The other day I came across an article in which the author was wondering if there might be anything to gain from watching a movie more than once. I would have read it but I had better things to do, like watch a movie that I had seen before. I’ve viewed MANIAC (1980) way more than three times over the years but here is a list of three significantly different experiences that I’ve had with the exact same WILLIAM LUSTIG film.
This movie is horrifying. It’s like watching a catastrophe unfold while laying helplessly in a coma. Is it X-rated? Are there brakes on this VHS player? MANIAC is basically steamrolling over me. I’m no stranger to slasher flicks but this is something different. There is a wild seedy energy and seemingly no moral code. How can things go back to normal in this MANIAC universe when they were so fucked up and feral to begin with? There is no sweet final girl to chill with. CAROLINE MUNRO’s character Anna has come to the party tardy and it’s too late- I’m already trapped within crazy Frank Zito’s twisted, unpredictable brain…I was later to see things differently but I remember being completely repulsed by JOE SPINELL when I first took in MANIAC. He was like an unhinged, quivering mass of whiney, sweaty corruption. I wasn’t such a wilting flower that I could not see that the special effects were incredibly awesome (I rewound SAVINI blowing his own brains out a few times) buy the overall undiluted sleaze on display turned my stomach. I was never going to live in the city…ever! People must be nuts to live there! I decided to hang the poster on my wall just to let people know that I walked through this perverted subway tunnel and made it out alive. Boy, did I think Zito’s living space was creepy.
My best friend got a laserdisc player! He also bought a laserdisc of MANIAC! You don’t understand, the picture and sound quality is way better than VHS and it’s even in its proper aspect ratio! It’s like seeing it in the theater and for the first time! Wow, I totally recognize that porn star! “Going to a Showdown” has got to be the best song ever! Haha. This is so retro eighties. I should move to New York. I’ve always wanted to live there! At this point MANIAC is the ultimate midnight cult movie, so much decadent fun. Did I just laugh my way through a film that once pummeled me in the face? I was later to see things differently but I remember thinking JOE SPINELL was some kind of clown genius. He was so charming with his funny voices and suddenly it wasn’t so crazy to me that CAROLINE MUNRO would go on a date with him. Who wouldn’t, he’s a card! I thought I’d buy a MANIAC t-shirt so folks understood how edgy I am. This movie is a hoot! Rewind that head explosion again! Awesome moustache SAVINI! Boy did I think Zito’s living space was cool.
MANIAC is so deep. How sad it all is. I should probably spring for the Blu-ray. My old DVD looks better in the PS3 than that slightly more bleached out version on Netflix Streaming. Did people really think MANIAC was misogynistic? Get a grip. This poor guy is sick. He needs help. His mother abused him and he can’t get over the feeling of abandonment spurred by her death. He wants to freeze time so things don’t change. He thinks by killing these women he can somehow keep them with him forever. There really are serial killers like that! MANIAC is smart and serious. Look at New York; I’m so glad I never moved there. I think I could marry JOE SPINELL. He may not be the best actor in the world, but he’s so committed and sincere. It’s so sad he’s dead and that he never got to do the MANIAC sequel he wanted to. I’m totally ordering THE LAST HORROR SHOW from Amazon; I have not seen that in a while and I love it. They’re going to do a remake of MANIAC? How are they going to do that? You know what? I think JOE would really like that idea. They probably would have invited him to the premiere and he would have been so proud. Man, it’s so depressing how things change and time moves on but I guess you gotta go with the flow. That’s really what MANIAC is about after all. It’s not just some gross decadent special effects showcase; it’s not some nostalgic freak show to watch while drunk. People think they can buy the poster or the T-shirt of this movie and that means that they “get it” but they don’t, not really. It’s really very poignant. Boy does Zito’s living space look like my own.
OK maybe I was exaggerating for effect and poking fun at myself in that last one but you get the idea. I guess what I’m saying to the guy whose article I was too busy to read is, YES you should watch a movie more than once! You’re sure to pick up stuff you missed and perhaps larger themes will become apparent. More importantly the movie may not change but YOU sure as hell will. Truth is, young me was right, MANIAC is frickin’ scary and not so young me was right, it is oddly funny and poor now me is right too- it is tragic and melancholy too. I look forward to finding out what older me thinks. Movies can capture a certain time or place but they are never truly frozen because each time we visit them, they come alive again and take different forms. If they were mannequins, they’d be the kind that come alive and throttle you… even if only in your head.
Frank Zito: People die. But in a picture or painting, they’re yours forever.
Anna D’Antoni: There’s no way you can possess someone forever. Even in a photograph, there’s no way.