Can I just say right now that watching a movie this gnarly and sleazy in 4K is SO WEIRD! I am not really reviewing this as a sort of home release thing, but the film has never looked better. It’s still grimy, there’s tons of film grain, but it’s bright, it’s clear, and man does the blood pop.
Sorta like a head being shot with a shotgun.
HEY, don’t look at me, it’s in the movie.
It’s a packed disc set though, with a lot of extras and more love than you’d imagine a film like this would ever find but for fans of the film it’s as good as you’re apt to find.
On to the film.
MANIAC is the story of a deeply damaged man named Frank Zito who stalks and kills women in New York City as a way to lash out at what we assume was an abusive and neglectful mother.
The film is notorious for its blood and gore and the misogyny of the main character but for me it’s the chilling portrayal of Frank by actor Joe Spinell that sets the film apart from so many other films of the same ilk. Let’s face it, nasty, mean spirited horror/thrillers that offer a very violent and grim look at women is nothing new. Welcome to Hollywood, kid. The thing though is that those movies usually eschew character and depth to ladle on the blood and assault. They lean into the lurid details and sleaze where, with MANIAC, that’s there, to be sure (as well as the most ridiculous song in a horror film – Show a Little Shooooooulderrrrr!) but this is about Frank. This is about a madman, a maniac, and the highlight of the film is really the chilling portrayal by Spinell. The closest approximation I can think of offhand is that of Michael Rooker in HENRY. Both are nasty, depressing movies about hollow man-boys who cannot connect with women, so they brutalize them.
The story here is a bit thin – just following Frank as he hunts and kills, and then tries to connect with a woman who had taken a photo of him but who he seems to also be genuinely attracted to – but it’s the journey into madness that holds our attention. And this is not just an excuse to show women being abused but takes the journey with Frank all the way to the bitter, depressing ending, despite a last-minute shock. For people like Frank there is no happy ending. There is only riding that rail until you finally run out of track and then careening down into darkness.
The creepy thing about watching this film through the lens of today is how Frank and TAXI DRIVER’s Travis are prototype incels – angry men who cannot deal with the bubbling, raging emotions they find within themselves and can’t connect to people, especially women. They feel owed a world that isn’t there. They feel owed affection that isn’t offered. Where Travis turns his violence towards men who are ‘keeping’ women, Frank does it to women who he believes give their love too freely. We don’t get a deep look at Travis’ past, but you can sense that there’s a reason he has become what he is, a human weapon, a gun waiting to go off. With Frank you get much more of an idea of where he went wrong. Both men though are dark stars, devouring all that is around them until they finally implode.
The scary part is that those men exist and are all around us.
MANIAC is not a movie for everyone. In any sort of way. It’s a dark, mean, nasty movie and isn’t one you tend to pull out for grins. This is a good movie. Well made, luridly shot, and absolutely bleak but captivating. It’s rare to see a movie like this that focuses not on the sleaze but on the perpetrator. It cares about him. It wants YOU to care about him. Even if you are repulsed you are still heartbroken for this man-child.
It’s not a perfect movie – like I said, the story is wafer thin and they never really cared to dig deeper – but it’s still as powerful and chilling today as it was when it came out.
Enter at your own risk, but it’s a heck of a show.
3.5 out of 5