Monday, November 15, 2010

Maniac: I'm Bringing Leotards Back

My search for the disturbing and icky continues with the slasher/sleaze/splatter film Maniac-- a perennial Christmas favorite? I hope so. Although the film contains no rape, and gratuitous, graphic violence (well, that's not exactly true but you know it's no...Cannibal Holocaust) it still comes off as rather shower inducing. Perhaps it's the overall grime that wraps itself around New York City in the 80s, or maybe it's the completely messed up mind that is Frank Zito. Whatever it is, it makes me feel yucky!

Frank Zito is a maniac. He has mommy problems that Norman Bates would be proud of and brutally kills and scalps women in a bizarre act of reminiscence. After scalping them, Zito takes their bloody hair and puts it on a mannequin. After filling his apartment to the brim with mannequins, Frank soon befriends a photographer who soon ends up entwined in his cruel and horrifying world.

Perhaps what is most off putting, is Frank Zito's babbling that ensues after coming home from the latest killing. He talks to someone, presumably his mother, or the side of him that forces him to kill women---who knows? It is these scenes I believe, that got to me the most. He really is a maniac, and because we don't know all there is to know about him and his past--it makes things that much more terrifying. We aren't scared in the typical way of course, more just silently thankful that we haven't yet met a Frank Zito in our own lives. He is quite normal on the outside I should mention. His tenants, and the people he comes across on a daily basis have no clue what goes on inside that apartment so who knows--maybe we have met a Frank Zito and not known it!

One of the strange things about Maniac, is that we never see the aftermath. We are fully in the vantage point of Frank throughout most of the film. What happens to the bodies after he kills the women is irrelevant. All we need to know and realize, is that Frank puts an incredible amount of care and kindness into each and every mannequin. This is oddly respectful for a gory, "splatter" film. Instead of the bulk of the violence being unnecessary and used for a bizarre form of entertainment, the violence in Maniac all seems necessary to the overall point of the story. It is this fact perhaps that prevents me from actually classifying it as either a Slasher or a Splatterfest film. I believe I will just put it nicely in its own little category...very far away from any other movies so that it won't hurt them of course.

Another odd thing about Maniac is that it's pretty stagnant. Nothing ever really develops that is shocking, no detective is on the case, no one is suspicious, there are NO close calls. If Maniac was hooked up to a heart monitor the line would just steadily be beeping along. Again, this is unusual for a movie with this subject--it's only further proof of how much more important the characterization (or lack of it) of Frank is, than the guts and glory.

Frank Zito is one of the most interesting characters I've seen. It's like he's an onion that never actually gets peeled. His apartment provides a jumping off point for a world of assessment. The naked pictures of the woman with their naked parts scratched out, the creepy dolls, the doll locked in a cage--it's all very interesting isn't it? And yet we never really get to know what his deal is. It's almost like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in that respect. He's just a serial killer, a madman who hasn't necessarily been explained to us--which makes things very unsettling.

The gore as per typical of a Tom Savini piece, is pretty brilliant. The famous shotgun scene was more eye opening than I could have ever hoped for, although I could have done without the glance into what a typical date with Tom Savini would look like.

The scalping was pretty gross...I'll be honest, scalping is not one of my strong suits, so seeing each grotesque little patch of hair in that plastic bag was just....bleck. It really, really gave me the willies seeing all those mannequins.

I think it has to do with how Frank's scalping only allowed for a tiny bit of the hair to come off. Which gave the mannequins all the illusion of having some weird butch haircut.

I loved how all the mannequins sort of came to life at the end. Not only does it prove my theory that all mannequins come to life once Frank Zito turns off his Christmas tree lights, but it retains a perfect visual for Frank's victims. Each one of those mannequins in that apartment is essentially a person. It's a memory of what Frank did, although he doesn't of course see it that way. By the film's end, when they do come to life, Frank is associating his guilt with what he has done. It's kind of brilliant when you think about it.

I guess I didn't expect to come away from Maniac with anything. My decency maybe, but not a new outlook on characterization and what happens when it is purposely left out. I'm not sure if it will end up on my ultimate list of disturbing movies though. I will have to think more about this. Maybe instead I can make a list of movies that made me want to shower afterwards. Aha a compromise! In any case, Maniac, I think I like you. I think.

OH also....I'm pretty sure that the hotel the prostitute and Frank go into at the beginning is the same hotel from BIG. St James? Let's examine the evidence.




Same facade. Ding ding ding! I am GOOD.

And still also, why can't all prostitutes wear leotards? Things would be much classier.


Anonymous said...

"Goin' to a showdown..." Don't forget the peek into the glamorous life of early 80's photo shoots.

the jaded viewer said...

Awesome review. It's easy to go all this is exploitation filth but for its time, nyc felt like a bunch of Frank Zito's were walking around.

A sequel was almost made too!

Unknown said...

Awesome piece. That shotgun scene had me jumping for joy! Not really sure what that says about me...but we'll be playing a brand-spanking-new print of MANIAC at the Coolidge for THREE WEEKS at the end of Feb into early March. Just a heads up.

Chris H said...

I'm pretty sure there was a scene with Frank Zito dancing on a gigantic keyboard that was cut in the final draft of the screenplay.

How in the world you made that Big connection, I'll never know.
You are a whiz!

Andre Dumas said...

Mark--that is brilliant! I am so there ; )

Chris- What can I say? I obviously spent a lot of time studying the prostitute life in times square, and suddenly--it hit me!

Amanda By Night said...

I have "Going to a Showdown" on CD! :) I love, love, LOVE this movie. I think it's highly underrated and just fantastically creepy. The nurse scene never fails to terrify me.

Joe Spinell got a lot of flack for this movie when it came out and he attempted to make a sequel where the Maniac becomes a vigilante who kills child abusers! No joke. Buddy G. (Combat Shock) was supposed to direct, and there are bits of test footage shot to raise money, but Joe died a little before the actual production. That would have been interesting. I think the footage is on the old laserdisc, and might be on some of the DVD releases. Believe it or not, I just have my trusty vhs! It's signed by William Lustig! He was taken aback when we met because I don't think he gets a ton of women telling him how much they enjoy this movie -- I think some female groups protested the film in NYC.

Great review! I too LOVED the Big connection. You are ON it!

Gry said...

The Saint James was also used for the opening murder of the soap actor in "Cruising"; both movies were able to get almost impossible access to locations such as this because they had NYPD connections.