Thursday, December 20, 2018

MANIAC (1980) 3-Disc Limited Edition (Blue Underground 4K Restoration Blu-ray Review)

MANIAC (1980) 
3-Disc Limited Edition/4K Restoration 

Label: Blue Underground 

Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 88 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HD; 2.0 DTS-HD; Dolby Digital 2.0 with Optional English SDH, Français, Español, Português, Deutsch, Italiano, Dansk, Suomi, Nederlands, Svenska, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: William Lustig
Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Gail Lawrence, Kelly Piper, Tom Savini, Hyla Marrow

There are those certain films you will always remember watching for the first time, from the stomach-churning flesh-eating sickies like Cannibal Holocaust (1989) to that shocker finale of Friday the 13th (1980), they stick with you for life, and I clearly remember watching Maniac (1980) for the first time. It was on VHS, I'd seen it at the local video store many times, that disturbing image on the cover, an illustration of the clearly, sexually excited killer standing in a pool of blood, holding a bloodied knife in one hand and a woman's severed head in the other, and that bulge in his pants... it looked like a dangerous movie, and it was! An urban tale of a criminally disturbed man named Frank Zito (Joe Spinell, The Undertaker), who was raised and abused by a prostitute mother. Long after her death he's still traumatized by his upbringing, his feelings towards women are skewed to say the least, stalking the dirty city streets in search of fresh victims, murdering and scalping women, then nailing their bloody scalps to store mannequins he keeps in his tiny apartment, carrying in demented conversations with them and working through his childhood traumas. 

The film opens on a beach on a cold morning, it's one of a couple scenes that brings to mind the Zodiac Killer, with Frank murdering a fornicating couple, then later stalking a couple having sex in a rest area, blasting the man with a double-barrelled shotgun. It's one of cinema's great head explosions, courtesy of special FX legend Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead), who also stars in the scene, and who actually fired the shotgun, destroying the dummy head of his own likeness, which is sort of cool! 

While day-stalking Central Park he meets a photographer named Anna (Caroline Munro, Slaughter High) and she seems to be his next victim, but strangely she befriends Frank, he joins her during one of her photo shoots and dines out with her a few times, it's a real beauty and the beast sort of relationship, with the photographer unaware of Frank's disturbing true nature, but she learns soon enough when she joins him on a trio the the cemetery to visit his mom's grave. 

The stalking and murdering of women continues with Frank trailing a nurse through the streets into the subway late at night,  catching up with her in a restroom and running her through with a bayonet, it's one of several harrowing stalking scenes. Later he stalks one of Anna's models to her apartment, it's shot in a fly in the wall style that puts you in the mindset of the killer, and being in Spinell's Character's mind is not a good place to be, it's creepy and disturbing to say the least, you'll need a shower afterward. 

I saw this one years before I saw Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, the two travel a similar path, both getting under the skin and into the mind in a way that wasn't the same as most 80's slasher films. It was a bit too personal, a glimpse inside the mind of a demented killer, it's always made me feel uneasy, and it still does. Spinell's work here as the killer with severe mommy issues is powerful stuff, it feels like a character study of a real person, there's nothing supernatural about it, it's all too real. It could be true, it could happen and has happened, and that's why I think it still manages to come off like a nauseating gut-punch all these years later. 

It's a sickie of a film but well-made, directed by Bill Lustig (Maniac Cop), his first legit film after directing some porno I do believe, capturing the grit and grime of crime ridden 70's NYC, it feels dirty, shot on the fly guerrilla style, it sort of feels like Taxi Driver (1976) by way of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer  (1989), with this coming several years before the latter, but a few years after stuff like Deranged (1974) and The Toolbox Murders (1978), but it's doing something different, it's more uncomfortable feeling than what came before it. 

Maniac gets under the skin so effectively because it gets under the skin of the disturbed main character so well, Spinell's portrayal allow you to feel some empathy for the guy, he conveys how traumatized he was as the son of a prostitute who abused him, but his crimes are heinous, so it's never a situation where you feel his behaviors are excused or given credence, but there's definitely some cheap Freudian armchair psychology at play that at least gives you some insight into his fractured mind. 

Audio/Video: Maniac (1980) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Blue Underground with a new 4K restoration sourced from the 16mm original camera negative, framed in 1080p HD 1.85:1 widescreen. The new 4K restoration blows away all previous versions of the film, including Blue Underground's sub-par 2010 Blu-ray. The image looks filmic with a pleasing layer of film grain, fine detail is abundant, with a clarity and depth we've not seen from this film before. The grittiness and atmosphere of this era f New York City comes through with superb detail, as does Spinell's fat, sweaty face, glistening with sleaze. This is the first release to go back to the OCN which were assumed lost or destroyed years ago, the new framing offering more information all four sides, looking brighter in certain scenes, with deeper more truer black levels. The new color grading is excellent, skin tones look more natural and less reddish, the filth has never looked better, this is a stunner of a release. 

Audio comes by way of English 7.1 DTS-HD and  2.0 DTS-HD;with optional English subtitles, both tracks are clean and well-balanced, with the 7.1 offering an immersive surround experience, the dialogue is crisp and the score from Jay Chattaway (Maniac Cop) is sounds superb, offering a haunting giallo-esque main theme along with some nice atmospheric slashery synths. The sound design makes good use of the surrounds with cars and helicopters appearing in the rears, panning from left to right, it does what a good surround track is supposed to, it wraps the auditory experience around you. This one even puts you in the mind of the killer, when Frank's talking to himself his voice pops up on all channels, it's a creepy sound design. For the first time on Blu-ray we also have a stereo mix of the film, which is how it first appeared in the cinema back in the 80's, and it too sounds solid.   

Extras on disc one, the main feature disc, kick-off with two vintage audio commentaries, the first with Producer/Director William Lustig and Producer Andrew W. Garroni, and a second with Producer/Director William Lustig, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Joe Spinell’s Assistant Luke Walter. Both tracks are fantastic, with Lustig and Garroni discussing the origins of the film, Dario Argento's early involvement, sharing stories about Spinell and anecdotes about the making of the film, commenting on the various locations and cast and crew, even pointing out some of the porn stars that appear in it. The commentary with Lustig, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Joe Spinell’s Assistant Luke Walter is a bit more lively with loads of Spinell stories, Savini commenting on his special effects. Disc one is buttoned-up with whopping 25-min of trailers, TV spots and radio spots for the film, plus an audio Easter Egg of William Friedkin briefly speaking about the film.  

The second Blu-ray is solely dedicated to  extras, which are split into three main categories; featurettes, publicity, and controversy. The featurettes begin with a pair of excellent new extras, 19-minutes of newly discovered 16mm outtakes with commentary from Lustig, speaking a lot about Spinell. There's also a location re-visit with Lustig revisiting Jones Beach, Hotel St. James, the Verezano Bridge rest area, Times Square and ending up at the cemetery where Joe Spinell was buried after his death, with Lustig recounting how he was found after bleeding out, he was a hemophiliac, and how the cops saw the dummy severed head of Spinell in the room with him! The disc also features all the extras from the 2-disc DVD, these include an 18-min interview with 

Caroline Munro, 12-min interview with Tom Savini, 12-min interview with Composer Jay Chattaway, an 11-min interview with 
Songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky, the 49-min Joe Spinell doc, and the 7-min Mr. Robbie: Maniac 2 Promo directed by Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock), plus an Easter Egg hidden away on the main menu, 8-min of a drunken Spinell speaking to a drunken crowd. The third disc is a CD containing the 16 Jay Chattaway tracks composed for the film score, which sounds terrific.

The 3-Disc Limited Edition of the film arrives on 2xBlu-ray and CD housed in an oversized, clear Blu-ray keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring the original illustrated movie poster, and an alternate floating heads type illustration of Spinell's character's blood-soaked face surrounded buy images of women from the film. It also includes a limited edition holographic slipcover with the original artwork. The pair of Blu-ray discs feature the same two artwork options, with the CD soundtrack disc featuring Spinell's sweaty face on the disc, which made me laugh, it's a strange image. Inside there's a 24-page booklet new writing on the film from Michael Gingold, plus cast and crew information, chapter selections, and a track list and information for the score. The booklet is pretty great, there are interviews with Lustig and others, describing how Dario Argento was originally involved on the film as producer with his then wife Daria Nicolodi (Deep Red) set to star and Goblin (Tenebre) scoring it, but that whole deal fell through, causing Lustig to self-finance the film, streamlining the script and eliminating a cop character originally slated to star Jason Miller from The Exorcist

Special Features: 
Disc 1 (Blu-ray) Feature Film + Extras:
- Audio Commentary #1 with Producer/Director William Lustig and Producer Andrew W. Garroni
- Audio Commentary #2 with Producer/Director William Lustig, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Joe Spinell’s Assistant Luke Walter
- Theatrical Trailers: U.S. "Hard" Trailer (2 min), U.S. "Soft" Trailer (2 min), International Trailer (4 min), French Trailer (2 min), German Teaser (1 min), German Trailer (3 min), Italian Trailer (4 min) 
- 9 TV Spots (4 min)
- 4 Radio Spots (4min) 
- EASTER EGG: William Friedkin Talks About Maniac (Audio only)(1 min) 

Disc 2 (Blu-ray) Extras: 
- NEW! MANIAC Outtakes (19 min) HD 
- NEW! Returning to the Scene of the Crime with William Lustig (8 min) HD 
- Anna and the Killer – Interview with Star Caroline Munro (18 min)  
- The Death Dealer – Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini (12 min) 
- Dark Notes – Interview with Composer Jay Chattaway (12 min) HD 
- Maniac Men – Interview with Songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky )11 min) 
- The Joe Spinell Story (49 min) 
- Mr. Robbie: Maniac 2 Promo Reel (7 min) 
- "Paul Wunder" Radio Interview with William Lustig, Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro (20 min)
- William Lustig on "Movie Madness" (47 min)
- Joe Spinell at Cannes (1 min) 
- Joe Spinell on "The Joe Franklin Show" (14 min)
- Caroline Munro TV Interview (3 min)
- Barf Bag Review Policy (3 min) 
- Grindhouse Film Festival Q&A (23 min) 
- Still Gallery
- Los Angeles: Channel 7 News (2 min), 
Channel 11 News (2 min), NBC Tomorrow Show (4 min)
Chicago: Channel 2 News (2 min) 
- Philadelphia:  Channel 10 News (1 min),
Channel 3 News (1 min), Channel 3 News (1 min), Channel 6 News (1 min)
- "Newsbeat": Violent Movies (13 min), Movie Violence. (9 min)
"Midnight Blue": Al Goldstein rants against violent movies. (4 min),  Al Goldstein mutilates his love doll. (3 min)
- Gallery of Outrage
- EASTER EGG: Joe SPinell at The Dive 
- BONUS! MANIAC Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD by Jay Chattaway
- BONUS! Collectable Booklet with new essay by Michael Gingold

Maniac is not a film I like to revisit a bunch, it's not a fun slasher like Friday the 13th where you sort of root for the killer to murder those annoying teenagers, it's sleazy and uncomfortable, and I typically only re watch it when it arrives on a new format with new extras, so it was nice to see it as good looking as it here. This is likely the definitive release of the film, as far as A/V and the extras go, it would be hard to top this one. Sure there might be a cool-looking rigid slipcase edition, or a steelbook. When it comes down to the A/V I beleiev that this is gonna be the final word on it, barring a 4K UltraHD. As a fan and a collector I just cannot say enough good things about the presentation of this seedy, psychological, slasher film, it's fantastic.      

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