Friday, April 17, 2009

Film Review: MANIAC! (1980, William Lustig)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 87 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Joe Spinell (everything from STARCRASH to CRUISING to ROCKY to TAXI DRIVER to THE GODFATHER to THE SEVEN-UPS– damn!), Caroline Munro (everything from DR. PHIBES to CAPTAIN KRONOS to SINBAD to THE SPY WHO LOVED ME to TO DIE FOR to STARCRASH), Abigail Clayton (HOT COOKIES, SPIRIT OF SEVENTY-SEX), makeup and acting by Tom Savini, and was supposed to star Argento's then-squeeze Daria Nicolodi, but there were scheduling complications of some kind- stock footage from Argento's INFERNO was used, however.
Tag-lines: "I warned you not to go out tonight."
Best multi-liner: "Now you tell me what I should do. I heard about it, I always do. I can't go out for a minute. It's impossible. Fancy girls, in their fancy dresses and lipstick, laughing and dancing. Should you stop them? I can't stop them. But you do, don't you? And they can't laugh and they can't dance anymore. You've got to stop, or they'll take you away from me. I will never, ever, let them take you away from me. You're mine now forever. And, I'm so happy."
Fun fact: Michael Sembello's "Maniac," later toned down and used in FLASHDANCE, was originally composed for this film!

MANIAC. Before I begin- let's talk about the director. Bill Lustig, is a pretty damned interesting guy. Like another underground NYC auteur, Abel Ferrara, he started off directing blue pictures, and his first 'mainstream' feature was a Manhattan slasher with the killer as the protagonist (like Ferrara’s DRILLER KILLER). Lustig’s also Jake LaMotta's nephew, a friend and collaborator of Larry Cohen, and currently runs Blue Underground, a grand purveyor of paracinema and ridiculous Italian gems.

Also, I’ve really gotta hand it to him for having the word "Maniac" in the title of about half of his directorial output. Anyway, on to the MANIAC at hand: it's good.

It's got that classic 70's NYC gritty realism, Tom Savini gore (and a cameo as "Disco Boy"),

lots o' hookers, the legendary Caroline Munro,

and an amazing fashion montage set to some rockin' 80's tunes. Joe Spinell (he’s kind of like Ron Jeremy meets Vincent Price)

is damned scary, and there’s something about his delivery that is consistently, terrifyingly believable. The film is a love letter to the Italian slashers that Lustig adored (black-gloved killer, female victims, over-the-top kills, visuals that pop, and childhood traumas like Bava and Argento, mannequin madness like Lenzi's SPASMO) and as that, it succeeds. (I'd also say that it was probably the direct precursor to HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER.) Overall, a very solid underground slasher, and, in my opinion, it’s far better and more personal than the other Savini effort of 1980, the original FRIDAY THE 13TH. Four stars.

-Sean Gill


BobbyBriggs said...

Hey, Sean - this is off topic from Maniac! (good movie, though)...but I'm working on a paper for school that deals with Twin Peak: Fire Walk With Me and how it's a much different animal than the TV show, basically asking: why is that so? The fact that film is a different medium/the lack of TV censorship/the type of story Lynch is telling/cast members being pissed at Lynch? Of course, it's all those things...

Anyway, I was just wondering if there were any particular areas/topics that you would personally look into regarding Fire Walk With Me vs. the show.

If you don't have the time, I understand. But even just a few lines or ideas would help.

Lastly, do you think there's any significance that two of the roles in the film were played by musicians-turned-actors (Chris Isaak, David Bowie) - or do you think Lynch just likes their music? ;)

Sean Gill said...

Probably the first things that come to mind are the themes of 'the loss of innocence' and the 'horrific truths that lie beneath mundane suburban facades' which are obviously interwoven throughout the series, but which I see coming to life quite literally through a comparison with the film. It's been some time since I've seen it, but think about the scenes at the Deer Meadow police station with the creepy secretary and deputy who give Chris Isaak the runaround; it's truly a perverse, warped 'other side of the mirror' reflection of Andy and Lucy's playfulness and the sincere hospitality of Sheriff Truman when we first meet them in the Twin Peaks pilot, just as 'The Pink Room' (or whatever that Canadian bar is called in the movie) reveals itself as a veritable hell on earth in comparison to the semi-'safe' 50's juvenile delinquent fisticuffs at the Roadhouse in the pilot episode of the series. For me, it's almost like the show is peeling the veneer off of warm-hearted small-town America, and the movie is peeling the veneer off of the show. Almost like Lynch regretted that the focus had gotten so far away from the murdered squeaky-clean homecoming Queen with a dark side, that he wanted to re-immerse us in that dark side and make us feel Laura Palmer's torment, to rub our faces in it awhile before he gave us anything approximating answers to the TV show's cliffhangers. And I think he also wanted BOB to be back in a major, horrific way- the show had gotten off-track in its second season with the Windom Earle stuff (though Lynch showed just how little he thought of Earle in the Season 2 finale) and I think that Lynch really wanted to remind us that pure, calculating evil does exist- and its name is BOB. As for the musician-actors, I don't think I'd place any real significance on it besides the fact that Lynch likes, in general, to cast musicians (As do several of my all-time favorite directors- Jarmusch, Roeg, Wenders, among others), as he did it before and after Twin Peaks (Koko Taylor, John Lurie, Billy Ray , Sting, Marilyn Manson, etc.).

BobbyBriggs said...

Thanks so much - even though you say you haven't seen the movie in awhile, that was extremely helpful. I love what you said about "the movie peeling the veneer off the show." I hadn't thought about it that way.

Fire Walk With Me was difficult for me to digest at first. Initially I thought that Laura Palmer seemed so distraught and nearly unhinged that it would be nearly impossible for her to maintain the homecoming queen facade, which was what made the truth surrounding her life and death so shocking to Twin Peaks residents...

but I thought about it more and came to the conclusion that, hey, these are the last 7 days of her life. Everything is coming to a head. In fact, these may be her last 7 days because she simply couldn't live for another day. Her flame is burning out rapidly.

I think if Twin Peaks was about the dark underbelly lurking beneath quaint suburban life, then the movie rubs the viewer's face in that darkness. It's partially Lynch being liberated from TV broadcast standards and being able to run with a "R" rating, but I think it's also necessitated by the story that Lynch is telling, about a girl who was dead on the inside long before her body died. And even if the series got way off track during season 2, and Mark Frost and others will argue over who was the real creative force behind the show, there is no doubt that Fire Walk With Me is exactly the story that Lynch wanted to tell.

Once again, thanks again for your input. I will most likely end up quoting you, if that's cool. :)

Sean Gill said...

No problem, man. And I totally agree about Laura's flame flickering into a dark crescendo of sorts. Also, it just occurred to me, to go with both my comments and yours, that I think the first-or at least one of the first- images of the film is in fact a television getting smashed: a quite literal representation of the slate of the series being cleared away for something much darker.
Anyway, I'd love to see the paper when it's done, and definitely quote me, no problem. Good luck!