Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: Maniac! (1980)

Director: William Lustig
Starring: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro

"Now you're mine forever."

You know when a movie has an exclamation point after the title, it’s worth checking out!! It makes it sound all the more urgent, which subtextually means you should see it faster!! Okay, okay, I’m not going to do that for the whole review, but I am going to talk about this classic 80s slasher flick called Maniac!.

Now, when you think of a 80s slasher movie, what do you think of first?

Well…this is nothing like that. You have a really cool cover of a guy holding a bloody scalp with a knife, drawn in that traditional 80s style that was always so damn cool…must just be another goofy flick, huh? Not exactly. Maniac! is a tale of a depraved photographer who kills young women in the night due to the uncontrollable urges that plague him after his mother ‘betrayed’ him. It is a sad story in equal proportions to its status as a horror story, and the dark grime of the bleak 1980s cityscape that surrounds the characters makes the viewer feel really lost in this movie’s tortured existence. This is a very depressing movie that doesn’t really lighten the mood with any laughs or goofy kills like others did. And for that it’s all the more interesting – this isn’t just a silly slasher movie; this is a realistic, depraved tale of a man tormented by his own demons.

When Frank, played by Joe Spinell, kills, he turns his victims’ scalps into hair for his life-size dolls. This provides a really unsettling motif on its own as we see shots of him putting them together and moving them around, but it also gives us one of the film’s best scenes toward the end – and I won’t spoil it for you.

Spinell is a first rate horror “villain,” and his stoic, blank expression turns from unassuming and a little creepy into flat out disturbing at times. He’s just so insane that even when he knows he’s insane, it’s still scary and unpredictable as hell. As for best scene that demonstrates his acting…well, take your pick! The first scene where he kills a prostitute is one of the best ones, as we see his transition from a bland, un-feeling man to a psychotic, uncontrollable murderer in vivid clarity.

Even though I never get why the victims in these movies have to scream “Stop it” all the time. It’s not like that actually ever dissuades anyone, you know. It’s like, “Oh, she’s saying stop it? Gee, I better quit strangling her or else she might get really pissed! My bad.” Seriously, THAT’S JUST SILLY.

But the movie is still a good one. It’s a slow burner, and it takes its time to get to where it wants to go, but that’s part of the fun – it’s fun to watch the suspense slowly building up. It’s fun to watch a pretty young thing get stalked in the night, and it’s especially fun when the suspense is layered on thick and heavy, with that kind of 80s sleaze and vintage look to it. And no, that doesn’t mean I’m going to go kill someone myself. Just in case you were wondering. So go see Maniac! if you crave more of that 80s style slashing. It’s well worth your time.