Wednesday, September 30, 2020

MANIAC (1980) (Blue Underground 4K UHD Review)

MANIAC (1980) 

Label: Blue Underground
Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 88 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English Dolby Atmo, English DTS-HD MA 5.1, DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0, Dolby Digital 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 2160p UHD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: William Lustig
Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Gail Lawrence, Kelly Piper, Tom Savini, Hyla Marrow

There are always those certain films that you will never forget watching for the first time, for me it was the stomach-churning sickie Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and the shocker finale of Friday the 13th (1980), flicks that will stick with me for life like a mental scar you cannot stop rubbing. Along those lines I distinctly remember watchingWilliam Lustig's Maniac (1980) for the first time on a VHS tape from the local video, having seen it many times sitting there on the shelf with that illustration of the sexually aroused killer standing in a pool of blood while 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!  Maniac tells the sleazy urban tale of a mentally disturbed serial killer named Frank Zito (Joe Spinell, The Undertaker) who was raised by a prostitute mother that abused him. Even years after her death Frank is still deeply traumatized by the abusive upbringing, his relationship with women having been irrevocably skewed by the memory of his mom bringing home men for sex and treating him cruelly. Now an adult he stalks the streets of New York City looking for vulnerable women, violently murdering and scalping them, and then nailing their bloody scalps to store mannequins he keeps in his tiny apartment, where he carries on demented conversations with the lifeless trophies, reliving his childhood traumas.

The film opens on a ocean beach where a young couple are making out in the early morning hours, it's a scene that brings to mind the Zodiac Killer murders, with Frank murdering the fornicating couple. Later he stalks a couple having sex in a rest area, peeping on the horny couple before blasting the man with a double-barreled shotgun. This is 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 all sorts of cool!

While day-stalking Central Park Frank meets a photographer named Anna (Caroline Munro, Slaughter High) and she seems to be next on the scalp-menu, but strangely she takes a liking to Frank and he ends up later joining her on one of her fashion photo shoots, even dining out with her a few times. It's turns into an unlikley beauty and the beast sort of thing, with the knock-out photographer being completely unaware of Frank's disturbing murderous nature, and Frank actually seems to be enjoying the company of a woman in a way that is new to him. She learns soon enough though that he is a dangerous man, after joining him on a trip the the cemetery to visit his mom's grave he begins to lose touch with reality and suddenly Anna is back on the menu again.

The stalking and murdering of women continues with Frank trailing a late-shift nurse through the city streets and down into an empty subway, chasing her into a restroom and running her through with a bayonet, it's a particularly effective scene because the actress is pretty great the way she runs the gamut of emotion. Later he stalks one of Anna's fashion models named Rita (Abigail Clayton, SexWorld) back 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 comfortable place to be, it's creepy and disturbing to say the least, you'll need a nice hot shower afterward. I saw this one years before I saw Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Maniac came first, but the pair travel a similar path, both getting under the skin and into the demented mind of a killer in a way that wasn't the same as most 80's slasher films. Here we get a glimpse inside the mind of a maniac killer, it's always an experience that made me feel a bit queasy, and it still does. Spinell's work as the killer with maniacal mommy issues is powerful stuff, it feels like a character study of a real person, there's nothing supernatural about it, .

It's a sickie of a film but it is also well-made, directed by Bill Lustig (Maniac Cop), this being his first legit film after directing some porno flicks, capturing the grit and grime of 70's New York City, it feels dirty and has a shot on the fly guerrilla style, sort of feeling like Martin Scorsese's 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 way more uncomfortable feeling than what came before it, and is still a lot more unsettling than what came after.

Maniac still manages gets under my skin 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 truly 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 4K Ultra HD from Blue Underground sourced from the same gorgeous 4K restoration sourced from the original 16mm negative that we saw on their limited edition three-disc set. The film is presented in 2160p UHD framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen. The 2018 Blu-ray image looked fantastic but the UHD manages to improve upon it in several ways. The 16mm grain is finely resolved and offers an abundance of fine detail with pleasing depth and clarity, however the seedy atmosphere of 70's New York City comes through with superb detail, as does close-ups with Spinell's fat face glistening with perspiration. The Dolby Vision + HDR10 color-grading really amps up the color highlights, most notably in the purples seen in Zito's apartment and the crimson red bloodletting throughout the film. Additionally the black levels are improved with deeper truer blacks that have significantly more shadow detail offering more detail and color separation, it still looks seedy as heck but it's never looked this good.  I cannot grab screenshots from 4K UHD at this point but if you want to see images from the 2018 Blu-ray release check out the three-disc limited edition release HERE

Audio on the UHD comes by way of a brand new Dolby Atmos remix that is strong stuff, 
offering an immersive surround experience. The dialogue is crisp and the score from Jay Chattaway (Maniac Cop) comes through top-notch, offering a haunting giallo-esque main theme along with some nice atmospheric slashery synths. It auditorily puts you in the mind of the killer, especially when Frank's talking to himself and his voice pops up on all channels, it's a creepy sound design that is well-done. We also get the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround and 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles. I probably sound like a broken record at this point, and a bit like the old man that I am getting to be, but again I preferred the flatter or more direct mono mix for the film

The UHD disc contains the main feature plus a selection of extras, kicking-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, plus Savini commenting on his special effects. Disc one is buttoned-up with whopping 25-minutes of trailers, TV spots and radio spots for the film, plus an audio Easter Egg of William Friedkin (The Exorcist) briefly speaking about the film.

The the second disc is the same exact Blu-ray disc of extras that accompanied the three-disc limited edition release with identical artwork and serial number. Extras re split into three main categories; featurettes, publicity, and controversy. The featurettes begin with a pair of excellent new extras, 19-minutes of 16mm outtakes with commentary from Lustig, speaking a lot about his friend Joe 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-minute interview with Caroline Munro, 12-minute interview with Tom Savini, a 12-minute interview with composer Jay Chattaway, an 11-minute interview with songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky, the 49-minute Joe Spinell doc, and the 7-minute Mr. Robbie: Maniac 2 Promo directed by Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock), plus an Easter Egg hidden away on the main menu, 8-minute of a drunken Spinell speaking to a drunken crowd. The third disc is a CD containing the Jay Chattaway tracks composed for the film score, which sounds terrific.

The two-disc UHD/Blu-ray release arrives in a black keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork featuring that notorious illustrated image of a man with a bulge in his pants standing in a pool of blood, holding a bloody blade in one hand and the severed head of a woman in the other with the tagline "I warned you not to go out tonight", it is still a potent and shocking image. We also get an embossed slipcover with the same killer artwork with raised lettering on the front, back and both sides of the spine, plus each of the discs inside have artwork printed on them. If you already own the three-disc limited edition I will again encourage you to hang onto it if you're a packaging and extras slut like myself, as it features packaging and disc extras you will not get with the UHD. Not reproduced for this release is the reversible sleeve of artwork or the lenticular slipcase, as well as the 20-page collector's booklet with writing on the film by Michael Gingold or the 16-track CD soundtrack containing the Jay Chattaway score. 

Special Features:
Disc 1 (4K UHD 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:
- MANIAC Outtakes (19 min) HD 
- 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 & 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 

Maniac is not the sort of fun slasher flick like Friday the 13th where get to root for the killer to murder the annoying sexed-up teenagers, it's way darker and sleazier and it's straight-up uncomfortable. I had said back in 2018 that the three-disc limited edition Blu-ray from Blue Underground would be the definitive release of the film barring a 4K UHD, and it was for a short time, but here's that foretold UHD and it is fucking awesome, a definite high recommend for fans of sleazy character study slashers flicks that will make you squirm in your seat.