Maniac (1980)

Dir: William Lustig, 1980


 maniac-1980-poster (2)

William Lustig’s tale of a lone psychopath, with deep-seated misogyny, is one of the most notorious video nasties in the UK.

Joe Spinell is Frank Zito. Disturbed and traumatised from years of abuse by his, now deceased mother, Frank takes prostitutes home and murders them.

Not content with murdering them, he scalps them and places the scalps on mannequins he has lying around his apartment.

However, he meets Anna (Caroline Munro) and develops affections for her.

Fighting with his feelings for Anna and his compulsion to murder and scalp women, Frank’s unhinged mind finally breaks.

This is, truly, a grubby film.

It’s good, but unpleasant.

The special effects by effects maestro Tom Savini are, to say the least, horrific.

The most famous effect in the film is where Savini himself has a cameo as a amorous disco lover with his girlfriend in the car.

A masked Zito leaps onto the bonnet, and blasts a shotgun through the windscreen and blows Savini’s head to pieces, all in slow motion.

It’s very unpleasant and realistic and is one of the best special effects you will ever see.

Written by the star and C.A. Rosenberg, Spinell is very convincing as the woman killer, perhaps a little too convincing.

You can feel how unstable Frank is by how strong Spinell’s performance is.

Hair greasy and pox marked, he looks the part of someone who is twisted.

Good friend of Sylvester Stallone and a brilliant character actor, Joe Spinell deserved so much more recognition than he got.

It’s only, now, after all these years that his work is being the credit it deserves.

Starring in classics like The Godfather and it’s sequel, Rocky and Rocky II, Taxi Driver, and Cruising, Spinell earned an impressive resume of roles, and a highly respectable back catalogue.

Maniac is not for the faint of heart.

Brutal, dirty and sleazy director Lustig excels in showing the seedy side of America.

The murders are shown in close up and the scalpings are depicted in a very gory, illustrative way.

Not surprisingly, the film caused controversy when released in the US.

Labelled as “misogynistic” and “vile”, Maniac was subject to pickets, bad reviews, and segments on the news.

Aside from the gruesome manner of the plot, the poster of Frank holding a bloody knife and a woman’s severed head was bound to ruffle feathers.

In Britain, though, the film was rejected a certificate making it banned, but it was released on the new video format in it’s uncut version.

Cover of the pre cert UK VHS

When Mary Whitehouse started her crusade against “video nasties”, the Director of Public Prosecutions drew up a list of titles liable for conviction as being obscene. This made it’s way onto it.

In 2002, the film was seen again by the board for a possible DVD release. The board insisted on 58 seconds of cuts to the strangulation of a prostitute. It was passed ’18’.

maniac-1980 (2)
Cut UK DVD release with a censored cover. The uncensored cover was printed on the reverse

In the 14 years since it was passed, it’s possible that the BBFC would now pass it uncut but it hasn’t been resubmitted.

A good film. Grimy, it’s worth a watch to see what all the fuss is about but a masterpiece it’s not.


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