Maniac (William Lustig / U.S., 1980):

The murderer's viewpoint is set in the first scene, at the beach before dawn as a Jaws goof is followed by the culprit (Joe Spinell) awakening shrieking in his squalid apartment: William Lustig seizes the instant of nightmarish palpitation and extends it for the rest of the movie, an undiluted expression of urban horror and, like The Driller Killer or Downtown 81, a formidable New York grunge-flick through and through. The guy has issues, and therapy consists of stalking pretty lasses for their scalps, which are stapled to the mannequins that, along with a mama shrine and many candles, adorn his flat; Spinell asks hooker Rita Montone to pose "like in the magazines," moments later he's chiding the plastic effigy he's fastening her bloodied hair to ("I told you not to go out tonight... You don't listen, do you!"). The psychopath sits in bed and lets the mumbling pour out of him, the camera pans 180 until he addresses us frontally like Lorre in M -- frustrated male aggression tears into female skin, but the victims' agony here is the protagonist's as well as the audience's, and Lustig pushes doomed nurse Kelly Piper's subway distress past the pleasurable frisson of Dressed to Kill (De Palma is explicitly called out in a succession of mini jump-cuts) and into true suffocation, grindingly realized. An analysis of certain elements of Taxi Driver (or of Schrader's screenplay, at least) lurks in the heavy-breathing Spinell's mock-wooing of gorgeous photographer Caroline Munro, who titles her glamour portfolio "The Woman Form" yet understands that it's "not all for art's sake," like the director. There's also gore, really its own form of art: blood trickles down the lenses for a corpse's POV, though Tom Savini saves the plum effect for himself as a shotgun triggers geysers of splatter; the disorientating, handheld camera animates the mannequins, who have a go at their gross tormenter in a rehearsal for Day of the Dead. All of it lost on the critics, who couldn't spot Lustig's trompe l'oeil in the foggy graveyard as a deliberate critique of the boogeyman tropes they dismiss automatically. With Gail Lawrence, Hyla Marrow, and Sharon Mitchell.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home