When you mention great horror films of the 80’s the mainstays come to mind: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, FRIDAY THE 13TH, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and EVIL DEAD. Very rarely will anyone mention the 1980 flick, MANIAC. Why? Because this movie is sick and not for everyone, and I trully mean that as a compliment. Maniac tells the story of a man(iac) named Frank, who like most serial killers and nut jobs in this genre, have major mommy issues. Apparantly he loved her too much and she loved him too little… and died sometime ago. Nonetheless the schlub roams the streets of 80’s New York where hookers stand in front on hotels because they only need $100 bucks to make rent. Frank is ruthless, maniacal predator who stalks his prey of women before showing them the door to death.
31 years is a long time for a horror film to try to live up. It actually succeeds because instead of making our killer a one-dimensional stalker who’s only purpose in the film is to serve as the villan, we see the world through his twisted point of view. The film begs the question of how much can we, the audience, relate to Frank? Any amount is decidely too much. The kills are brutal and realistic. The most talked about scene in the flick is the gun-shot scene. Perhaps because that scene is said to be inspired by real-life serial killer Son of Sam, you can feel the tension and fear that layer the scene or perhaps its the second by second realism that adds additional tension to an already adreneline-infused flick. Frank is not a man I want to cross in the strets. When he becomes “Frank the killer” the intensity in his eyes, the genuine look of fear in his victims faces have you wondering if you’ve stumbled across a snuff film.
Again, this film was made in 1980 before audience became cynics (or maybe its just me). The biggest problem with this film is the same problem that haunts many films in the 80s. There was no reason for it to exist outside of seeing Tom Savini cashing in a paycheck. Yes the kills are brutal, the maniac is believable but what is this film saying, if anything? The sheer realism of this film allows me to ask that question. At one point, Frank begins courting a photographer who becomes his love interest. This whole subplot is the most unbeleievable and head-scratching part of the whole movie. Was her purpose in the film to make Frank seem more human and subtley vulernable? Didn’t work as I didn’t buy for once second that this woman would find this man remotely attractive, not to mention a lack of credible chemistry. He sees on the street, shows up to her apartment (without her questioning how and why he found her address) and bam! They’re dating.
I first saw this flick in the 80’s. I couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 years old. The scene that stayed with me all this time, is the final climax. When I recently saw this film and that ending climax happened, there was no letdown from an almost 30 year memory. With a lack of a strong backstory and clear motive we see a predator randomly picking off young, pretty women in New York. Do these things matter? It didn’t for Michale Meyers in HALLOWEEN or the killer in BLACK CHRISTMAS. However, in MANIAC it does. There are small snippets that imply his mommy issues may manifest in his thirst for blood, but again why? The gritty realism and the tease of this character psyche begs these questions, especially when it comes to the films twisted ending. In a way, Maniac is a supped-up 80’s version of PSYCHO- a man-boy who complex relationship with his mother results in him murdering young women. While the film is far from perfect, its still an underrated film that is miles above many of its cinematic peers- and spinoffs (MANIAC COP anyone?) What was controversial in its day for seeming mysogonistic to some people, could provide an excellent study on mens sexual complexity manifested in horror- too bad there weren’t enough questions to be asked in the film to allow the controversy have an adequate debate.
*** out of 4
Um, nothing. Maybe a red-headed slut- mix Jagermeister, peach-flavored schnapps, and cranberry juice to get through the the “shot-gun” scene.