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Film / Maniac! (1980)

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"I warned you not to go out tonight."

A horror film from 1980. It was directed by William Lustig (Maniac Cop, Uncle Sam) and stars Joe Spinell in the title role.

It follows the exploits of the woman-hating and mommy issues-ridden psychopath Frank Zito, who wanders the streets of The Big Rotten Apple from one brutal kill to the next, breathing heavily and babbling incoherently all the while.

The film's effects were provided by Tom Savini, which includes the infamous "Disco Boy Scene" where a man's head explodes from a close range shotgun blast.

The film also has the dubious honor of being one of three movies the late Gene Siskel had ever walked out on.

The year 2012 was treated to a remake that was produced and written by Alexandre Aja and which had Elijah Wood star as the title character. It is mostly the same story, but with the twist that almost the entire film is shot from a first-person perspective. It also incorporates online dating.

Not to be confused with an even more crazy and totally unrelated 1934 film, Maniac. Or the 2018 TV show Maniac.

These films provide examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Frank, in both versions, though in different ways.
    • In the original, despite his misogynistic streak, he takes a genuine liking to Anna and even warns a little girl who bumps into him on her bike to be careful.
    • The remake version has none of the misogyny of his original counterpart and warns at least one victim to let him leave before he kills her.
  • Actor Allusion: This isn't the first time Joe Spinell shot someone to death through a glass window whilst wearing a suitably maniacal slasher smile.
  • Big Word Shout: "MOTHEEEEEEER!!!"
  • Creepy Doll: Various mannequins which wear scalps from Frank's victims that he keeps around his apartment.
  • Freudian Excuse: Frank's mother was a prostitute who beat him and would lock him in the closet when she was with her johns. That would certainly explain his awkwardness around the fairer sex, as well as why he kills women that remind him of her.
  • Gorn: Both the original and remake do not leave much to the imagination.
  • Hallucinations: Frank starts having these when Anna hurts him at the cemetery in the original. The remake has one as well.
  • Job Title: Well, Frank is certainly maniacal.
  • Madness Mantra: "Rita knew ... Rita knew ... Rita knew ... Rita knew ... Rita knew ..."
  • Missing Mom: Frank misses his mother, despite the horrible abuse she put him through.
  • Murderous Mannequin: Frank hallucinates being ripped apart by his own mannequins (on which he placed the scalps of his victims) in both versions of the film.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Frank has this reaction to most of his murders. It doesn't stop him from committing them, though.
  • One-Word Title: Which describes the Ax-Crazy Frank.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Frank, more so in the original than in the remake. He's a mentally unstable serial killer with a room full of dolls and childhood toys, and has an unhealthy, childlike obsession with his belated mother.
  • Reluctant Psycho: Frank hates killing and feels nothing but remorse for his crimes, but is urged on by his own psychosis.
  • The Remake: The unmade sequel was apparently going to be a remake of the 1975 film The Psychopath. And of course, there's the remake of the original.
  • Serial Killer: Frank murders five women (six in the remake) and takes their scalps as trophies.
  • Villain Protagonist: Both films follow Frank's point of view.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: When you take Frank's miserable life and general loneliness into account, he becomes a lot more pitiful than revolting. Made all the worse by his instant remorse whenever he claims a victim.

The 1980 version provides examples of:

  • All in the Eyes: Used when Frank wakes up, Catapult Nightmare-style, and light is shining on his eyes.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Did Frank survive his suicide attempt, or did his eyes open due a post-mortem muscle spasm? If he did survive, what then? He's not going anywhere soon with a deep stomach wound and severe blood loss.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Frank sees his hand being chopped off in his last hallucination.
  • Bedmate Reveal: When Frank gets up from his bed, the audience is shown that the corpse of his latest victim is laying next to him.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents: Disco Girl gets covered with Disco Boy's blood when Frank shoots him.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Disco Boy's death, courtesy of a double-barrel shotgun blast by Frank.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Frank addresses the viewers at one point. But hey, he's just crazy.
  • Bullet Time: Used when Frank shoots Disco Boy and when he attacks one of the Anna's photograph models.
  • Bungled Suicide: Frank stabs himself in the stomach with a knife at the end, hallucinating it as his victims coming back to life to take their revenge. But at the end, after the cops leave to get the coroner, his eyes open.
  • Camping a Crapper: Frank chases a nurse into a subway restroom and kills her there.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Frank's second on-screen victim is a hooker whom he picks up from the streets, and proceeds to strangle in bed.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Frank goes off the deep end, hallucinating that his victims have returned to take revenge, stabbing himself in the stomach in his madness. The cops show up to arrest him, and find him lying on his bed. They go get the coroner, and his eyes open the moment they close the door.
  • Grave-Marking Scene: Frank visits his mother's grave near the end.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Although Frank is remorseful for his killings, he still appears to have some issues with them, like his confusion regarding Anna's photographic project.
    Frank: Now you tell me what I should do. I heard about it, I always do. I can't go out for a minute. It's impossible. Fancy girls, in their fancy dresses and lipstick, laughing and dancing. Should you stop them? I can't stop them. But you do, don't you? And they can't laugh and they can't dance anymore.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: Takes place at Christmastime.
  • Make-Out Point: Disco Boy and Disco Girl drive into one near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge for some Auto Erotica. Unfortunately, they were followed by Frank.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Much of Frank's personality, mommy issues, and his scalp-taking were inspired by Ed Gein. He also shares some traits with the Son of Sam in terms of appearance, place of residence, and time frame of his murders.
  • No Name Given: Most of the characters, like Disco Boy and Disco Girl.
  • No-Tell Motel: Frank takes the hooker whom he intends to kill into an establishment like this.
  • Off with His Head!: Frank's final hallucination has his mannequins come to life and ripping his head off.
  • Rise from Your Grave: Frank has a hallucination at the graveyard of his mother's maggot-infested corpse rising from the grave and grabbing him.
  • Senseless Violins: Frank carries his shotgun in a violin case.
  • Shovel Strike: Anna attacks Frank with a shovel when he is chasing her in the cemetery.
  • Sinister Subway: Frank follows one of his victims through one.
  • Slashed Throat: Frank does this to his first on-screen victim (whom he finds on the beach waiting for her boyfriend) with a razor blade.
  • Stalker Shrine: There's one for Frank's mother, that's right next to his bed.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: A little girl bumps into Frank on her bike; he just tells her to be careful and sends her on her way.
  • Your Head A-Splode: Disco Boy's head explodes thanks to a shotgun blast.

The 2012 version provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the original film, Frank was a sweaty, beer-bellied middle-aged man. He's played by Elijah Wood in this version, and the comparison is even lampshaded by one of his victims. Though his hands are covered in scabs and burns from Self-Harm.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Slightly. Frank was, in the original, cripplingly awkward and had a few misogynistic tendencies outside of his mommy issues and his killings, has "serial killer" written all over him, but was disturbed by actually killing women. Here, he doesn't seem to hate women (he outright tells one of his victims that he likes her and tries to warn her to leave before he kills her) and while still awkward, his awkwardness comes off sweet and endearing when it's not heartbreaking. He has more in common with Norman Bates than he does his original counterpart.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Frank doesn't survive this time around, and after sitting through an hour and a half watching what sanity he has deteriorate, it's really sad.
  • Car Fu: Anna tries to run down the serial killer with his car.
  • Death by Adaptation: Anna dies in a car crash, and Frank claims her scalp. Also, Frank bleeds out from his stomach wound in this one.
  • Downer Ending: Unlike the original version, all of Frank's intended targets die, along with Frank himself.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: In the opening scene, Frank is disgusted with a man for sexually harassing one of his victims-to-be. Or perhaps he just wanted him to get away from her so he could track her.
  • Facial Horror: The end has Frank hallucinating that his face gets ripped to shreds.
  • Final Girl: Subverted with Anna, as she dies this time around.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Anna realizes she's Alone with the Psycho when Frank comes over to her apartment to comfort her, and starts spilling more details about Rita's murder than he has any good reason to know, such as the distance from her apartment to the art gallery.
  • Jerkass:
    • Anna's boyfriend, Jason. He calls Frank gay and continues to belittle and antagonize him afterwards. According to Anna, he was an asshole to her, as well, which led to them breaking up after the party.
    • To a lesser extent, Rita. She (possibly) mistakenly calls him "Fred", and mocks his profession to his face. Though she wasn't wrong about the mannequins being creepy, and is implied to have been on good terms with Rita.
  • Jizzed in My Pants: Implied. While Frank is scalping one of his victims, he lets out a long, pleasurable sigh.
  • Mask of Sanity: Frank hides how he disturbed he is very well, and most of the characters seem to think of him as at worst a little eccentric.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Lucie tells Frank that he's "not what I imagined, I thought you'd be fat with long greasy hair". This is a reference to Joe Spinell, the actor who played Frank in the original.
    • Frank chases one of his victims through a subway, as he did in the original, though he kills her in a parking lot.
    • The aforementioned scene in the parking lot ends with Frank scalping his victim and facing the car in front of him, casting a reflection that resembles the cover of the original.
  • The Public Domain Channel: Frank and Anna attend a screening of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Frank takes out his frustrations on a mirror, unhappy over his psychotic urges.
  • Self-Harm: Frank makes a routine out of washing his hands under scalding hot water and scrubbing them with a wire brush.
  • Shout-Out:
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Frank looks normal and even attractive, and has no trouble getting dates on dating sites. Most of the characters don't seem to notice how disturbed he is even after lengthy conversations.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Women tend to see Frank as attractive, but he's clearly got a lot of issues and tries to push them away before he kills them.
  • Unbroken First-Person Perspective: Not quite an example - while most of the film is from Frank's POV, it periodically breaks perspective to depict events from an omniscient third-person perspective, such as when Frank murders his third victim in a parking lot. The film also employs a handful of Third Person Flashbacks to Frank's childhood, and sometimes depicts Frank's fantasies or hallucinations from a third-person perspective (although it could be argued that these are still from his perspective, given that all of these are occurring inside his head).
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: From a first-person perspective, no less.