Maniac Kerwin Matthews, playing a dissolute drifter down on his luck, Jeff Farrell, is stranded in a cheap bar in France where he falls for Annette, the proprietor’s pretty stepdaughter, played by Liliane Brousse. Annette’s stepmother Eve, played by Nadia Gray, gradually shifts the young man’s attentions to herself, rather than her stepdaughter, and together Eve and Jeff concoct a plot to help free Eve’s estranged husband from the institution in which he’s been confined as a homicidal maniac these past four years after committing the so-called “Acetylene Murder”, when he killed with a blowtorch the man who raped Annette. The idea is that Georges, the husband, will leave the country, but, unknown to Jeff, it’s not Georges who escapes but Henri, the guard who has become Eve’s lover . .
Excellent make-up FX and claustrophobic atmosphere.
Maniac I’d first like to applaud Tom Savini for his work here; MANIAC contains some of the most realistic and unrestrained gore fx I’ve seen; possibly THE best up until the time of its release. Anyone who says that horror film make-up men (and women) don’t deserve to be called artists is an idiot. Here you get explicitly bloody murders and scalpings, plus a show-stopper head-being-blown-off-with-shotgun murder and a man being ripped apart nightmare and it all looks pretty damn convincing to me.
Aside from the effects, director William Lustig does an OK job with color schemes (especially considering the budget) and the grimy, sleazy underbelly of New York is brilliantly exploited to give this film a truly nihilistic and seedy feel. The film itself, I thought, was scary, disturbing, intense and even suspenseful in parts (the subway sequence was especially well handled), which is how it should be. Reliable character actor Joe Spinell (from TAXI DRIVER, THE GODFATHER, etc.) also offers an effective performance as the sweaty, overweight, emotionally- scarred killer.
On the down side, a plot would have been nice and it’s unforgivable to waste British actress Caroline Munro on such a poorly scripted nothing role. Her beauty, charm and smile light up the screen and could have been better harnessed to counteract the ugliness on hand. Anyway, the film at least provokes some kind of reaction from its audience. Seeing a few of my squeamish female friends appalled and horrified by the film made it well worth the watch to me!