I was afraid of Maniac! even before I saw it. I'd heard about it and had seen a couple of clips, and I just didn't think I could handle it. And then there was the poster. I think it was October of last year when I finally got the nerve to watch it, and I paired it in a "creepy mannequin" double feature with Tourist Trap, another movie I'd been scared to watch. It may have been a mistake to watch both movies, especially Tourist Trap, on my big screen, because about 6 minutes into Tourist Trap - when shit gets real in a hurry - I was already broken. So after that, Maniac! was no big deal.
Like a lot of movie psychos, Maniac!'s eponymous maniac Frank Zito has mommy issues. His mother was a prostitute who physically abused him for years before dying in a car crash and leaving him an orphan. He deals with all this by killing women, scalping them, and bringing their hair and clothes home to put on mannequins in his apartment. He sleeps with each mannequin for several nights, using it to have conversations with his dead mother, before eventually tiring of each mannequin and needing to acquire a new victim.
Frank becomes taken with a photographer named Anna and goes to one of her photo shoots. This scene contains perhaps the single greatest random musical moment in the history of film. There's not a good version of the actual scene from the movie, but here's the full recording of the song. Just imagine Caroline Munro taking pictures and saying encouraging things to models ("Alright ladies, it's lookin' good!").
This is a movie that really captures the skeazy New York of the late 70s and early 80s. The director, William Lustig, has some great stories about shooting this movie, notably about the scene where Tom Savini gets his head blown off under the Verrazano Bridge. Savini made a model of his own head and they fired a real shotgun to blow it to bits. And then had to flee the scene in the next 60 seconds because it's against the law and punishable by jail time to fire a gun in the city.
This is also a movie that makes heavy and sinister use of mannequins and was one of the first (thought definitely not THE first) movie to do so. Lustig was influenced by Tourist Trap, which had come out the year before. He also was inspired by a story that I've shared elsewhere before about a couple of prostitutes who were murdered in a Times Square hotel. The cops couldn't identify the bodies, so they took the bloody clothes off of the dead bodies and put them on a couple of mannequins, putting them in the windows of an NYPD kiosk in Times Square - in fact, I'm pretty sure it was this one -
And hoping that the people on the street would be able to identify the dead girls by their clothes. I think of that every time I pass that station.
This is a great splatter flick, and Frank's psychosis reminds me a lot of Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs - the novel, more than the movie. It's easy to label this movie as misogynist, but it's not correct to do so, in my opinion. It's about misogyny, sure, but that's not the same thing.
In closing, I will leave you with a moment that I'd forgotten completely about from my previous viewing but which may in fact be my favorite WTF moment in the film, in which Frank "feeds" crumbs to a naked doll that he has placed in a birdcage.
"Polly want a cracker?"
One more thing. They've recently made a new version of this movie with Elijah Wood as the killer. People seem to be boggling about this, but these people have obviously never seen Elijah Wood in Sin City. It seems like much more of a POV style movie (from what little I've seen). I'm sad they didn't stick with the NYC setting, but then again NYC isn't as scary as it was in 1980. Anyway, I'm interested and plan on checking it out when it comes out (I think) later this year.