Holy moly, this Exploitation Alley article is long overdue, as it’s been a month since the last one (sorry!). In anticipation of Franck Khalfoun’s MANIAC remake coming out next month, I thought that I would revisit the original 1980 film and spend some time on it. So hold onto your scalps, and watch out for crazy Frank Zito, because he just might blow your head off..it’s time for Exploitation Alley!
MANIAC follows Frank Zito, played brilliantly (and co-written) by the late Joe Spinell (CRUISING, ROCKY, THE GODFATHER). Frank is an overweight, greasy looking guy who lives alone, and well…murders women (and sometimes men) and cuts the scalps off of said ladies to place on his mannequins, along with their wardrobe as well. Frank completely exudes a sketchy as hell demeanor but never quite takes it over the top, instead turns in a really subtle yet sometime erratic performance.
The film begins with a young couple cuddling and having a swell time at the beach together. Of course, nothing can just be ok, as the girl sends the guy to get some wood for their little fire, and while the boyfriend is gone, Frank shows up, stabs the woman then scalps her. When the boyfriend returns, he’s met with a wire to the throat, ending a very bloody scene and setting forth the tone of the film, a tone that really doesn’t change.
We’re then allowed to stay with Frank for a bit and get introduced to his world/mindset. He lives alone, has a shrine of his late mother, who, as he makes perfectly clear, he has a love/hate obsession with, and keeps a group of mannequins made to look like former victims of his. Each mannequin wears the scalps of women he wanted to be close with but didn’t know how to be, and all have blood grotesquely stained on their heads. It’s a visually interested set piece, the apartment of Frank’s residence.
After talking then berating himself for some time, Frank heads on his way, ready for another night filled with a short encounter with a female, leading to death, and this time he chooses a prostitute who needs to make her rent. Frank picks her up, takes her to a scuzzy motel ran by director Bill Lustig himself, and gets ready to show the hooker a good time. After asking the prostitute to show him her best model poses and making out for a bit, Frank decides to do what he does best: choke her the hell out until the poor rent-starved hooker dies, and well..loses her hair as well. Are you guys beginning to think Frank has issues? If so, then you’re silly, because you should’ve known that from the beginning..geez guys, catch up!
After turning yet another mannequin into his newest short-term amour, Frank decides to go big, loading up his shotgun, and being the ever-so thoughtful guy that he is, gives us viewers (and a couple making out in a car) one of the best kills in the history of slasher films. I’m not even going to write about it, I’ll just show it to you wonderful readers:
YEAH. FX maestro himself, Tom Savini, not only did the special effects for the film, he also played “disco boy”, the guy who just wanted to put some moves on a spoken for girl, just to get his face blown off by Zito, just for the hell of it. You can’t blame the guy for trying to get some, but oh well…
*While filming this scene, Savini had to hurry up and pull off shooting a dummy with a REAL shotgun, then throwing the gun into a car and leaving, as the filmmakers didn’t have a permit to do the scene. Talk about guerrilla filmmaking there.
Frank heads off and later in the week, kills a nurse fresh off the subway. This guy really needs a new hobby, killing chicks left and right is just downright mean, huh? The following day, while scoping for some new prey, Frank comes across Anna, a British photographer who takes his picture. Seeing her address on her purse (who leaves their address on their purse?…), Frank finds his new obsession, and after meeting her, he begins to date Anna. All seems to be going well, until Frank sees Anna photographing a few models and later on, shows up at the door of one of the models, ready to play yet again. Frank attacks the model, ties her up and begins to accuse her of being his neglectful prostitute mother, yelling at her for changing her hair and everything else, then stabs her to death..and you guessed it, takes her scalp.
Like any psychotic serial killer, his hopeful romance goes sour, when while on the way to go see a movie, Frank takes Anna to the grave of his mother, and begins to lose it more than he already has started to throughout the film. He attacks Anna, but British women don’t go down easily, so she grabs a nearby shovel and injures Frank, before making her getaway. Frank, wounded both physically and mentally begins to hallucinate, seeing the corpse of his late mother attack him. Frank, freaking out, heads home, and absolutely loses his mind, seeing the mannequins turn back into the women he killed, and he trips out, imagining the mannequins tearing him to pieces, quite literally.
The police soon show up at Frank’s door, and upon walking in, they see Frank, bleeding from a self-inflicted stab to his gut, seemingly dead. Sickened by his mannequin collection, the police officers leave the room, and when they do, Frank OPENS HIS EYES. Credits roll.
It’s a fun, yet eerie movie, filled with a great performance by Spinell, who unfortunately died too soon. Spinell was trying to get funding together for a sequel of sorts to MANIAC, but sadly died before that happened. On Blue Underground’s bluray of the film, however, there’s somewhat of a short film for the sequel, directed by COMBAT SHOCK filmmaker Buddy Giovinazzo.
What’s great about MANIAC, is that it just oozes that late ’70s/early ’80s NY vibe that was so prevalent in that era of slashers. The film basically flows with the 42nd street grindhouse vibe, and it works wonders for the movie. If you haven’t yet, do yourself a huge favor and check it out!