Skip to content

John’s Horror Corner: Maniac (1980), a sick, brutal, ultra-violent (for its time) slasher movie with an in-depth look into its killer.

September 15, 2019

MY CALL: Perhaps the most brutal slasher movie at the time of its release (in 1980), this was also the most exploratory portrait of a killer to date as well (perhaps in honor of Psycho’s Norman Bates). Very gory, uncomfortable, depraved and ambitious. MORE MOVIES LIKE Maniac: For more brutal slashers of the early 80s go for The Prowler (1981), My Bloody Valentine (1981), Happy Birthday to Me (1981), The Burning (1981), The Funhouse (1981), Pieces (1982), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and, of course, the remake of Maniac (2012).

Frank (Joe Spinell; Starcrash, The Last Horror Film) isn’t like most of our 1974-1980 era slashers. We see his face from the beginning, we know exactly who he is, we see some of his personal struggles, and we focus on him and not his victims. Frank suffers night terrors, his body is littered with scars from abuse, and he sleeps with mannequins donning the bloody scalps of his victims. Yup, he’s a troubled guy. And he actually seems even more distressed after killing.

With Tom Savini (From Dusk till Dawn, Dawn of the Dead, Machete Kills) involved, you know you’re in for a bloody treat. Whether slitting a throat, garroting with razorwire, or scalpeling one’s forehead before slowly peeling off her scalp, great care is taken for the audience to see everything happening on-screen.

With three kills in just the first 20 minutes, it’s ambitiously gory for its time, with a lot of bloody chunks to be enjoyed. We even see a crazy gunshot death scene result in an exploding head (really, it’s like a small animal was microwaved).

But readily more disturbing than the death scenes is Frank’s own mind; how he talks to himself, how he talks to his mannequin companions, and what he sees in his victims. He’s so deeply disturbed he makes Norman Bates look like he has himself together. And like Norman Bates, Frank’s mom issues run deep!

This disturbing film may represent the most thorough psychological portrait of a serial killer at the time. But despite knowing our killer so well, we really don’t know much about his history or why he kills… or why he expresses a special interest in Anna (Caroline Munro; Demons 6, Don’t Open Till Christmas, Starcrash).

The decapitation at the end capped off an incredibly brutal finale and comeuppance for our killer. We see his head get straight up pulled from his body by his victims and it’s an awesomely bloody mess. Very impressive work from young director William Lustig (Maniac Cop 1-3, Uncle Sam)—and now I feel like I need to see Maniac Cop (1988), which I’ve essentially been procrastinating for 20 years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: