Killtoberfest 1 – #10: Maniac (1980)

In All, Movies by Kyu

Killtoberfest #10 was Maniac (1980), a movie I watched mostly because I was interested in seeing the remake they did recently with Elijah Wood. I’m not so eager now, because I wasn’t a huge fan of this one.

This is kind of the whole movie: staring at that guy being fucking crazy. I wouldn’t recommend this, unless you’re a slasher completist.

It starts out decently, if a little slow. (I seem to say that a lot. Maybe I just give movies the benefit of the doubt for a couple reels before I start disliking them.) The first third or so is what the Brits call a “video nasty,” the plural of which is sadly “video nasties” and not “videos nasty” like it bloody well should be. Anyway that’s what I tend to call movies that, to paraphrase Ebert, put on horrific violence and then simply leer at it without really adding any cinematic intention beyond “look at this, isn’t it fucked up?” So we see a number of murders while the killer vacillates between complete derangement and horrific guilt.

From there things just get less focused without really getting any better. The last act reminded me a lot of Don’t Go In the House, which was also about a killer of women who was abused by his mother in childhood and now has an outre method of keeping the women around. (In DGItH, the killer kept their corpses in his upstairs parlor; Maniac‘s maniac nails their scalps to the heads of mannequins.) In both cases, their victims rise up and kill them in a surreal sequence that may or may not be a dream. So while both films play effectively with tension on a scene by scene basis, neither come up with a compelling narrative for their characters; and both seem to get too much enjoyment out of inventing new kinds of shocking violence for the moralistic endings to feel anything other than hypocritical. And although the performance in Maniac is better, both movies also fall into the trap of portraying a deranged killer and then asking us to care about whether or not they’ll reform or get murdered by ghosts or whatever. They mistake fascination for sympathy.