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Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/26/2010
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/26/2010; Updated 11/28/2018
In my recent review forMagic, I wrote that there were certain movies from my lifetime that I'd always wanted to see, but simply hadn't. The beauty of home video is that you can see nearly any movie that you want at nearly any time. The problem is that there can often be too many movies from which to choose. (It may difficult to imagine in the age of Netflix, but there was a time when we would go to the video store and simply stare at the shelves trying to decide what to watch.) 1980's Maniac is one on those movies. I can remember picking it up and putting it back down many times over the years, never quite sure if I wanted that to be my choice for the night. Now, 30 years after its initial release, I've finally seen the film in its new Blu-ray Disc release.
Joe Spinell stars in Maniac as Frank Zito, a loner who lives alone in a dingey apartment which is filled with mannequins. He has a habit of wandering the streets, murdering unsuspecting women (and sometimes men). He then often scalps the women and nails these scalps to the mannequins. While in the park one day, he notices a photographer taking his picture. He tracks down Anna (Caroline Munro), and attempts to have a relationship with her. However, the instinct to kill is strong and Frank has a difficult time keeping it together.
Despite the fact that I hadn't seen Maniac, I was familiar with the movie. I can remember reading about it in Fangoria in the 80s, and I've read essays about it in various books. Many of the things which I'd read about the movie has portrayed it as a mean-spirited and violent movies. Several critics had so maligned the movie that it became somewhat of a pariah.
While I often agree with Chuck D and think "Don't believe the hype", now that I've seen Maniac, and I know that many of the things written about it in the past are true. While I'm sure that at some point Co-writer/Star Joe Spinell and Director William Lustig felt that the movie had some sort of point and told some sort of story, that got lost somewhere. For the first 48 minutes, we simply sit and watch Frank kill people and act freaky in his apartment...and that's it. We never see Frank talking to any live humans during this time, and his ranting to the mannequins is often gibberish. It's not until the movie is over half-way through that Frank approaches Anna and we see him act like a "normal" person. However, this doesn't change the face of the film, as Frank continues to kill. In the third act, we get an idea of why Frank does what he does. So, in short, there's very little story or character development in Maniac.
I hate to sound like so many other critics, but Maniac is simply a movie where we watch a guy kill people and that's about it. There is little story and Frank's motivation is vague and hackneyed at best. Even when this explanation is given, Frank's killings still seem unnecessary and excessive. I'd hoped to find something else in the film, but there's nothing there. I'm sure that some have applauded Spinell's performance, but I found it to be inconsistent and annoying. And while there's no doubt that the movie is bleak, it wasn't as graphically violent as I'd expected. Yes, there's gore, and this is no kiddie movie, but other than the famous exploding head and the finale, we are mostly treated to cuttings and stabbings.
Of course, the violence is tame when compared to the overall tone of the film. The movie is relentless and contains no levity whatsoever. Frank is doughy, dirty, and unapproachable, and he constantly pushes the audience away. The movie is the epitome of sleaze. Now, sleaze isn't necessarily a bad thing. For example, Frank Henenlotter is the king of sleaze and I enjoy his movies. The problem with Maniac is that there's no levity or human element. We simply watch a crazy guy killing people. In this way, it's almost a documentary on killing. I love horror movies and I don't mind gore, but there was nothing enjoyable about Maniac and I now realize that I could have gone another 30 years without having seen the film and I would have been just fine.
Maniac makes asking out a beautiful photographer look really easy on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Blue Underground. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. Keep in mind that this is a 30-year old low-budget movie which was shot on 16mm film. The image is fairly grainy throughout, which various level of grain at times. It's never a ridiculous amount, but this HD transfer makes it all obvious. The movie is dark and at times, the image is dark. The opening scene was clearly shot day-for-night, and it looks odd here. The colors are OK, but slightly washed out. Again, this was my first time seeing Maniac, but this is the probably the best that it's ever looked. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The music, dialogue, and sound effects are all clear and the track shows no hissing or popping. The stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects are all very subtle, as, for the most part, this sounds like a mono track.
The Maniac Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director/Co-producer William Lustig and Co-producer Andrew W. Garroni. A second COMMENTARY features Lustig, special effects make-up artist Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Joe Spinell's assistant Luke Walter. "Ann and the Killer" (13 minute) is an interview with actress Caroline Munro, who discusses her career and how she became involved in the film, including how she first met Joe Spinell. Special effects makeup artist Tom Savini is interviewed in "The Death Dealer" (12 minutes), where he talks about the gore effects in the film and how he worked within the limited budget. This includes some stills of the effects from Savini's collection. "Dark Notes" (12 minutes) profiles composer Jay Chattaway who talks about how he tried to have the music in the film reflect the character's feelings and motivations. "Maniac Men" (11 minutes) is an attempt by Lustig to dispel the myth the Michael Sembello's song "Maniac" from Flashdance was influenced by his film. Sembello and follow composer Dennis Matkosky set the story straight. The Disc includes seven THEATRICAL TRAILERS, two from the U.S. and five from other territories. We get nine TV SPOTS, which run about 3 minutes. We also get four RADIO SPOTS (which are obviously audio only). "Mr. Robbie: Maniac 2 Promo Reel" (7 minutes) shows Spinell playing a TV clown. This was presumably made to raise interest in a sequel, but no explanation is given. The DVD packed in this 2-disc set contains additional extras. "The Joe Spinell Story" (49 minutes) is a documentary which explores the life of Spinell. Through comments from family, friends, and co-workers, we get a picture of what Joe was like and how he worked. There is also a nice amount of photos and footage of Spinell at work. "Maniac Publicity" contains seven examples of Spinell, Munro, and Lustig doing interviews on TV shows (including the immortal The Joe Franklin Show) and at film festivals. There is nearly two hours worth of material here. "Maniac Controversy" offers five TV news stories in which the film is maligned or attacked. (Although, in fairness, Gene Siskel's report is more about how movie's are publicized than about Maniac itself.) The "Gallery of Outrage" contains quotes lifted from reviews of and articles about Maniac.
On December 11, 2018, Blue Underground released a new Maniac Blu-ray Disc which contains a brand-new 4K restoration taken from a recently discovered 16mm original camera negative. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 31 Mbps. That bitrate is only a slight improvement over the Blu-ray Disc from 8 years ago. And the truth of the matter is that only so much can be done with a 16mm movie which was shot on a shoestring budget. The opening sequence, which, again, looks like day-for-night, shows a swarming mass of grain and doesn't seem to bode well. Following this, the image becomes far more stable. While the image is somewhat dark at times, the colors look good, most notably the red blood. The level of detail has been improved here, which allows us to see every nook and cranny of Spinell's face. The depth also looks better here. This is still a cheap movie, but it's a better looking cheap movie. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This sounds like the same track as the previous release. As with a lot of movies from this era, this multi-channel track provides some mild surround and stereo effects, but a lot of it simply sounds like a mono track, but with more presence. The actors are always audible and aren't drowned-out by the score.
In addition to the extras from the 2010 release of Maniac, we get two new special features, both of which are found on Disc 2. "Maniac Outtakes" (19 minutes) is a reel of newly discovered footage which plays like a series of deleted scenes, extended scenes, and B-roll. As there is no audio here, Lustig provide commentary to explain what we are seeing. "Returning to the Scene of the Crime with William Lustig" (8 minutes) has the director visiting a number of locations featured in the film to see what they look like today and to reminisce about the film's production.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2010/2018.