Maniac is a 1980 American slasher horror feature film co-produced and directed by William Lustig (Maniac Cop and sequels; Uncle Sam) from a screenplay by actor Joe Spinell (who also stars as the titular character), and C. A. Rosenberg.
The gory special effects were the work of Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead; Day of the Dead; From Dusk Till Dawn), who also has a cameo role in which he gets his head blown off with a shotgun. Composer Jay Chattaway (Silver Bullet; The Ambulance) provided the brooding synthesizer score.
Principal photography began on October 21st 1979 and wrapped on January 18th 1980. With a minuscule $350,000 budget, many scenes in the 16mm film were shot guerrilla-style. Prints were blown up to 35mm for theatrical showings.
Originally considered purely an exploitation film, Maniac has since attained cult status and was remade in 2012 with Elijah Wood in the lead role.
Maniac was re-released by Blue Underground on December 11, 2018, as a three-disc Blu-ray + Blu-ray + CD set, with the movie having been remastered in 4K from its recently discovered 16mm original camera negative. The release was originally announced as having a DVD as the second disc but this has been replaced by a Blu-ray to accommodate even more extras!
Disc 1 (Blu-ray) Feature Film + Extras:
Audio Commentary #1 with Producer/Director William Lustig and Producer Andrew W. Garroni
Audio Commentary #2 with Producer/Director William Lustig, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Joe Spinell’s Assistant Luke Walter
Disc 2 (Blu-ray) Extras:
New! Maniac Outtakes
New! Returning to the Scene of the Crime with William Lustig
Anna and the Killer – Interview with Star Caroline Munro
The Death Dealer – Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini
Dark Notes – Interview with Composer Jay Chattaway
Maniac Men – Interview with Songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky
The Joe Spinell Story
Mr Robbie: Maniac 2 Promo Reel
Maniac Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD by Jay Chattaway
Collectable Booklet with a new essay by Michael Gingold
New York: A young couple is lying on a beach, unaware that they are being watched by an unseen person. Within minutes, both lovers have been slain by an assailant.
Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) then sits up in his bed in sweat, screaming after having a nightmare. He lives in a small apartment that is full of bizarre paintings, artwork and a framed picture of a woman decorated with candles and trinkets. Zito also owns a collection of mannequins, one of which is wearing the beach girl’s clothes and bloody scalp. He puts on a heavy winter coat and gloves and leaves the apartment…
” … the movie has more in common with the grungy Times Square aesthetic of Abel Ferrara (who made his own splatterfest a year earlier, The Driller Killer) than with the multitudes of slasher flicks that followed it. The pacing might be deadly at times — it feels a lot longer than its 88 minutes — but the filmmaking has a rough kind of integrity.” e-FilmCritic.com
“Despite some good direction and a sincere, even daring performance by character actor Joe Spinell (Rocky) … Maniac (1980) is alternately repellent and boring…” Stuart Galbraith IV, DVD Talk
“A couple of hallucination scenes are quite imaginatively filmed, but Spinell’s performance is unsubtle and the movie as a whole a fairly dubious undertaking.” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
“The centrepiece is Joe Spinell’s great performance. He’s eerily convincing as the dysfunctional killer … Maniac is far from perfect — it loses pace heavily in the second half, and the closing scenes are clumsily done … Even so, it’s a well-made and effective horror film and an influential one too. The ghost of Frank Zito can be clearly seen in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Man Bites Dog.” Jim Harper, Legacy of Blood: A Comprehensive Guide to Slasher Movies
“It’s not immoral but quite the opposite to create a film in which violence has consequences. In which a killer is depicted as a sad, frightening human being rather than a faceless automaton in a mask. In which one is encouraged to shudder, not laugh at the plight of a victim … After watching Maniac, you’ll want to take a deep breath, maybe even a shower, but you won’t have wasted ninety minutes on something that has no meaning, no pulse, no heart.” John Kenneth Muir, Horror Films of the 1980s, McFarland