Release Date(s)1980 (December 11, 2018)
Studio(s)Magnum Motion Pictures Inc./Analysis Film Releasing Corporation (Blue Underground)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B-
Few films stirred up as much controversy in the 1980s as Maniac... well, maybe Silent Night, Deadly Night and The Last Temptation of Christ. One of the most violent and effective slasher films of the era, Maniac was the perfect marriage of director William Lustig and writer/producer/star Joe Spinnell. Down and dirty in a way that few films like it ever achieve while also managing to work as a compelling piece of narrative, protest groups took to the streets, attacking it for its assumed misogyny and disturbing content.
Joe Spinnell stars as Frank Zito, a low-life serial killer living in New York, killing and scalping women to add to his collection that he keeps tacked to the heads of mannequins in his apartment. Meeting a sexy photographer (Caroline Munro) and getting to know her a bit, he struggles with his inner demons as to whether or not to murder her as well.
Maniac is definitely one of those films that requires a shower after watching, but in a good way. It’s not trying to be disgusting or disturbing for the sake of it, but simply telling a story about a horrible individual that you’re meant to empathize with on some level, which is why so many people are turned off by it. Nobody likes being in the head of a murderer, much less relating to one. But that’s the genius of the film. Frank Zito is both likable and despicable, and you’re both rooting for him and cheering for his gory demise at the end of the film.
It also highlights what a truly great actor Joe Spinnell was. One of Hollywood’s most interesting characters, his career highlights, as well as his friends from within the industry, made him a favorite amongst those who knew him best. However, in Maniac, he’s flat-out scary, and certainly not the kind of person you would want to find sitting across from you at a restaurant, much less meeting in a dark alley.
There’s also the special make-up effects work in the film, courtesy of Tom Savini, who continually topped himself from project to project throughout the 1980s. There’s the head explosion, the initial scalping, and the beheading – all of them considered classic effects scenes in the genre. Above all else, Maniac is a powerful piece of low budget filmmaking that, even today, still gets under your skin in a way that’s not entirely comfortable.
Blue Underground works its magic once again by bringing Maniac to Blu-ray for a second time, This release features a new 4K restoration from the recently-rediscovered 16mm camera negative (all transfers up until now were taken from 35mm blow-ups). Not unlike their recent restoration of Zombie, it’s absolutely stunning. The amount of depth and detail now achieved is nothing short of remarkable. Every square inch of Spinnell’s sweaty, hairy persona are now on full display. Black levels are more natural and less crushed, revealing more the minutiae in the shadows. The color palette is also quite striking, particularly blues, reds, and browns. Skin tones are perfect and there’s next to no major damage leftover. Everything appears stable, organic, and film-like with solid grain reproduction and no heavy-handed uses of digital clean-up.
For the audio, several options are available, including English 7.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD, as well as Spanish, French, Italian, and German 2.0 Dolby Digital. There’s also a multitude of subtitle options, including English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai. The original stereo track is by far the most important option as it represents what was intended at the time. It’s clean and clear with good uses of sound placement and ambience. The 7.1 track is slightly more enhanced, spacing things out for an obviously wider sound experience, but also adding some dynamics as well which feel mostly natural. Dialogue and score on both tracks is well-represented and there are no instances of hiss, crackle, or dropouts. It’s an amazing presentation.
This release also features a massive amount of bonus materials, most of which have been carried over from the previous Blu-ray release. On Disc One, which contains the film itself, there’s an audio commentary with writer/director William Lustig and producer Andrew W. Garroni; a second audio commentary with Lustig, editor Lorenzo Marinelli, Joe Spinell’s assistant Luke Walter, and special make-up effects artist Tom Savini; a set of 7 trailers with a Play All option (the U.S. "Hard" trailer, the U.S. "Soft" trailer, the international trailer, the French trailer, the German teaser, the German trailer, and the Italian trailer); a set of 9 TV spots with a Play All option (Stalking, Models, Subway, Helicopter, Car, Cemetery, Toy, Poster, I Warned You); and a set of 4 radio spots with a Play All option. An Easter egg can also be found by highlighting any main menu option and pressing up, which will reveal a hidden drop of blood – click on it to make it drip and a one-minute audio interview outtake with William Friedkin discussing the film will play.
On Disc Two, you’ll find three different categories of material: Featurettes, Publicity, and Controversy. Under Featurettes, there’s 19 minutes of newly-unearthed outtakes hosted by William Lustig; Returning to the Scene of the Crime, a new 8-minute featurette with Lustig; Anna and the Killer, a 13-minute interview with Caroline Munro; The Death Dealer, a 12-minute interview with Tom Savini; Dark Notes, a 12-minute interview with composer Jay Chattaway; Maniac Men, an 11-minute interview with songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky; The Joe Spinell Story, a fantastic 49-minute documentary by David Gregory of Severin Films; and the 7-minute Mr. Robbie: Maniac 2 promo reel. Under Publicity, there’s a 19-minute radio interview by Paul Wunder with Lustig, Spinell, and Munro; the 47-minute William Lustig on Movie Madness; a minute with Joe Spinell at Cannes; 13 minutes with Joe Spinell on The Joe Franklin Show; a 3-minute Caroline Munro TV interview; a 2-minute Barf Bag Review Policy; 22 minutes from the 2010 Grindhouse Film Festival Q&A with Lustig, Andrew Garroni, and Sharon Mitchell; and a still gallery with 121 images. Under Controversy, you’ll find a set of local TV reports on the film from Los Angeles (Channel 7 News 1981, Channel 11 News 1981, NBC Tomorrow Show 1981 – with a Play All option); Chicago (Channel 2 News 1981); Philadelphia (Channel 10 News 1981, Channel 3 News 1981, Channel 3 News 1981, Channel 6 News 1981 – with a Play All option); Newsbeat (Violent Movies, Movie Violence – with a Play All option); Midnight Blue (Al Goldstein rants against violent movies, Al Goldstein mutilates his love doll – with a Play All option); and Gallery of Outrage, which features 26 pages of various newspaper reviews of the film. An Easter egg can also be found by highlighting any main menu option and pressing down, which will reveal a hidden drop of blood – click on it to make it drip and Joe Spinell at The Dive, which is 8 minutes of low quality VHS footage of Spinell talking about the film in front of an audience, will play.
In addition to all of that, inside the package you’ll find a two-sided paper insert advertising comic book adaptations of both Maniac and Zombie; a 20-page insert booklet containing the essay Maniacs That Might Have Been by Michael Gingold; and a CD featuring the film’s score by composer Jay Chattaway. This release also comes with a lenticular slipcase.
Maniac, for all intents and purposes, is a truly frightening, unsettling, and unforgettable movie experience, and Blue Underground has once again exceeded all expectations and delivered a mouth-watering Blu-ray package of the film that is an absolute must-own. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons