Psycho killer. Qu'est-ce que c'est? A so-so slasher flick is the answer. [Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa.] Seriously Joe Spinell [Rocky, Taxi Driver] stars as Frank Zito, a psychotic killer on the loose in NYC who takes the scalps of his female victims as trophies. Spinell definitely scores some points in the creepy department. He has a fairly decent screen presence in Maniac. However, the actually killings, by and large, have terrible blood effects that detract from the overall scariness of the film.
One exception to this is the exploding head scene where our killer decapitates someone with a single blast form a shotgun while the victim is in the driver's seat of a car. It's pretty awesome by early 80's standards if you like that kind of thing. Tom Savini worked on the make-up for this film and also made a cameo appearance as the man who met his demise.
Carpenter definitely did the psycho killer thing better with Halloween (1976) in creating a truly horrifying masterpiece. Maniac feels more like a "been there, done that" kind of film. It follows the formula, but there's nothing highly original about it. I found myself observing the film instead of being drawn into it. That's NOT a good thing. These kinds of movies work well when they either mess with the viewers heads or have us rooting for some poor damsel in distress who eventually summons up the courage to kick the killers' ass. Neither of these happens in Maniac. In fact, the female actresses in this film are marginal at best. They are simply expendable targets for the killer. No thing more, nothing less.
So, if you're looking for a just O.K. slasher flick, then this one will work. However, if want something that will scare the B-Jesus out of you, then look elsewhere.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.