Return of Project Horror, Day 6: Maniac


So sleepy... Must keep eyes open to post review...

First, some history on this choice.  My family got our first VCR in about 1983.  I remember that, because the very first movie we ever rented was Superman III.  And I remember that because the scene when the woman got sucked into the supercomputer freaked me out in a huge way.  There were hardly any video rental chains back then (much like now!), so whenever the family wanted to rent a movie we would all pile into the station wagon, head to the Curtis Mathes showroom, and see what was available.  Even after all the movies we rented, the two movies I remember most are actually ones that we never rented.  What I remember about them is their very striking covers.  One of those was Porky's.  Remember that cover, with the guy peeking through the hole in the bathroom wall, and the girl's hip right there?  I may have only been 8, but I knew there was something in that movie I wanted to see.  The other one was Maniac.  It scared me so much that I did my best to avoid the shelf it was on altogether, or to look the other way if I did have to walk past it.  When I saw that it's now available on Netflix instant streaming, I decided to open up my block of slasher movies by finally facing my fear and watching it.

It was scarier when it was just a box cover in my memory.

Maniac is about a crazed loner who tries to overcome memories of the abuse he suffered at his mother's hands by going out and killing random women.  (By the way, if that plot sounds familiar, it's because it's the plot of PRACTICALLY EVERY SERIAL KILLER MOVIE EVER.)  And... well, that's about it, really.  You know me by now, faithful reader - you know that I like to write about what I watch, but there's just no way to make anything more out of this.

You know how some horror movies feel timeless, even if they are years old?  For instance, if you watch The Exorcist or The Birds, you can tell when they were made because of the fashions or hairstyles, but they still feel fresh and powerful.  Maniac is the opposite of that.  Think of every 80s slasher movie cliche you can, all the things that got called out in Scream, and they are pretty much in this movie.  There's some decent tension building in a couple of scenes, particularly one where he is chasing a victim through a subway, but nothing else in this one holds up all that well.  The very last scene of the movie is one where you think the killer is dead, but then - GASP - he opens his eyes!

Now, here's what made the movie fun anyway - my friend Clay came over to watch with me.  Clay normally does not watch horror movies at all.  Last Sunday, though, he came up to me after Sunday School and told me he wanted to try to watch one with me this week.  Yeah, that's right, I just watched a sleazy slasher movie with a person I go to church with.  Because he doesn't ever watch horror, he hasn't developed callouses on his eyeballs like I have.  Here's his reaction to watching a hooker get scalped:
I think I'll have to invite him back for some of the heavier selections that are coming up next week, and see if he can endure them.

As for the movie, it has one redeeming quality, and that is Tom Savini's always excellent makeup effects.  The guy always delivers, and for that, I'll give Maniac one extra point.  It gets two scalped heads out of five.
TOMORROW: The Deaths of Ian Stone


Kyle Lawrence said...

I liked this movie more than you did, Danny. It certainly is not without its problems and I'll start with my cons before moving to the pros.

1) I think the biggest flaw was the incessant inner monologue of the killer (played by Joe Spinell). It was really annoying and not particularly informative. If you're going to rip off Norman Bates this blatantly, you might as well just go Gus Van Sant with it. There was entirely too much screen time devoted to him sitting alone with an echoey voice over.

2) Further, much of the film was dark. Not like atmospherically, moody dark, but poor lighting, I can't see anything dark.

3) Too many of the scares were actually sudden movement combined with loud high pitched music. Really, they fall into the category of "startles" not true "scares". They are a gotcha moment which admittedly got me on more than one occasion, but they are also a cheap horror convention that exposes the lack of any true tension. However, I will agree with Danny that the subway scene was particularly effective even while being exceedingly predictable.

4) This film contains possibly the worst horror movie line of dialogue ever: "Leave your clothes on."

1) All that being said, I felt that Joe Spinell was excellent when he was sharing the screen with other humans. This is no accident, the guy has been in three Best Picture winners. Granted they're not major roles, but he still worked with Coppola, Scorsese and John G. Avildsen. Not bad! It's extremely rare to see a low budget slasher flick with anything even approaching good performances and I really thought that he and Caroline Munro were very good and even had something resembling chemistry in this film.

2) Maniac also breaks from standard slasher form by being centered around the slasher and not the hapless victims. It's a risky move and when it works it does so (thanks again) due to the performances.

3) Danny mentioned the work of Tom Savini and he is one of the giants of horror effects. I think one of his most memorable kills of all time has be Kevin Bacon in Friday the 13th. It still stands up. So when I saw his name in the credits I was immediately excited (basically the polar opposite feeling of seeing Ron Perlman's name) and boy did he deliver! The shotgun scene really makes this movie worth seeing.

I liked it enough to recommend it to horror fans. I'll go one more than Danny and give it three scalps out of five.

Danny Holwerda said...

You're awesome, Kyle - I thnk your comment may be better than my review. If you don't mind, I'll use the list you came up with to make my responses.
1. I think that this, more than anything, was what soured me on this movie. A good wacko ramble can be a useful character-defining scene, but you've gotta do it in moderation.
2. Dark, and with some muddled dialogue. I kept having to turn the volume way up to hear what people were saying, and then getting blasted when a noisy moment on the score kicked in.
3. Totally agree. I think that in other reviews, I've referred to this technique as "cat syndrome." There aren't real scares, just quiet moments that are suddenly interrupted by something loud or startling, like a cat screeching out from under a bed.
4. RIGHT?!? Fortunately, there were other boobs to make up for that scene.

1. I usually look up the resumes of the actors in the movies I watch for the blog, so I can find out if there's anything interesting I need to include, but I was so tired last night that I skipped it. Mistake on my part. Talk about a character actor - as soon as I saw pictures of him from "Rocky" and "Godfather," I instantly recognized him, but it never even occurred to me that it was the same guy last night. And I'll also concede that he did have very good scenes with Munro, particularly the one where they're talking about "possessing" somebody by having a picture of them.
2. Hadn't thought of that. Good point, although I wish there hadn't been quite so many scenes of him breathing heavily and grunting. Skeevy.
3. Man, I'm never gonna live down that Perlman thing... I know that everybody has fantasies about meeting their favorite actors/actresses and the things that you'd say to them, but Savini is one of a handful of people I'd like to meet just so I could shake their hands and say, "Your work is a lot of fun to watch."

OK, you convinced me, Kyle. I'll add an additional half-scalp to my review. But only in the comments, because I don't feel like making a new picture for the post.

Kyle Lawrence said...

Totally agree about the heavy breathing and grunting. It was really just off putting in every way. Not effective and quite distracting.

One last point: if this is how courtship worked in the late 70s/early 80s I can't believe more women weren't slashed. No wonder Ted Bundy was so successful. Here's what I mean...

(Knock on door - woman answers)
(Oh BTW there's no chain on the door, at this point it is basically wide open)
"Hi, you took my picture in the park."
"Oh, of course. Please come in and lets talk about the meaning of photography. I am not at all curious as to how you found my apartment. And might I add you certainly don't look like a creepy-loner-stalker-killer."
"You want to go with me to Brooklyn for clams?"
"Sure, give me five minutes."

I would expect any woman who acts like this to get killed. And is it going too far to say they might actually deserve? I mean, that's a Darwin award waiting to happen!

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