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Opening shot: An arcade style telescope. Through the viewfinder, we witness a killing. The camera cuts to the killer's eyes, framed by a rectangle of light. The film, MANIAC, uses these point-of-view shots repeatedly, and makes continuous references to the viewing experience. This draws the audience into the world of the protagonist through the eyes of the director, William Lustig, and is a motif that pops up in his later films MANIAC COP & MANIAC COP 2 as well.

MANIAC is a well-made suspense/horror film about a maniacal serial killer nearing the end of his gruesome career. Haunted by his past, he goes out at night stalking women and men and butchering them. He scalps his victims in Grand Guignol style and places the collected "trophies" upon mannequins in his dark, lonely apartment. This is considered one of the first "splatter" films, but also contains psychological and sociological undertones not associated with that genre.

MANIAC was one of the first films to be mixed in Dolby. Sound is important to this film. The music cues explode and ebb as the suspense builds. New York City is almost defined by sound design alone, with sounds of traffic, sirens, idle chatter—sounds so rich you can almost smell the city.

In marked contrast, we hear none of this inside the apartment of the title character. We only hear what the maniac, Frank Zito (Joe Spinell), hears in his private, delusional world.

The film centers around the Frank character, played by Joe Spinell. Enormously talented, and yet never until MANIAC given the chance to bring these talents to full fruition, Spinell was one of the most prominent character actors of the 1970s and 1980s. His brawny physique, nice-yet-tough persona, and broad acting range caused many talented filmmakers to seek him out. In addition to working with Lustig, he often worked with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, and William Friedkin. His most notable Hollywood roles were as Travis Bickle's employer in TAXI DRIVER and the gangster Rocky runs numbers for in ROCKY and ROCKY II. However, nowhere was he better suited for a role than in the lead of MANIAC.

Spinell and Lustig met in 1975 and became fast friends due to their shared love of movies. Over the years, they gave birth to the idea of MANIAC, and worked together as screenwriters. Lustig came up with the set pieces, inspired by the work of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, and Spinell went to work on creating the character of Frank. He wanted to create the role of a psychopathic serial killer, but also wanted to address a significant social issue of child abuse, which hadn't really been dealt with at the time, outside tabloids and t.v. movies.

As the story unfolds, we are drawn deeper and deeper into Frank's world, and discover that his violent and promiscuous mother abused him physically and mentally. In order to ground this psychosis in a seemingly real context, Spinell extensively researched the character by talking to psychiatrists and reading studies of serial killers.

In order to ground this psychosis in a seemingly real context, Spinell extensively researched the character by talking to psychiatrists and reading studies of serial killers.

As a result, his character is a very real, very scary movie monster. Through Frank's schizophrenic monologues we enter his world and begin to understand his reasons for killing.

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