Years of abuse have turned Frank Zito in a psychotic killer who scalps his victims and puts his trophies on showroom mannequins.
Maniac is, metaphorically speaking, amongst the darkest American horror movies ever made and certainly the bleakest film of the early slasher cycle. Joe Spinell gives a more nuanced performance as Frank than most of the film's many detractors have ever acknowledged and William Lustig's direction is very stylish. The emphasis is on claustrophobia and dread. Frank's attacks are brutal and graphic. The murder of a nurse in the subway stands out and is very tense.
Though coming out of the Slasher boom, Maniac in some ways seems more akin to Taxi Driver than a Halloween. It is scuzzy,down beat and filled with ugly menace, rather than being fluid, elegant and suspense driven. Reflective of a New York that also produced Driller Killer and Don't Go In The House. The relationship between Caroline Munro and Joe Spinell is often seen as unrealistic, but it tends to be forgotten that Frank is actually fairly cultured and urbane. Again, it is worth comparing Maniac with Taxi Driver. In that film Cybill Shepperd, a sophisticated political PR, is in a relationship with DeNiro's Travis Bickle, a not too bright gun fanatic who takes his dates to XXX rated movies! Munro and Spinell in fact had enough natural chemistry to work together on The Last Horror Movie a year so later. The point is that the viewer is seeing the repellent side of Frank. Munro is not.
The most celebrated or reviled, take your pick, feature of Maniac are it's very nasty and visceral gore scenes. Tom Savini pulled out all the stops and delivered make up effects that rank amongst his best work.
Interestingly, the Micheal Sembello song "Maniac" was written for this film and reworked for Flashdance.
The Double Disc version gives you the uncut film, a documentary about Spinell, interviews and a lot of language options.