“Maniac” is a different kind of slasher film, one so incredibly vile and utterly wretched that you’ll be forced to decide if you enjoyed this or not. I experienced the same conflict of decision. Did I enjoy this or not? I’m not entirely sure, but a good part of me says “yes.” At a time when the Son of Sam was still fresh on everyone’s minds, “Maniac” is the closest depiction of a madman on the streets that we’ll ever get again. We don’t just watch this madman destroy folks, we learn about him, and we get into his mind.
Director William Lustig brings us in good and tight on his psyche, and it results in some of the most grueling sequences in the film. Scalps are sliced off, women are tortured and killed, and there’s a shocking ending. The glimpses into the mind of this utter psychopath are shocking, and even in my time, I still found it to be a pretty disturbing piece of slasher cinema. He stalks women relentlessly, and takes pride in toppling them with his strength, not to mention he loves making them pay for their resistance through utterly brutal murders and torture.
He scalps a woman, and he impales another, and then goes home to his mannequins which are basically his ideal mates, looking out at him with horrible judgmental eyes. Lustig’s film paints the city as an almost desolate wasteland in which this person roams free, and once we watch him converse among his plastic mates, we learn what makes him tick and sets him off on helpless women. The climax is not one that will be easily forgotten, and will leave audiences debating for a very long time, but “Maniac” sets in its viewer, a morbid depiction of murder and revenge. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, at first. Why didn’t I flip for “Maniac”?
Well, simply because there’s no story. In the entire running time of “Maniac” there’s simply no story to speak of. It’s merely a string of sequences in which our main character stalks, chases, and murders women relentlessly and then staggers home to talk with his mannequins. And the balance in the horror film of foil against monster, there simply isn’t any. It’s really almost nothing but our monster running around at night putting the knife to poor women in distress, and his endless chatter with his mannequins.
And he seems to be building his own mate, which Lucky McKee’s “May” borrowed heavily from. An actual arc, rather than pointless and endless sequences would have created a better sense of a cohesive story for “Maniac” and a better sense of coherency in the end that would have created a better film. It’s far from the perfect slasher thriller that I would have wanted. Lustig’s cult classic presents many flaws from an anemic story and repetition aplenty, but on the flip side, it’s a surefire memorable horror film with a horrifying glimpse into the mind of a merciless killer.