Maniac (1980) Review

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Maniac (1980) Review

I saw a recent discussion online about the original Maniac and the 2013 remake starring Elijah Wood. While Netflix has the remake streaming, I didn’t want to watch it until I had viewed the original. Now that I have the 1980 film under my belt, I’m leery of watching the remake as I’m afraid I will be disappointed.

Maniac is about a man named Frank. You can tell he’s a bit off – he lives in a tiny apartment filled with dolls and mannequins (one of which is in bed with him) and an oversized altar to his mother, replete with lit candles and giant framed photograph. It’s when Frank ventures out into the real world that you really begin to understand just how screwed up he is: he’s a serial killer, and likes to take scalps. Those mannequins he keeps? Scalps and clothes clothes courtesy of his victims.

Eeeesh.

One day Frank meets the beautiful photographer Anna.  He’s able to keep his murderous tendencies to himself when he’s around her, but when he visits her studio during a photo shoot, he meets one of the models and ends up not be able to keep it in his pants (figuratively speaking, of course).

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His nighttime murderous compulsions blend into his daytime normalcy, and then all bets are off – pretty photographer or no pretty photographer. Will Anna survive?

From what I understand, when this movie was released in 1980, Maniac was considered one of the first truly graphic and brutal serial killer/slasher films. Watching it thirty-four years later, I can understand. There’s a gruesome death ninety seconds in, and another one just a minute later. Tom Savini has a bit part, but his death is definitely epic, reminiscent of the climactic death scene in Cronenberg’s 1981 film Scanners.

In fact, all the deaths in this film are pretty brutal, and Frank shows some creativity in utilizing a different weapon each time, something rather unusual for a serial killer if you believe all the cop shows. I actually love that the hooker death scene feels so realistic – I won’t tell you how he kills her, but movies today make it seem like the method is such an easy way to off someone.  Not that I’m intimately familiar with such methods, but I’m guessing Maniac gets it right.

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Outside of all the violence, what really resonated with me was how sad Frank was. Clearly his mother was an abusive sadistic bitch. Frank sees her in every victim.  He talks to them – usually post-mortem – as if they were his mother. He lectures one victim before he kills her, and that’s when we get the complete picture of her abuse and questionable morals.   In a particularly disturbing scene, Frank acts out the punishments he received from her on a little boy mannequin.

Writer/producer Joe Spinell’s performance as Frank is fantastic. Each facet of Frank is vivid and real – the serial killer, the tortured mama’s boy, the ‘normal’ man – and Spinell effortlessly traverses them all.  It’s sad to think that Mr. Spinell died back in 1989 at the young age of 52. He deserved a long and fertile career.

The look of this movie is definitely rooted in the 80s, but its dark soul is timeless. I don’t think this flick will be leaving my subconscious anytime soon. As Frank says to one of his victims, “I’m not going to kill you. I’m just going to keep you so you’ll never go away again.”

4 Hatchets (out of 5)

About the Author:

Peggy Christie has been writing horror fiction since 1999. Her work has appeared in several websites, magazines, and anthologies, including Necrotic Tissue, Code Z: An Undead Hospital Anthology, Black Ink Horror, Elements of Horror, and Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes. Her short story, “Why Be Normal?”, opened the anthology Reckless Abandon from Catalyst Press which premiered at the Horrorfind Convention in 2002. Her collection, Hell Hath No Fury, was published by Hazardous Press in May of 2013. Peggy is also the Secretary of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. She even has her own webpage. Check it out at themonkeyisin.com.

Peggy loves Korean dramas, survival horror video games, and chocolate (not necessarily in that order) and lives in Michigan with her husband and their two dogs, Roscoe P. Coltrane and Dozer.

6 thoughts on “Maniac (1980) Review

  1. “He’s a serial killer and likes to take scalps.” That would be enough for me lol. Have to add this to my Watch List!

  2. I made the unfortunate mistake of watching the remake before the original. Not that I disliked the 2013 version, because it was beautifully done and well cast. Ive always thought Elijah Wood made an interesting choice when casting a villain ever since seeing him as Kevin in Sin City.

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