chronos-praetorian: Since I can't seem to find anything on it (other than your background wallpaper featuring the original film's cover), and am too busy doing college work right now to search through your archive, what are your thoughts on Maniac? Either the original 1980 William Lustig film or the Franck Khalfoun/Alexandre Aja remake from 2012 (or both). Your pick.
Oh, I’ve previously expressed my extreme displeasure over the existence of the remake. This is one of those times that I have to straight-up refuse to see the remake for personal reasons. From what I’ve read about it, it so thoroughly distorts what the original was all about, and there’s just no way in hell that Elijah Wood could ever—EVER—fill the shoes of Joe Spinell.
Spinell had a real mug on him, and he played that role astonishingly well, to the point that I couldn’t imagine any other actor in that role, even in the original. He is the major part of what made that film so effective. The character of Frank isn’t just a cookie-cutter slasher villain: He has actual depth, and is surprisingly well-written, and even more surprisingly sympathetic. He was abused as a child, suffers delusions, and talks to both himself, and his many mannequins, yet is still able to create such a convincing mask of sanity that he even manages to date a beautiful lady photographer. As much as he is a monster, he is still fully human, and that’s really the most terrifying part of it all. The most effective villains are the ones who retain enough of their humanity that you can’t completely dismiss their actions.
The original film also came into the world during the Golden Age of the slasher film (i.e., from 1978-1984). There was a tremendous boom in the subgenre, which had initially been spurred on by John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), and gained added momentum with the success of Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980). Maniac was never submitted to the MPAA for rating, and was released unrated (thus avoiding the fallout that Cunningham’s franchise suffered at the hands of the MPAA), and received a great deal of lambasting from critics (and was outright banned for both theatrical and video release in the U.K., though surprisingly, was never classified under the infamous label of “video nasty”).
The other major selling point of the film comes from some early effects work by splatter maestro Tom Savini. Savini had previously provided effects for Bob Clark’s Deathdream (aka Dead of Night) (1972), and had worked with George Romero on both Martin (1976), and the landmark horror classic, Dawn of the Dead (1978). He was also doing effects for Friday the 13th the same year as Maniac, though Friday was released theatrically seven months earlier, leaving Maniac to follow in the wake of controversy generated by Savini’s work in that film. It was the combination of his work on these last two films in particular that would really launch his career into the effects spotlight.
A sequel of the film had been planned to go into production in 1989, but ended up being cancelled due to the sudden, tragic death of leading man Joe Spinell. The actor was found dead in his apartment off of Greenpoint Avenue in Sunnyside, Queens, New York on January 13, 1989 at the age of 52. He had slipped in his bathtub, and cut his hand on a piece of the glass from his shower door. In attempting to rest rather than immediately seek medical attention, the hemophilia he had lived with his entire life caused him to bleed to death.
For those that may want to know more about the life and work of this amazing actor, there is actually a documentary titled The Joe Spinell Story (2001) available to watch for free on Youtube.