Directed by: William Lustig
Starring: Joe Spinell
In 1980, during the peak of the “women in danger” films William Lustig brought us Maniac a slasher film that pushed the edge of the edge ona tight budget and a wave of controversy. In the self focused me too era in wich we live the most outspoken people who speak out against everything and think they are the warriors who did it first should really look at the history of cinema, and they can do that with this release of Maniac. Women’s groups came out in force against this film because of its nihilistic assault on women. This approach is exactly why the film works so well. It goes against the grain of what we wanted and expected as a society at that point so soon after the women’s liberation movement had fought so hard for women and equality. In this era of #metoo the film is freshly impactful again. Because history repeats itself, Maniac is just as terrifying as it was forty years ago.
Maniac does something that modern horror films just don’t do, it doesn’t go in depth into why the killer is a killer. The explanation that the man was abused by his mother is all we get. That theme was very common in the late 70’s and again the theme either consciously or subconsciously is a result of the growth of women’s rights and equality. It’s not that the filmmakers are woman haters, it’s that they want to tap into what is most disturbing to society at large at the time the film was made.
Maniac keeps it simple, it doesn’t over explain why the killer does what he does which makes him so damn scary because people fear his acts but they also fear not being able to understand why. We as the audience are placed completely on the side of the victims, and since we are just voyeuristically viewing his actions and can’t stop him the film becomes levels more grimy and disturbing than just what the gore shows us.
Director William Lustig, special fx magician Tom Savini, writer and star Joe Spinell, director of photography Robert Lindsay, and composer Jay Chattaway each bring an important piece to this gritty, dirty, and disturbing puzzle. Maniac feels real and familiar as well as surreal and unreal. The film hit theaters around the same time as the second Friday the 13th film and Maniac tops that icon because of how ral it feels at times. This weird guy could be your neighbor. You could pass this serial killer on the street. It’s scary for all of the previously mentioned reasons of cultural impact and fx and direction, but at it’s core Maniac works because it could happen.
This 4k version was previously struck for a downscaled blu-ray release. Right away the full 4k resolution uptick for this release is visible in fine details, skin and material textures. Color presentation is a little dark and muted, but the film is pretty dark and muted on purpose. When their are pops of color they really look beautiful though. Blood is most striking in the film and then there’s some other great pops of color in scenes where a photographer is taking pictures of models. Reds obviously, tend to be the focus of color pops and they look great. Other bits that stand out are light reflections on wet surfaces whether it’s the surface of the ocean at night or blood on a body. There are inconsistencies though, mostly related to the quality of the original film source. A few scenes have very grainy and washed out blacks and it’s clear that this happens because of more worn film, not due to the transfer. These few moments do stand out visually though. Maniac isn’t a demo disc for your home theater but this 4k is a true evolution of the film visually really making this film source material look the best it has ever looked and quite possibly the most filmic it has ever looked on home video.
We get a new Dolby Atmos audio mix and overall it sounds phenominal. actual Atmos use is sparse but when the environmental sounds do spread across the soundstage, including the ceiling speakers the grossness of the film becomes disturbingly immersive. There are instances of dialogue where ADR feels too apparent and theirs not much dynamic EQ to the sound mix. Don’t expect the sub woofer to ever wake during the film. Flaws aside, when the immersion works it REALLY works and dialogue and score have nice balance. Look for the voices in his head, they really sound great.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The packaging here is a standard 4k black case with a slipcover. The artwork is a very slick modern representation of the classic 1980 poster and the lightly embossed slipcover makes it feel a bit more premium. Different artwork behind the slip would have been appreciated though.
So, there are no new bonus features for this 4k release. Normally no new bonuses for an upgraded release of a great film would really bother me. The problem is that the original releases of the film have built up an extensive set of featurettes, documentaries, outtakes, interviews, multiple commentaries, and even news footage of how the film was recieved when it originally released. The in depth coverage of the film for virually every angle is impressive. This set of bonus features is one of the gold standards for behind the scenes coverage of a film for home video. All of the extras here are pushed to the second blu-ray disc, other than the commentaries. The only possible negative is that their are so many interviews and commentaries that occasionally some information is repeated, but this doesn’t happen much. There is so much great information, cool stories, and filmmaking lessons here that an entire feature article could be written just about the bonus features here. Lustig’s honestly about the film, how he made it, and how it has impacted his life is refreshing. One fun sequence is when Lustig revisits the locations in modern times. The commentary about those spots and his friend and the movie’s writer and star Joe Spinell is a time capsule of the film and their friendship. It’s much more sad and moving than the rest of the extras. It’s a quite beautiful little short. These bonus features offer a ton of information for fans of the film, fans of film history, and filmmakers.
Maniac is an explosive end to 1970’s grindhouse cinema. The film represents the best and worst of the horror genre from a decade where maverick filmmakers were pushing boundaries, breaking rules, and literally doing whatever the Hell they wanted to do. Horror will never be as disturbing and effective as a genre overall as it was in the late 70’s to 1980 and Maniac typifies the era. Basically, Maniac is scary as Hell, even moreso today in an era where we are lucky to see a real R rated film.