Blu-ray
Worth a Look
4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
2 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Worth a Look

Maniac (1980)

Street Date:
October 26th, 2010
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
April 25th, 2011
Movie Release Year:
1980
Studio:
Blue Underground
Length:
88 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Aside from John Carpenter's 'Halloween,' William Lustig's 'Maniac' is one of the best and most noteworthy examples of the slasher film. Released during the heyday of the genre's most successful years, the exploitation feature is pretty much like any other — a psychopath on a murdering spree, killing victims in a variety of graphically violent methods. But 'Maniac' stands out for being genuinely creepy and downright disturbing, and it's not only due to some very explicit imagery, the one area the movie is arguably best known for thanks to the gory wizardry of horror legend Tom Savini. The low-budget flick is actually good for turning genre convention on its head and trying a new, much scarier angle.

Movies of this caliber and type typically place the spotlight on a character that eventually turns into the story's hero, most often female. And the bad guy is regularly a masked lunatic — an unknown and distant assailant despite customary POV shots. In 'Maniac,' Lustig does the interesting thing of having the killer be the plot's focal point. We are actually made to spend time with the madman, to get all close and personal, discovering his various quirks, his personal lifestyle and the state of his mental illness. We never actually learn of his reasoning for horribly and viciously murdering women, but we can piece the mystery together over the course of the story. And as we get deeper, the more chilling it becomes.

Working as a super at an apartment complex in New York City, Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) decorates his small room with brightly painted walls, children's toys, plenty of light, and pictures of beautiful women. His home may be colorful and distinctive, but his mind is dark and severely fractured. Several mannequins adorned with the clothes and scalps of his victims share his confined space, naked pictures interestingly have certain body parts cut out, and Frank often talks as if someone else were in the room with him. When he makes friends with a lovely photographer, Anna (Caroline Munro, 'Starcrash'), we wonder about his intentions and wait anxiously to see when and how he will reveal himself to her.

This entire thing creates a bizarre and unnerving experience because as the story unfolds, we are both horrified and disgusted by the man as well as weirdly sympathetic to the nutcase. He clearly has mommy issues which require some intensely severe therapy, and in the case of Frank, a lobotomy would be a humane start. The whole picture rests on the performance of Spinell ('Rocky,' 'The Last Horror Film'), who also surprisingly wrote the script. Better known as a character actor, he demonstrates he can carry a film and is immensely talented with his portrayal of the mentally disturbed killer. It's unfortunate that a sequel to 'Maniac' was never completed before his death — only a short film, made the year before his passing, exists and shows Frank Zito drinking and killing a cook.

'Maniac' remains a memorable exploitation movie primarily for its graphic and amazingly life-like depictions of violence. The special effects are recognized as some of Tom Savini's best — the scene with the shotgun at point-blank range stands as one of the most shocking and sickening moments caught on celluloid, the scene which made Gene Siskel walk out. But the most effective aspect of the cult slasher film is its unique story, a telling that brings attention to an area in genre convention that was mostly ignored before. With Joe Spinell's utterly convincing and marvelous performance as Frank Zito, 'Maniac' lives on as a finest example of the subgenre, revealing what the basic story structure is capable of.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Blue Underground brings William Lustig's 'Maniac' to Blu-ray as a two-disc 30th Anniversary Edition. The first disc is a Region Free, BD50 with the main feature and some supplements while the second is a DVD-5 containing the rest of the special features. Both are housed on opposing panels in the normal blue keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken straight to the main menu.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

If not for the fact that Blue Underground has a strong track record for giving forgotten, low-budget gems respectable treatment on Blu-ray, one would be quick to judge the picture quality of 'Maniac' as one of the worst available. But in all honesty, the movie looks the best it probably ever will. Originally filmed on Super 16, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) is terribly soft and far from anything remotely close to high-def standards.

Details and textures are generally blurry, and shadow delineation appears mostly like a hazy, muffled mess. Contrast is drab and boring while blacks look like clouded, dark-gray blobs. Colors are decent, especially reds, but overall, they feel rather dull and lifeless. Film grain also has mysteriously vanished.

All things considered, the cult slasher flick could be worse, but HD expectations make this transfer a sub-par release.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

In the audio department, 'Maniac' turns out to be a winner, with a very nice and involving DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.

Most impressive are the numerous discrete effects filling the rear soundscape and surrounding the listener with the sounds of a bustling city. Surprisingly, these moments don't feel forced or artificial and actually quite engaging. The musical score also bleeds lightly into the background, but it works best in the front soundstage, spreading across the three channels with ease and good balance. Dialogue reproduction is precise and intelligible, making every word of Frank Zito perfectly clear and creepy. The mid-range is accurate and very well-defined with an unexpectedly strong low end which gives the movie notable depth and weight.

Overall, William Lustig's exploitation classic sounds great on Blu-ray.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

For this Blu-ray edition of 'Maniac,' Blue Underground offers a large assortment of supplements, sure to keep fans busy for a while. Most are from previous releases, but the collection mirrors its anniversary DVD counterpart.

Disc One

  • Audio Commentaries — The first track is a new recording with director William Lustig and producer Andrew G. Garroni. The affable conversation talks about the cast and some background story of the production. Aside from informative scene-specific comments, the commentary is quite revealing with plenty of cool tidbits of trivia.

    The second audio track is the same from the Elite Entertainment laserdisc, and it features Lustig with Tom Savini, editor Lorenzo Marinelli and Luke Walter, a close personal friend of Joe Spinell. Some of the info from the director is also heard in the previous commentary, but this is equally entertaining with various enlightening remarks about the story and production. While the filmmakers focus more on history and the technical aspects, Walter shares intimate thoughts about his friend.

  • Anna and the Killer (HD, 13 min) — This is a recent interview with Caroline Munro, especially made for this anniversary release. The lovely actress recollects her friendship with Joe Spinell, her career, character motivation and memories on the set of 'Maniac.'

  • The Death Dealer (HD, 12 min) — Another interview recently recorded for the Blu-ray, this time with legendary special-effects artist Tom Savini. He explains a bit about his work in the movie, his memories about the actors and how it all turned out.

  • Dark Notes (HD, 12 min) — Composer Jay Chattaway thinks back on his career and how he became involved with writing film scores. He also talks about his first meeting with the filmmakers of 'Maniac' and his reasons and approach for scoring the movie.

  • Maniac Men (HD, 11 min) — This a funny conversation with songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky on persistent rumors that their hit song "Maniac" from 'Flashdance' was inspired by Lustig's film.

  • Trailers (HD, SH) — An extensive collection of promotion material. There are seven theatrical previews, nine TV spots and four radio commercials.

  • Short Film (HD, 7 min) — Originally intended as a promo reel to seek financing for a sequel, this short film, entitled "Mr. Robbie: Maniac 2," has Frank Zito working as a TV star for a children's show. While at a bar, he gives a cook, which Zito knows is an abusive father, his comeuppance.

Disc Two

  • The Joe Spinell Story (SD, 49 min) — A great documentary from David Gregory about a great and talented actor not readily known by general audiences. Interviews with friends and family discuss the man's personality and his good-natured spirit. It's a well-made doc that fans can easily enjoy.

  • Publicity (SD) — This is actually a large collection of interviews recorded during the film's publicity tour. The first is a radio talk show, "Paul Wunder," with William Lustig, Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro (19 min). This is followed by an episode from "Movie Madness" where the host talks extensively with Lustig (47 min). Afterwards, we have two interviews with Spinell, one at the Cannes Film Festival (1 min) and the other on "The Joe Franklin Show" (13 min). Then Caroline Munro does an interesting Q&A interview (3 min), followed by a silly Barf Bag review by Katie Kelly (2 min). The Grindhouse Film Festival Q&A (22 min) was recorded at a recent, meaning in the last few years, showing of the movie. It's all brought to a close by a still gallery.

  • Controversy (SD) — Being a maniac of forgotten and outrageous movies which are often viewed as offensive, this collection of the media controversy over 'Maniac' is a great treat. First is a series of nightly news comments from Los Angeles (8 min) where residents discuss the movie's potential to induce violence against women. Then we have a few words from Gene Siskel (2 min) about the rise of violent horror movies. The city of Philadelphia joins the chant (4 min) with more protests about the movie encouraging violence against women. Two episodes from "Newbeat" look at the trend of realistic depictions of violence (13 mins) and a theoretical discussion on the use of female characters as victims (8 min). Two episodes from "Midnight Blue" show Al Goldstein rant about violent movies on television but not sex (4 min) and then adds a few more words while mutilating his love doll (3 min). The "Gallery of Outrage" is short text blurbs from newspaper and magazine reviews. All good stuff to enjoy.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no high-def exclusives.

Easter Eggs

Producers of this anniversary release have included a small hidden gem in the main menu. Move the cursor to the far left and you'll find the words "MANIAC" suddenly appear. Press enter and listen to a short audio clip (1 min.) of director William Friedkin praising Lustig's film.

Another clever Easter egg has been revealed thanks to our reader Stephen Florentine. When browsing through the second disc, go to the "Publicity" section. After highlighting "William Lustig on Movie Madness," move the cursor to the left and the 'Maniac' symbol suddenly appears on the lower right side of the screen. There, viewers will find an 8 minute video of Joe Spinell doing stand-up comedy at a night club.

Final Thoughts

The movie that caused a wave of controversy when it was released in 1980, William Lustig's 'Maniac,' is now talked about as a great slasher flick at the height of the genre's popularity. Often remembered for Tom Savini's amazingly realistic depictions of violence, the film should also be rightly remembered for its genuinely creepy story and Joe Spinell's remarkable performance as Frank Zito. The Blu-ray comes with the best-looking presentation of the movie, but it unfortunately cannot compare to other catalog releases. In the audio and supplement department, the 30th Anniversary Edition is a winner, making this a worthwhile purchase for fans of the cult exploitation feature and of the genre.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray/DVD Two-Disc Set
  • BD-50 Dual Layer Disc / DVD-5 Single-Layer Disc
  • Region Free

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Surround
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
  • Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
  • German Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French
  • Spanish
  • Portuguese
  • Chinese (Traditional)
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Thai

Supplements

  • Audio Commentaries
  • Featurettes
  • Interviews
  • Documentary
  • Short Film
  • Promo Material
  • Trailers

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

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