with a freaking sword! Where did he get that?? Does he sit at home and plot precisely how to find and kill these girls? "I know, I'll wait until one ducks below a mirror, sneak up behind her, and BAM! puncture a lung! Yeah!"
In the time it took to get the nurse's clothes and hair home, and another mannequin, the local paper has already written about it. That was fast!
Oh hey, it looks like there was a point to that park scene, as the movie wanders back to that plotline. Frank comes up to the girl's apartment, announces his name, and that she took his picture in the park. Ok, the name is one thing. He's not going to let her live, clearly. But "You took my picture, and I stalked you to your house" is not a good line to use when there's a murder spree going around.
So of course she opens the door.
They have an actual interesting conversation about the permanence of life and photographs, which is way better than you'd expect to find in a slasher film, and a good insight into Frank. He's constantly afraid of losing people, like he lost his mother, so tries to preserve them in as strange a way as possible. I can actually roll with that motivation, even if it's a crazy one.
Surprisingly enough, he asks Anna out on a date rather than killing her. He seems to have found a kindred spirit in the art world. Although, I doubt she'll appreciate his contributions.
Frank shows up to one of Ann's photography sessions, and hands her a box. Sadly, it's just a teddy bear and not a scalp. The character stuff is a nice change of pace, but we're drifting into boring territory here. And it amuses me that her boss complains about the look of the girls in the photoshoot, their makeup, their outfits, but after a break nothing has changed.
As he watches the girls, Frank starts making his grunting, groaning, phone sex breathing voice. Oh good, there may be a bloodbath soon.
Later, one of the models heads home, and the movie misses an opportunity. She ducks inside the slowest closing door ever, and the movie does NOT have Frank dramatically rush up and grab the door before it shuts.
She hears her door buzz, and there's Frank with her missing necklace he stole. For a town gripped in fear by a killing maniac, they sure are trusting. And then he just leaves. Well, that was anticlimactic.
At least the movie sticks with her as she gets naked...er, takes a bath, so we know something is going to happen. Or they just wanted to show breasts. The sense of something coming is helped along by Frank lurking just outside the bathroom.
After bonking her head, Frank starts talking to himself, but the movie seems to have forgotten its voice over insanity gimmick which was actually interesting.
His madness goes into full on batshit mode as he rambles to the girl about how she keeps leaving him, for all those other men, for money, but now he'll keep her forever. An interesting way to go with it. It's crazy, but a believable bit of crazy. Lots of mommy issues.
He takes his new prizes home and dresses up a new mannequin, then sits in the dark with his baseball cap and raygun. Oh yeah, huge mommy and abandonment issues here.
Frank then starts loading up a gun, and just as you think the movie is going for a dark, abrupt ending, nope. He just shoots BBs at a target on his wall. Boo.
With that sudden mental regression over with, Frank calls up Anna and makes a date to catch a show. I guess his two personalities are adult and child. I really need to stop psychoanalysing slasher movies, I know.
We find out he sent flowers to, and attened the funeral of Rita the model. At least he looks after his victims. And then it's off to stop by his mother's grave. I bet he hangs out there way too much. Isn't it a bit hypocritical for a murderer to say the Hail Mary to his mom in a cemetary?
Frank then snaps all of a sudden, tries to strangle Anna who fights him off with a few weak slaps. Gee, if it was THAT easy to get him off, this should've been a much shorter movie.
Anna takes a cue from Frank's own playbook, and hides behind a grave Frank should have easily seen her lurking behind. But she jumps up and slashes Frank good in the arm with something and makes a run for it. He got very vulnerable very quick.
Grumbly starts having some flashbacks in the cemetary, and we get to hear how mean his mother was to him. I'd say he's better off.
So, somehow he ran after his girlfriend, chased her out of the cemetary, and collapsed right in front of his mother's grave again? No wonder Anna escaped so easy, Frank runs in circles.
And then that happened. That was sudden. If the guy wasn't clearly insane, that would be even more out of nowhere.
So, after being attacked by his zombie mother, Frank heads home and falls on his mother's ghost on the bed, surrounded by all his mannequin mommies, and this is really messed up, isn't it?
And at that point, the mannequins come to life and come after Frank. This is appropriately terrifying. Mannequins coming to life should be, even if it's all just some crazed fever dream of a guy bleeding out. It's a really well done scene of all the bloody women coming to life and coming after Frank.
So all the girls huddle around and stab and slash at Frank, until they rip his head off.
And that's pretty much how we end it. The great cathartic moment of Frank's bloody rampage is a hallucination of his own murders coming back to haunt him, after one girl got lucky and poked him in the arm before running off into the night? That's a little bit lame.
But that doesn't answer the question how two cops show up and discover Frank with a giant knife in his gut. Did he kill himself in the end, fuelled by his nightmares? So, the hero of the movie is Frank? Man...
To add insult to injury, the cops just shrug and leave. Nothing more. They were pointless.
And so ends the...OH COME ON! He opens his eyes?? We didn't need that! It's even more pointless than the cops and unnecessary! He's dead, and the movie was somewhat nicely tied up! I can go with a good eye opener, but that has no place here.
Video: Surprisingly decent. The opening scenes are way dark, but that's by design. There were issues trying to clean them up and colour correct them, and they mostly succeeded. The movie's grainy and gritty, but it totally fits the story, and again that's by design. I doubt you'd ever get, or want a better looking version than the 30th Anniversary DVD.
Audio: The only moments I didn't hear clearly were Frank's mumblings, and that's fine. They remixed the audio to 5.1 and even DTS. I listened to the 5.1 stream, and it was immersive and well mixed. I might give the DTS a listen at some point.
First Kill: A nicely paced two minutes in, when Frank slashes the throat of the female beach snuggler. Her boyfriend doesn't live much longer.
Best Kill: Oh, it has to be Tom Savini's. You can't go wrong with a blood soaked headshot from a shotgun through a car window.
Blood Type - A: Oh yes, there will be blood. Again, Tom Savini. The guy is a master for a reason. This was a no budget movie, and he did an amazing job with very little resources. He did not spare the blood either. I only mark it down because there could have been even more. Which is a scary prospect.
Sex Appeal: There's a ton of female victims, and many of them were porn stars of the time. They surprisingly only showed one pair of bare breasts for all that.
Movie Rating: After Home Sweet Home, I really needed this palette cleanser. Everything that movie did wrong, this movie did right. While this is no piece of high class cinema, and the story is pretty basic, it's also not that bad. The acting is surprisingly good from Frank and Anna, and even Tom Savini. When it's shot bad, it's deliberately so, and the plot isn't mindless. Yet it's also telling how many characters in this movie have no names. A little polish could have been used. Four out of five scalps.
Entertainment Rating: Again, I needed a mental cleansing after Jay's rampage, and this movie gave me even more entertainment. The plot makes more sense, things happen for a reason, and while Frank's rampage can be said to mirror Jay's somewhat in its randomness, at least he's finding his victims nearby and that makes sense. Frank is also a much better character. He IS a character. Jay is a knife. I was thoroughly entertained by the blood and his journey, only being a little let down by the ending. Four out of five mannequins.
Fun Fact: After the police left Frank alone, he escaped and changed his ways. He took his love of mannequins and women, and transformed his murderous rampage into a lucrative career as the founder and designer of Real Dolls.