MANIAC (1980)

MANIAC (1980)

Director: William Lustig

Starring: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Abigail Clayton, Kelly Piper, Tom Savini

maniac review

Maniac is the gold standard of slashers. I’ll go as far to say that Maniac is better than the original Halloween (Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the original Halloween, it’s a personal long time favorite. In my top three, to be somewhat exact), and easily the first two Friday the 13th movies, or, really, any of the Friday the 13th movies, to be honest. Friday the 13th may have had more imaginative kills, but with Maniac there’s more of a story here, and there’s more of a character as opposed to a faceless killer with minimal backstory. It’s a movie you can watch over the the years and not grow bored with. Characters aren’t essentially marched in front of the camera and killed off.  Something else that elevates Maniac above all the others, and  what makes it the most disturbing is that this killer could actually exist. He’s not some super villain endowed with insane powers of bouncing back to life from every attempt on his life.

Joe Spinell’s performance is excellent. He’s absolutely believable as the tortured Frank Zito who lives a sad and mundane life vacillating between cold ruthless murderer to an emotionally destroyed soul who spends most of his time in isolation. He’s not someone who stands out. You would pass by him on the street without a second thought. He’s a Norman Bates type, but fully aware of what he’s doing. After some kills we see him reading about it in the morning paper, or watching the news, and you can see hints of shame and remorse in his reactions.

As the story progresses we learn he was physically and emotionally abused by his mother who died while he was still young, which did his head in for good. He sees her in the women he kills, which is confirmed when he murders Rita, as he keeps asking, “Why did you leave me? I was scared. Now we are together again, and I will never let you go. I’m just going to keep you so you won’t go away ever again.”

The kills in this movie are brutal, and Tom Savini’s effects are in top form. A woman sees herself ran through with a sword as she looks into a mirror. One woman is forced to agonize in terror before she’s finally snuffed out, and that one shot gun blast scene still stuns to this very day. Even the most jaded, and most modern of audiences will be visually shushed into silence.

Maniac isn’t the sort of movie one would, could, or should love, but I do. It’s sleazy, violent, and grim as hell, but it lures you into the the filth and it’s hard to resist. Even the soundtrack by Jay Chattaway with it’s downer mood anchors you down solid into the muck.  There’s nothing pretty about this film and you should see it.  (MA)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA

 

 

THE PROWLER (aka Rosemary’s Killer) (1981)

THE PROWLER (aka Rosemary’s Killer) (1981)

Director: Joseph Zito

Starring: Vicki Dawson, Christopher Goutman, Farley Granger, Cindy Weintraub, Lisa Dunsheath, David Sederholm, Lawrence Tierney

Blue Underground Blu-Ray

The Prowler bluray cover

The Prowler does not get as much love as it should. Which is a shame because it’s one of the better entries in the golden era of the slasher movie.

It all starts with a Dear John letter sent during World War II. The recipient comes back a year later dressed head to toe in military gear, face covered, and armed with a pitchfork meting out revenge on young couple who chose to sneak off  to make out during a  graduation night dance in Avalon Bay (filmed in Cape May, NJ) on June 28, 1945. After the brutal murder the town leaders decide there will be no more graduation dances, but that all changes thirty five years later, bringing us to 1980. Of course the killer, who evaded capture all these years, has returned as well, which puts him in his late 40s, early 50s.

We are introduced to a young deputy sheriff, Mark London (Christopher Goutman), and Pam MacDonald (Vicky Dawson), who are the central protagonists and young lovers, and their circle of friends; Lisa (Cindy Weintraub from Humanoids from the Deep), Sherry (Lisa Dunsheath), Carl (David Sederholm), and Sheriff George Fraser (Farley Granger from Amuck, They Call Me Trinity, Strangers on a Train, They Live By Night). Also, see if you can spot Lawrence Tierney (Reservoir Dogs).

Mark and Pam are so pure and wholesome that they are dull, and I found myself wanting them to be on the wrong end of the bayonet like the others. But this is a slasher and it’s more about the kills and the special effects than it is deep character development, and what these kills lack in creativity they make up for with brutality. The camera lingers on the kill scenes, almost basking in the moment. A bayonet slices into a throat, is worked back and forth to widen the cut and go deeper; a pitchfork in the back is aided by a boot stomping on it to drive the tines deeper into the victim. The body of a murdered swimmer twitches in underwater silence one more time before dying.

These are not like Friday the 13th kills (director Joseph Zito also directed Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) where the creative kill lightens the mood. These murders are carried out very straight forward. Here it’s just stab, hack and rend. There’s a rage and a point to be made in these murders. The special effects by Tom Savini are excellent. There’s one scene, which I won’t give away, that stands out, and it comes early on. You will know it when you see it, and it’s particularly gruesome.

Although The Prowler is not grim and heavy like Maniac, and Don’t Go in the House (two masterpieces!), it does deliver on the brutality and blood promised.  (MA)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA