HE’S BEHIND YOU! LOOKING BACK AT THE ORIGINAL MANIAC!
Hey, horrorfiends! In order to celebrate the impending DVD release of Maniac, one feels that it is appropriate to give y’all the lowdown on what was… and what now is… Yes, that’s right! Maniac is back with a vengeance, deriving from the original horror cult-classic released in 1980. Directed by William Lustig, and starring the maniacal Joe Spinell, this ‘80’s gem is well worth a revisit. And, if at all possible, drag out the video player for this one! Maniac is vicious, an absolute delight when viewing on a scratchy VHS.
The standout of the original Maniac is, of course, Spinell. His performance is riveting. He toys with our emotions, making us feel both sympathetic for, and disgusted by, Frank’s murderous streak. Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac is comprised of point of view shots from the killer, whereas the camera used in the original focuses a lot on Frank, or Spinell’s, expression as he sadistically slaughters beautiful, and mannequin-like, women. While the point of view shots encourage empathy for the Frank in 2012, in 1980 it was the use of dialogue, through a series of monologues that incite such emotion. Through these we note that some extreme forms of abuse have shaped Frank into the predator that he is, encouraging us to place the fault… Well, elsewhere.
In fact, Spinell’s performance is what captivated Khalfoun when he first saw Maniac in his teenage years: “I thought it was one of those very rare captivating slasher movies mainly because of Joe Spinell’s performance. You felt a lot of empathy for this crazy guy. Although he did terrible things, I felt heartbroken for him by the end of the movie, which is the main reason why I remember Maniac so vividly.”
With Spinell’s consistent ring of, “Hmm, hmm, hmm,” his “Ahh, mmm, mmm,” paired with penetrating and disturbing monologues, we quickly come to realise that this guy is treading down the path to the highest peaks of insanity. We get the same conclusion from Wood’s performance, though this is aided chiefly through blurry visuals rather than nonsensical mutterings. Both of the Maniac films deliver a killer with significant psychological trauma, a predator that is not as clear-cut as we might suppose, a sadist that tortures women by cringe-worthy methods before his signature act: scalping. Yet, ultimately, we are faced with a man that (somehow) incites pity, despite his murderous turns.
The murders are varied, though each victim suffers as much as she who came before. Khalfoun’s Maniac zooms in on two weapons used for Frank’s killin’: hands (asphyxiation), and knives (stab stab!). In the ‘80s, Frank toyed with a whole catalogue of weaponry including his hands, wire, knives, and even an impressive looking shotgun. The murders are quite confronting, although the scalping is not as agonizing as those conducted by our modern-day Frank. Either way, both films provide the viewer with enough gore to satisfy the most seasoned of horrorphiles. Further, both films are wonderfully composed, a perfect combination of music that is edgy, and eerie, keeping in tune with the story of a fragile and unhinged man who scalps the striking women that he happens across.
Not surprisingly, Lustig is a producer of the modern-day Maniac. An ode to the original, and genius by its own right, it is almost certain that the upcoming release will snare a cult following as passionate as the original’s. While the new Maniac closely follows the narrative expressed by the strong cult-classic, it inserts a whimsical mark to the viewing experience. While we never had the opportunity to see a sequel to Maniac (Spinell had plans for one before falling in the bathtub, cutting his head on glass, and dying from excessive bleeding), the adaption is more than worthy of a cosy spot on the shelf next to Lustig’s original.
Let me conclude by quoting the tagline used for both Maniac flicks: “I warned you not to go out tonight.” These eight words really do encourage me to doublethink any plans I have for the upcoming weekend. Seems extreme, but in order to avoid my scalp being sliced away from my corpse, I would like to say “hello” to my new friend, solitude.
Original Trailer for Maniac (1980)