Monday, April 4, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 03 - Your favorite slasher

I gotta get one thing out of the way first. I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite in most of these categories. Therefore, all of these posts will be about A favorite, not THE or MY favorite in all of these sub-genres. I might pick a film because I think it deserves a wider audience. I might pick a movie I like slightly less than another one to avoid writing about the same flick everyone else is. Whatever the reason I pick a certain film, it might not necessarily be my favorite, but if I’m writing about it, then it’s a movie I think you all should watch, either for the first time or the hundredth.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, it’s slasher time. Some people don’t consider Maniac a slasher flick. I think it is, but it’s a different kind of slasher flick. Its brilliance is in its realism. If you look at most of the iconic slasher characters, they’re basically comic book characters. That’s not meant as an insult. I love Freddy, Jason, Michael, Leatherface, etc as much as anybody. What I’m saying is that they all have costumes, super powers, an iconic weapon, that sort of thing, which really puts them outside the realm of reality. Frank Zito is a different style of slasher. He doesn’t have a cool mask, or an overly stylized modus operandi, or an overly convoluted backstory. He’s just your average deranged lunatic. His mother abused him, therefore he’s got severe Mommy issues, and he takes it out on women. Sure, he does it by slaughtering them, scalping them, and nailing their beautiful locks to the heads of the mannequins he shares his apartment with, but that’s totally plausible. Oh yeah, and the mannequins talk to him. They may or may not end up dismembering him too.

The thing that makes this movie legendary more than anything else is the mind-blowing performance of the great Joe Spinnell (The Last Horror Film, Rocky, The Godfather 2, Taxi Driver) as Zito. He throws himself into the role with a dedication that is awe inspiring, and not a little bit disturbing. Legend says that he would go for days without sleeping and consume nothing but alcohol during filming to achieve the twisted mindset of Zito. Whether or not that is true, Spinnell’s realism in this movie makes Zito a much deeper, and much more frightening, character. He even elicits the tiniest hint of sympathy. We never actually like Zito, but we feel for the guy. He’s not a Hannibal Lecter type reveling in his psychosis, he’s suffering from it. The sheer emotion of Spinnell’s performance, and his ability to switch seamlessly between the different personalities the character displays should be used as an example in acting classes. In the hands of a lesser actor, this movie could have been just another early 80’s by the numbers B flick (not that there’s anything wrong with that). With Spinnell, however, it’s pure magic.

This movie has so many other things going for it too. It is set in the same gritty, sleazy late 70’s /early 80’s New York that Taxi Driver, Basket Case, and Driller Killer (amongst others) brought to the screen. The grimy setting oozes through the screen, creating an amazing atmosphere. One major set, Zito’s apartment, is a masterpiece. It looks and feels exactly like what you would imagine a homicidal lunatic’s apartment would look and feel like. Hell, you can almost smell the place. Maniac co-stars Caroline Munro, which is always a plus, even though her character wanting to date Zito is pushing “suspension of disbelief” to the absolute limit. The gore is magnificent. It’s some of the most realistic of Tom Savini’s career. Even the poster is great, and well deserves its iconic status among film poster aficionados.

This movie stirred up quite a bit of controversy upon its release. Its detractors called Maniac misogynistic, violent, grim, nihilistic, sleazy, and trashy. It’s all those things and more. Then again, would we, the horror freaks, want it any other way? Hell no! This movie bears the highest mark a great early 80’s exploitation film can earn, Siskel and Ebert both walked out on it, were angered and disgusted by it, and called for it to be banned. Screw them; I give it two severed thumbs, and a scalp for good measure, up. Nathan says check it out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yet another film I need to see. I know I know, I'll do it for you .

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