If you don't already own MANIAC on DVD it's a safe bet that gritty horror films are not your cup of tea. Since the advent of DVD, MANIAC has seen three separate releases prior to its most recent 30th Anniversary Edition. Elite Entertainment, who had released the picture on laserdisc, was the first to bring the film to the digital format with their 1999 release. Anchor Bay then followed with one of their own in 2001. Eventually the picture found its way to William Lustig's own Blue Underground label where it saw yet another release in 2007. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Blue Underground has re-released MANIAC on Blu-ray and two-disc DVD with hours of exclusive extras that cover the film from every angle imaginable. If you've ever thought about picking up MANIAC but never got around to doing it, now's the time to buy. And if you already own one of the aforementioned releases and are hesitant about double dipping, let me assure you, if you are even remotely a fan of the film the extras alone are reason enough to pick this one up.
Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) kills women. He stabs them, scalps them and then nails the bloody tuffs of hair he collects from them to mannequins which he keeps hidden away in his New York apartment. MANIAC is essentially 88 minutes in Frank’s brain. From his tortured childhood to the moments before he kills, MANIAC takes you into the head of a psychopath, pulls up a chair and forces you to see and hear the world as he does and this is exactly where the film excels. The picture doesn’t pussy foot around. You know who the killer is from the get go and you know what he is capable of, so when Frank enters the life of fashion photographer Anna D'Antoni (Caroline Munro, STAR CRASH) you’re first thoughts are of concern for Anna and anticipation as to when Frank is going to strike. What is he going to do? When will his true colors shine through? And why is a stone cold fox like Caroline Munroe even giving this schlub the time of day? The film has a direct sense of tension that builds and releases in a very gory, a very visceral and a very satisfying way, of which much of the credit goes to lead actor Joe Spinell.
Joe Spinell is MANIAC. How you can feel sympathy for someone after you just watched them point a shotgun at another man's face and blow his head off is a testament to how involved and effective Joe’s performance is. Frank Zito is someone you don't ever want to meet, even on his best day, yet as cold and as deviant as he is; Joe is able to make Frank human. If not for his parents abandoning and mistreating him as they did, Frank might have made it alright in this world. Life however was not very kind to Frank, and when let loose among the grimy streets and ally ways of NYC, his insecurities and abandonment issues manifest in very violent ways. It is through inner dialogue and Joe’s expressions that all of this is conveyed. MANIAC could have easily been another mindless hack and slash picture but Joe, fully investing himself in the character, elevates it into something more dramatic and ultimately more entertaining.
His first feature, excluding a few adult films he did prior, William Lustig delivers a gut churning thriller with MANIAC. The film has a natural, if not overtly dark flow to it that pays off handsomely. Tensions are kept high and when Frank's mind begins to crumble, it doesn't feel like a quick gimmick in which to wrap up the movie, instead it feels innate and almost natural. The effects work by Tom Savini is some of his best. Scalps being pulled off, faces blown away (an effect that was created by firing a shotgun into a dummy head filled with leftover food from the craft services table), undead mommas and bloodthirsty mannequins provide consistent chills and while some of the effects go over the top, it’s pretty clear that that's kind of the point.
Shot on 16mm and blown up to 35, MANIAC looks pretty damn good for having just hit the big 30. The film is presented in anamorphic (1.85:1) widescreen in a new 2k High Definition transfer from the original, uncut and uncensored negative. Comparing this release with Blue Underground’s 2007 release there are several noticeable differences. The 30th Anniversary edition appears warmer as colors have been heightened to such a degree that depth and detail has been greatly enhanced but so are the film's flaws, such as a general softness to the image and a handful of instances in which waves of grain seemed to shimmer. I honestly prefer the 2007 release as the overall darker tone, I feel, adds to the film's mood. Audio options include an English 6.1 DTS-ES and 5.1 Dolby Digital surround as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Sound in French, German and Italian. Subtitles are also provide in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Thai, so no matter what language you speak you really have no excuse not to watch.
Extras for MANIAC’s 30th anniversary edition are plentiful and reason enough for fans who already own the film to consider the double dip. First up are two audio commentaries, one old and one new. Commentary #1 features co-producer/director William Lusting and co-producer Andew W. Garroni. The track, recorded exclusively for this release, finds the two men reliving the long days and hard nights that were put into making MANIAC. The track covers familiar ground but the two men keep up an active conversation that is rather engaging. Commentary #2 has been ported over from MANIAC’s previous DVD release and features Lusting, Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli and Joe Spinell’s assistant Luke Walter.
A quartet of brand new featurettes, courtesy of Red Shirt Pictures, provide added informational and entertainment value. ANNA AND THE KILLER is a 13-minute interview with Caroline Munro that allows the dark haired beauty to discuss how she got into the moving pictures business and how her friendship with Joe lead her to fill in for Daria Nicolodi (DEEP RED) at the last minute. THE DEATH DEALER is a 12-minute interview with the always enjoyable Tom Savini. Tom recalls brainstorming with Joe and Bill as to what effects he could pull off and which they simply shouldn’t. Tom also reveals that the car used in the scene in which Savini’s character Disco Boy gets his head blown off was later dumped in the Hudson River. DARK NOTES is a 12-minute sit down with composer Jay Chattaway. The interview delves into how Jay was brought on board to the project as well as his background as a jazz musician. MANIAC MEN, an interview with songwriter Michael Sembella and Dennis Matkosky, is the type of bonus feature that just makes you smile. As William Lustig tells it, Joe Spinell was all but certain that the song “Maniac”, featured in the film FLASHDANCE, was about their film. MANIAC MEN is an 11-minute interview with the song's writers that seeks to add some validity to Joe’s claim.
Special features continue with a seven-minute promo reel for MR. ROBBIE: MANIAC 2. Shot by Buddy Giovinazzo (COMBAT SHOCK), the promo was for a proposed follow-up to MANIAC that never saw the light of day due to Joe’s untimely death. The film’s international and U.S. teasers, as well as trailers from France, Germany and Italy, along with nine different TV spots and four radio spots top off the first disc of this two-disc set.
Spilling over onto a second disc, extras continue with THE JOE SPINELL STORY, a 50-minute retrospect on Joe’s life and career. Filled with friends, family and co-workers, the short documentary, which has was featured on Blue Underground’s previous DVD release of MANIAC, gives an interesting look into the life of a unique and uniquely talented actor who spent almost his entire career playing the villain. A 19-minute radio interview with Joe, William and Caroline on the show “Soundtrack” by Paul Wunder is presented alongside a near 50-minute episode of the public access show, “Movie Madness”. Recorded on 02/18/1981, the show features Mr. Lustig taking calls from viewers about all manner of horror related controversy. JOE SPINELL AT CANNES is a forty second clip in which Joe makes known his intent to film a sequel to MANIAC. Joe pops up again in a 13-minute clip of “The Joe Franklin Show”. A three-minute news interview with Caroline Munroe allows the beauty to promote the film with local TV film critic Katie Kelly, who in a related clip uses MANIAC for the induction of a new “Barf Bag” review system. A 22-minute Grindhouse Film Festival Q & A finds producers Lustig, Garroni and ex-porn star Sharon Mitchell fielding questions about the film and its lead.
Extras continue with “Gallery of Outrage”, a collection of quotes and reviews of the film from those who didn’t or couldn’t appreciate it for anything less than a catalyst for the downfall of our society. Along with two Easter Eggs (one can be found in the extras section of each disc) the most random and entertaining bonus features are a collection of clips from local news reports about the film. Segments from Los Angeles, Chicago (which features Gene Siskel rallying against the film's promotional campaign) and Philadelphia give nothing but the kind of bad press that make horror fans want to see a film even more. Clips from “Newsbeat” and “Midnight Blue” complete and exhaustive overview of the film and the time in which it was made. (Jason McElreath)
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