Maniac starring Joe Spinell, William Lustig’s third film, is not only the film that fueled his Maniac Cop series but one of the most brutal serial killer movies ever made. Joe Spinell as told to Fangoria magazine quotes “I don’t even think of Maniac as a horror movie. The horrible thing is that people like this really exist.” This statement really can set up the film. It’s not your average horror movie. The scare factor is minimal and the atmosphere is predominately different due to your knowledge of who the killer is in the first few minutes of the film. Spinell who did his homework in preparing for his role as the “maniac”, read old newspaper clippings of local NYC murders, talked to psychiatrists, and watched hours of video. The time and effort he put into his role really pays off as you can almost say that the man your watching on your television set is truly insane. In my opinion his character resembled as mix of Fuad Ramses (Blood Feast) and Norman Bates (Psycho). Lustig also claims that the set pieces were inspired by the films of Dario Argento and Mario Bava, this is present in the use of mannequins and reddish lighting hue that give a Giallo feel.
The film starts off with a gruesome beach scene murder, and the screams of a clinically insane individual. As you become more aware of his struggles dealing with reality you witness him murder one female after the next. His tool of choice is the razorblade, which he uses to scalp his victims. His fetish for bloody mannequins is satisfied with the hair of those he murders. With every murder Spinell becomes more depressed and upon loosing control he goes insane and in visions himself being murdered by all those he’s killed. The film comes to a close upon the discovery of his collection of female scalps by a duo of New York’s finest. When Spinell appears to be dead one eye opens and the screen fades to black.
The highlight of the film is the spectacular effects by horror patron Tom Savini. Lustig, who fell in love with Tom’s effects on Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, contacted him while shooting Friday the 13th and they both collaborated on the murder sequences used in the Maniac. It was actually Tom’s idea for Spinell to scalp his victims and in his special effects book Grande Illusions he goes in detail on how he performed the scalping. Maniac is not recommended for those with a weak stomach. But if you think you can handle it…go ahead!