Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 15 October 2004
Source Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD
features: October: 31 Days of Horror
Psycho’s revolutionary prominence in horror may be determined by the many films that emulate its basic formula or rudiments—and most every reproduction is one more explicit and gruesome than the innovator.
Bill Lustig’s third film, Maniac replaces many of Psycho’s familiar mechanisms with an unsettling brand of violence, but it has the same thematic aura of Hitchcock’s film as it also profiles a mother-obsessed, introverted serial killer. We first see the psychological specimen, Frank, in his enclosed basement apartment amongst a collection of female mannequins. As with Norman Bates, Frank is obsessed with replications of the human form and practices maintaining them. He minces his victims in different fashions; one he scalps, and adheres the fresh coiffure to the bald head of one of his inanimate companions. He must consider them his only friends, and maintaining them becomes an act of replenishing their deteriorating fleshes.
The concept is done with more eloquence and sensitivity in Psycho. Maniac is incapable of eliciting the same qualities because it favors the elaborate depictions of Frank’s murders, which, although routinely disparaged in reviews of the film, are of some justifiable merit. The deaths in the film (which are usually preceded by an infeasibly drawn-out suspense) are capably rendered by effects guru Tom Savini, whose work in Dawn of the Dead is distinguished in the same capacity. Savini’s work should be renowned for its hyperrealism (fluorescent blood, exploding heads), and adverse responses to this film (which include banning and censoring in some countries) should be considered gestures of endorsement. Maniac is as tasteless and bloody as it has been repeatedly deemed, and these traits of offense are intended.
Maniac benefits from retrospection, finally, because of the career of its director. Lustig is a former producer at Anchor Bay Entertainment (he is now with Blue Underground) whose selective preference has been horror films of varying lineage and renown. Maniac is one of Lustig’s few directorial credits, in disparate comparison to the dozens of films and supplementary features he has produced. Sufficiently frightening yet otherwise unremarkable, Maniac is the product of a true aficionado of horror and can be noteworthy for that reason alone.