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Maniac

Year: 1980
Production Co: Magnum Motion Pictures Inc
Director: William Lustig
Producer: William Lustig/C A Rosenberg
Writer: Joe Spinell
Cast: Joe Spinell

Like a lot of video nasty films of the period, this movie had one huge problem that crippled most of it – pacing. The proceedings are sooooo slow and deliberate and I'm sure it was intended as a thematic device but I suspect it was because they had a cheap camera and no dolly tracks.

It's less a horror movie than an outright slasher from the stable that gave the world the cachet of George Romero, Greg Nicotero and Tom Savini, so it's more interested in showing terrified women gruesomely dismembered than genuine scares. There's little quality in performance or narrative, and if you can buy a craggy-faced sleazebag like Joe Spinell (who's face virtually screams 'psychopathic killer') copping on to a gorgeous photographer, you can suspend disbelief far enough to be interested in the story.

It's the late 70s/early 80s and New York is the place we know from Death Wish and Basket Case, an ugly, dirty cesspool where hoodlums run riot and sexual violence and murder are rampant. The latest episode to capture the attention of the gleefully bloodthirsty media is of a psycho who kills and scalps his victims.

There is some backstory to Frank's psychosis but it's too intangible to really get a handle on. It's got something to do with his domineering mother and the resulting fetish for dressing store mannequins in his victim's clothes, complete with their scalps nailed to the dummies' heads.

The famously supernatural climax seems more of an excuse to showcase Savini and uncredited partner Rob Bottin's grisly skills than serve the story, and the net result is one of disappointment. Even if you're a gorehound watching it for the blood you're better off treating it like porn and fast forwarding through all the boring plot to the good bits. If you're not, you'll need some sunshine and a refreshing shower to scrape away the grimy filth you can feel attaching itself.

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