I’m going to get my slasher film fan card taken away from me for this one. In my defence, I have ‘seen’ Maniac. Well, half of it, but I have never managed to get around to finishing the film, hence the reason for including it in my Films I’ve Never Seen list. It wouldn’t be fair to pretend I’d watched William Lustig’s probable masterpiece countless times on the basis that I once half-watched it, so I’m holding my hands up. Please don’t take away my card!
Thinking about it, I’m surprised I’ve never seen the entire film since it’s essentially ‘Jaws on Land‘, and as anyone who knows me is aware, Jaws is the greatest film ever made. Yet, for reasons that may or may not become clear, I’m yet to reach the end of Maniac.
So, why not? Well, it’s certainly not because I’m squeamish. I’ve already established that I don’t have an issue with graphic violence in movies; I’d be a pretty terrible horror movie fan if I couldn’t deal with the claret stuff. I’ve already mentioned in my other piece on The Poughkeepsie Tapes that I do sometimes find it difficult to watch horror films that exist in the real world, but in this case that’s not really an issue. The film is set in New York in a time that feels alien to me so it may as well include aliens for all the shock effect this would have.
I’m wondering whether it’s the griminess of late-70s/early-80s New York City. I know I’ve had conversations about an early scene in The Burning that I thought belonged more to Maniac than a summer camp slasher, and I always found the sequence to be a little seedy (granted it took place in the apartment of a prostitute) but it definitely seemed out of kilter with the rest of the film.
Truth be told, I think that while I enjoyed my half-watched experience of Maniac for what it was, my horror interests were elsewhere at the time and it didn’t capture my attention in the way a glossier horror would (shoot me now!). How things have changed. When I do catch clips from the film I’m intrigued by its grimness and Joe Spinell’s turn as Frank Zito in a way I would never have been in the 90s. Maybe I just caught it (or it caught me) at the wrong time. This is why I’m such an advocate for giving films a second chance, even if I detested them the first time around.
One of the sequences in Maniac I am particularly familiar with, simply due to its parallels with Jaws, is the opening scene, set at a beach with its point-of-view framing as the monster, Zito, stalks his victims. The comparisons end there, of course, once Zito attacks, and it’s a shocking opening that always leaves me with a number of unanswered questions regarding motivations, etc. – remember, I saw part of this film well over a decade ago and I can barely recall what I had for dinner!
I’m certainly going to make an effort, now I’ve fessed up, to watch it in the very near future. My question to fans Maniac, though, is where does it rank in the slasher pantheon?