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John Ary's Aint It Scary Reviews #4 Of 31!! MANIAC!!


John Ary here with another installment of Ain’t It Scary Reviews.  Today we’re heading to the mean streets of New York, where a serial killer savagely hunts down young women.

It’s too bad the internet wasn’t around in 1980.  It would have been interesting to see the online debates the film Maniac would have sparked.  I can see how it would be regarded as a misogynistic torture porn by some and a brilliant low-budget horror flick that takes us inside the mind of a killer by others.  I tend to lean more towards the former.

Maniac follows a mentally deranged man as he murders women throughout New York City. It starts with a brutal, tension-filled slaying.  Then we go back to the serial killer’s small apartment where he acts crazy for a little bit.  We repeat this process for the next 90 minutes.  Kill a lady, act crazy, kill a lady, act crazy.  While the plot line gets repetitive, the actual kills are violent and terrifying.  Director William Lustig understands how to setup a horror scenario and then carry out the kill with surprises, tension and blood splatter.  It’s too bad there isn’t more story to string the killings together, to give them more meaning.  Each death begins to feel more pornographic as you realize this is all the movie has going for it.  

What is apparent while watching Maniac is that this is a passion project for its star and writer Joe Spinell.  Spinell is a character actor who popped up in bit roles throughout the 70s and 80s.  He was the guy that hired Rocky to collect debts.  There was his role as Count Zarth Arn in the epically bad Starcrash.  He played a mafia henchman in the first two Godfather films.  Above all, he is best known for his turn as Frank Zito, the Maniac.  He put up some of his own money to make the picture.  During his solo scenes with the mannequins in his tiny apartment, he goes all out with his over the top crazy guy routine.  He’s trying so hard here, but in the end, Frank Zito is such a one-note, broadly-drawn character, his schtick gets old quick and becomes a cheap set-up to the various murder/death/kill scenarios.  Once you tire of the mental shortcomings of Frank Zito, you’ll lose interest in the main character’s internal conflict and the death scenes become exploitative.

If blood, guts, scalping, exploding heads, and stabbings are your thing, you’ll love Tom Savini’s work here.  He provides the special effects and each one is a little piece of gruesome art.  I just wish his work was given more purpose, rather than used as a bloody exclamation mark to end the different stalking scenarios.  

If you can’t get enough of Maniac, check out the promo reel created by Spinell for Maniac 2, where he plays a children’s clown that kills bad parents....  This is really a test.  If you clicked on the link you may have some psychological issues to work out yourself.  Let’s talk more about your relationship with your mother....

Unfortunately Maniac is no longer available on Netflix.  The only place I could find it streaming currently is  It’s also available on Blu-ray here.

Check back in tomorrow for another Ain’t It Scary Review as we learn the in’s and out’s of becoming an infamous serial killer from a legend on the rise.

For more video news, reviews and interviews subscribe to the AICN Youtube channel and follow me on Twitter.


Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 4, 2012, 12:19 p.m. CST


    by Trever

    I'm in the minority, but I never could dig this film. Do like Savini's work, though.

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 12:21 p.m. CST

    Savini even thinks this movie

    by macheesmo3

    is a bit sleazy..... I remember the first time I read Savini's makeup FX book that follows the different work in his career. The section on this movie had me hooked but it took 10 years to finally find it and see it. It's okay, and Spinell really goes all out. There's something to be said about the look and feel of the times making these types of movies seem better than they are. It's like in the late 70's early 80's it was always either fall or winter and everybody was sweating

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 12:31 p.m. CST

    Behind the Mask...

    by Red Ned Lynch

    ...tomorrow you've got to tell me who still has it streaming. Maniac. We talked about this yesterday. And big shout out to Gmork for calling this as today's movie. This was a really big deal when I was a little kid. It was one of the movies you had to watch if you wanted horror bragging rights. And I'm going to pass that forward now and say that yeah, if you're a horror fan this is probably one you should watch. But I can't imagine ever watching it again.

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 12:34 p.m. CST

    Maybe I'm thinking of a different movie

    by Chris

    but aren't they remaking this with Elijah Wood?

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 12:37 p.m. CST

    the only reason i didn't click the Maniac 2 promo link

    by Stephen

    is because I still haven't gotten around to seeing Maniac 1, and I want the full experience. one of the best movie posters of all time really

  • Apparently he was a drunken asshole that everyone he ever met loved.

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 12:41 p.m. CST

    Hey lookit that.

    by ShutTheFuckUp

    A real live article. I knew you had it in ya, Ary :)

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 12:42 p.m. CST

    I only watch this movie to hear the title song

    by Christian Sylvain

    You can't catch me. Not the Maniac. No way!

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 12:46 p.m. CST


    by Stephen

    why's every guy that kills women gotta be 'mentally deranged'?

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 1:11 p.m. CST

    Not really "torture porn"

    by Smerdyakov

    He just pretty much just kills them. Unless you count him having sex with them first. Spinelli wasn't exactly Christian Bale.

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 1:30 p.m. CST has Caroline Munro in it

    by None_So_Blind

    I'd watch a movie where she reads the phone book for 90 minutes :-P

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 2:11 p.m. CST

    I seem to recall

    by macheesmo3

    a video out there that shows Spinell and Spielberg hanging out watching the TV reveal of the Oscar Nominations and complaining cuz Steve got snubbed for Jaws or Close Encounters.. always thought they were an odd pair to be friends

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 2:40 p.m. CST

    (spoiler) feminist undertones... really

    by Monnie Knapp

    I saw this as a film which presented a killer so repugnantly misogynistic that we are forced to hate him, to want him dead. While we understand he's sick, just built that way, we can't excuse his actions. Beyond his natural propensity for insanity, he was pushed into his particular niche due to the defilement of his mother. If mother is all women to her son, so are all women like his mother: beautiful, but ultimately flawed--and the truth of that blemish makes an already fragile mind snap. His condemnation and (literal) objectification of all women culminates in a fitting end, where the deep seeded guilt over his dysfunction leads him to suicide (only he can stop the monster he has become) while hallucinating that his victims have returned from the dead to tear him apart. Applying a feminist lens to this, we see an anti-misogynist tragedy, a detailing of the ultimate end of his brutal sadistic woman hating: loss of connection to mother, which leads to loss of self, a violent strike at the perceived problem (women) and ultimate acceptance of the true problem (himself). The laws of tragedy state that he must die or be exiled. Suicide is a popular choice at that point. So, there's an over-analysis of this cheap, b-grade, throw-away slasher film.

  • Oct. 4, 2012, 4:09 p.m. CST

    I remember...

    by carlotta_valdes

    ...taking a date to see Maniac when I was a teen. Probably why THAT didn't work out.

  • Oct. 5, 2012, 4:27 a.m. CST

    What about the Alexandre Aja-produced remake?

    by GavinElster

    Anyone saw it? Heard it fared pretty well in festivals lately, can't wait to see it, since the 80 version clearly left some room for improvement.

  • Oct. 5, 2012, 4:30 a.m. CST


    by GavinElster

    Right on, man : that poster is really something. Especially when you pay attention to all the little details: the unbuttonned shirt, the stingy leather belt, the obvious bulge in the pants... Wow, that is creepy!