October 31, 2011

Horror-A-Day: Maniac

There was a time when New York City was not really a safe place to visit. It was dirty and had a high crime rate. Sure, it was one of the biggest cities in America, but it was a place that most on the outside looking in would prefer it say that way. Then the big clean up happened and the perception of the city was fundamentally changed, probably forever. It became a cleaner, safer, more inviting tourist destination. Times Square went from a row of adult movie theaters to a tourist spot with upscale restaurants and shops.

What does this have to do with the movie at hand? Well, with the clean up of the city, the era of truly gritty New York filmmaking went with it. All you an do now is try to replicate it, but that is not the same as shooting on those grimy locations, they had a distinct personality and were able to bring character to films just by being. This applies to movies like Basket Case just as it does for Taxi Driver. Maniac is another movie that benefitted greatly from the gritty streets of pre-clean up New York City.

Maniac, directed by William Lustig, takes us to the streets and the life of a serial killer. Our killer is Frank Vito, played by co-writer Joe Spinell. As a child Frank was subjected to witnessing his prostitute mother do her work while he was locked in the closet.the experience warped his perception of women and when he grew up he sought to reconnect to women by killing them, scalping them, and nailing said scalps to mannequins he has in his dirty apartment.

This movie is not about catharsis or giving us an understanding of a killers mind. This is an exploitation film, pure and simple. Frank is not a nice guy and if you were to meet him, you would be best served crossing he street. He targets prostitutes, drug addicts, and women who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Part way through we get a brief respite from his violent and murderous ways when he meets a lovely photographer, played by Caroline Munro (Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter, The Abominable Dr. Phibes). The two sart a relationship which seems to calm him briefly, but before long he is back to the streets, killing and scalping.

It all leads up to a rather bizarre conclusion that would seem to indicate that his mind has finally snapped and taken him over the edge. It is a good scene, but. Seems mainly there to show off some bloody effects work.

While some of the dialogue and scenes are nothing short of dated, there is no denying the down home grittiness of the film as an exercise in exploitive excess. This is no supernatural killer, this is a real world stalker who has no remorse.

William Lustig uses the gritty landscape to great effect. There is no other I've or place that could have produced a movie like this. On top of that, Joe Spinell is completely believable as the killer and considering he was involved in the writing, could he have been writing autobiographically? I kid, but it is convincing.

Effects were handled by Tom Savini, who turns in some truly horrifying work. The scalpings are good, the knifings are solid, but the highlight has to be the shotgun scene. It was a scene where the victim was actually played by Savini himself. It is utterly convincing, and just really gory. Nice.

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