Back in the early 1980s when I was a reading STARLOG each month, I was fascinated by the full page movie soundtrack advertisement. The ad featured low budget and foreign horror/science fiction movies that had some of the best posters and covers. I am not sure why anyone would want the soundtrack to MANIAC, but it was there in all its disturbing glory. The poster tells one everything one would need to know about the movie.
MANIAC captures the seedy, uncurbed dog doo glory of the late 70s New York City. The City seems to smell even on film. The stains and dim lighting hint at the filthy creatures that scurried around the night. Other than the low budget reality of filming in sweaty, cramped closets and other living room pits from overpriced realty hell, this movie is a strange nightmare character study.
The night side of Frank, interestingly portrayed by Joe Spinell with an ugly physicality, is a heavy breathing, sniveling mess of damp and crusted sheets and the hunting habits of Son Of Sam. Frank’s apartment is a truly scary place. In fact, it is the best part of the movie. That set with its shrines, looming crowd of mannequins, and cockroach squirming, is an unmatched scene of physiological madness. That room is the real scary monster in this movie, forget Frank’s serial scalping of his prostitute victims, that he then nails to the mannequin’s heads.
The daytime world of Frank does not make sense. He is still super-creepy, but somehow lands the affection and attention of the fantastic looking Caroline Munro. This whole part of the movie is pretty awful. And that is really saying something, because this is NOT a good movie.
I can say that I was somewhat disappointed. Serial killers have been so mainstreamed these days, that today’s TV police procedurals have more disturbing portrayals of MANIACS. Still, given the time period it was made, I can see how the seediness really added to the movie’s panache and reputation as a disturbing expose of madness and a filthy exploitation of violent gore.