Maniac is often an uncomfortable and brutal watch, depicting the seedier side of ’70s and ’80s New York City in a way that only a few horror films effectively achieve. Joe Spinell co-writes this screenplay with C.A. Rosenberg, and Spinell also embodies his own antagonist Frank Zito with a chilling performance of a man that understands some of his insanity and is powerless to do anything about it. When Maniac first released, it was deemed misogynistic due to its near constant displays of violence against women. But William Lustig’s direction is far less focused on its debauchery than aiming for an empathic portrayal of its killer, highlighting his own self-destructive tendencies.
In many ways, Spinell and Rosenberg utilize the mommy issues made famous in Hitchcock’s Psycho; Frank is a lot like Norman Bates, plagued by memories of his own mother and her treatment of him during her work as a prostitute, wherein he most likely learned a lot of his bad habits from the clientele she would bring home. And like Norman, Frank has basically been made impotent by his arrested development. But throughout Maniac, Lustig shows Frank in a variety of lifestyles; he can be completely unhinged in his apartment, nailing scalps to his mannequins, and then be absolutely charming at a dinner date with his love interest Anna (Caroline Munro). The range that Spinell displays in this role is one of the most fascinating things about Maniac, perhaps even more than the well-paced murder sequences with Tom Savini’s excellent special effects.
But what about the misogyny? Is Maniac truly a depiction of woman-hating for incels to ogle and gather ideas? Those who view Lustig’s film as such are missing the thematic resonance of Frank’s character arc. Maniac‘s intention is to show the dangers of sexuality misconstrued through what is essentially child abuse, and how that psychological damage follows someone throughout their life. Frank, a loner with little social interaction, can’t cope with his own internal thoughts and has no outlet for his psychoses; he’s damaged, and he seeks out Anna as wholesome company when he’s not in a manic state. But as Frank spirals out of control, his own delusions indicate that there’s no way out of this lifestyle except death, ending with a fascinatingly surreal sequence when his own mannequins come to life to murder him. Frank’s recognition of his own insanity, and the empowerment of the women he’s killed along with Anna’s escape from his clutches, ensures that Maniac recognizes its own brutality and condemns it.
Maniac is a compelling film; it’s realistic, ugly, and well-paced, with Spinell and Munro crafting a great on-screen chemistry that makes Frank Zito’s story even more tragic. While Savini’s effects – especially the scalpings – give the film a nasty rap, the culmination of all of these elements leads to an effective story about mental illness and sexual depravity that is difficult to forget.
Blue Underground has already released Maniac on Blu-ray before; back in 2010 they released the Maniac 30th Anniversary edition, which featured a new 2k transfer of the film with a large number of extra features. The problem was that the 2k scan wasn’t that good; it was probably the one flaw in that release. Now Blue Underground are back with this new limited edition Blu-ray of Maniac that improves upon the video quality considerably with a new 4k scan of the 16mm camera negative.
The new restoration looks fantastic, a true step up from the 2k video that emphasizes some of the excellent cinematography within the film. While the more artistic elements of Maniac were never really its most prominent element, this 4k scan brings a lot of that to the forefront while watching the film – viewers can now appreciate the various NYC skylines featured throughout, the vibrant blood, and the beautiful blue color themes in Rita’s bathroom. All of these pop with this new release, and the clarity and detail is stunning. While some of the skyline and dark sequences do tend to have a heavier grain content, Maniac has never looked this good and Blue Underground has managed to restore this 16mm negative to its glory.
Blue Underground also retains all of the same audio elements from the 30th anniversary release including an excellent 7.1 DTS-HD Master audio track that sounds just as dynamic on this release, along with the original 2.0 and numerous 2.0 language tracks including Spanish, Italian, French, and German. Also of note is the insane number of subtitles, including English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and many more.
As for the extras, Blue Underground has included the extensive number of features that was already included on the 30th Anniversary edition across two discs. The first houses the feature film and also two audio commentaries that were previously included, one with Bill Lustig and producer Andrew W. Garroni and the other with Lustig, Tom Savini, editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Joe Spinell’s assistant Luke Walter. Surprisingly, the first commentary is more interesting and informative, maybe just due to the fact that there are so many people on the second. There are also theatrical trailer, radio spots, and TV spots.
The second disc contains all of the same special features from the 30th Anniversary disc, so I won’t go into them in-depth here. But there are a lot of them, including interviews, a documentary about Joe Spinell, various news segments on the film’s controversy, PR stunts, and more. However, two new features are included on this release. One is a new series of outtakes from the film – and by outtakes, they really mean cut scenes and fragments that weren’t used in the full movie. Lustig gives a commentary throughout about 19 minutes of various segments, discussing NYC life, some tidbits about the shooting, and why certain scenes didn’t make it.
The second new feature is a short jaunt back to NYC for location visits comparing the places in Maniac to what they look like now. Unsurprisingly, a lot has changed in the 38 years since Maniac was filmed, and Lustig provides a commentary of what NYC, and 42nd Street, used to be like. Lustig’s always an entertaining fellow and his two commentaries are great insight into the film, and his love of Joe Spinell.
Additionally, this new edition also collects a third disc, a CD soundtrack of the film composed by Jay Chattaway. All tracks are on this disc and, like any release accompanied with a soundtrack, it’s a great complement to the film.
Finally, this limited edition package includes a new essay from Michael Gingold about the making of the film that discusses Dario Argento’s and Daria Nicolodi’s initial involvement in the film and even features an early poster bearing Nicolodi’s name. It’s a well-written essay that does a deep dive into the film’s production and offers even more value to this package. As well as the essay, the whole thing gets a nice new lenticular slipcover, reversible cover art, and a coupon for Eibon Press!
Even if you already own the 30th Anniversary Edition, fans of Maniac will definitely want to double-dip on this one. The 4k scan is a real treat, and the soundtrack itself adds a lot of value to this release despite a lack of new extra content on the disc itself. Certainly a recommended release from Blue Underground, who apparently saved their best releases for the end of the year.
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Blue Underground improves on their previous release of Maniac with this new 4k scan of the film, along with adding additional incentive to purchase thanks to a CD and lenticular cover. Get it.
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