A series of gruesome murders of women or couples making out (make up
atrtist Tom Savini is among the victims) puts terror into New York City,
especially since all the female victims are scalped ... & the police
of course, is baffled.
The killer is of course Frank Zito (Joe Spinell),
a nobody with an inferiority complex that was triggered by his now dead
hooker-mother whom he loved in an oedipal way, & all of this is now
culminating in a bizarre case of misogyny. The scalps by the way he keeps
to drape on his numerous shopwindow mannequins he keeps at his appartment
to remind him of those he killed ...
One day though, Frank meets a
phjotographer, Anna (Caroline Munro), & in her art of preserving a
person's beauty he sees parallels to his own scalping pastime, thus he
figures her a kindred spirit & tries to build up a normal, healthy
heterosexual relationship with her, to which she (oblivious of course of
his murdering streak) responds accordingly, being quite charmed by the man
... of course, his relationshiop to Anna doesn't keep Frank from brutally
slaughtering one of her models (Gail Lawrence), then even accompanying
Anna to her funeral.
It isn't until Frank asks Anna to accompany him to
her mother's grave that he snaps &, imagining commands from her grabve
to do so, tries to slaughter Anna too. But Anna puts up more of a fight
than any of his previous victims & manages to get away, reporting
everything to the police, while he is soon dragged into a nightmarish
world, where his mother tries to drag him into her grave & his
shopwindow mannequins come to life as the women he murdered & brutally
When the police finally arrive at his appartment, he has
already killed himself ...
Though filled with violent,
in-your-face gore-effects (which had the film banned in various countries
at various times), the most disquieting, disturbiung thing abut Maniac
is probably Joe Spinell's portrayal of the main character, which is - even
if not free of some hamminess - so convincing that he seems to have been
born only for this role - apparently he thought so too, as he did co-write
& co-produce the film. Apart from this performance & the gore, the
film has not too much to offer - the direction is very unimaginative &
down-to-earth & the story is very rudimentary & not cliché-free
-, but this gives the film a certain rawness that for some reason cannot
be found in comparable indie-films of today anymore ...