Believe it or not, the famous horror classic William Lustig has just turned 40! Maniac, who appears as the inimitable Joe Spinell and brags about the amazing impact of Tom Savini’s work, tells the story of Frank Zito (Spinell), a vicious serial killer who terrorizes New York City by collecting the scalps of his victims, mostly women. It is a powerful film, inspired by the incredible play of spinel and the amazing aesthetics of a grain sander film.
Despite the fact that Maniac has been popularizing home videos in many formats for many years (recently this beautiful Blu-ray edition was released by the legendary distribution company Lustig’s Blue Underground), the film will be released on January 26th. He was able to see his best and most complete release to date with a new dual-disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with 4K Ultra HD Blue Underground from Lucio Fulci’s Zombie.
Pending this release, Mr. Lustig was kind enough to sit down with Bloody Ekeling to discuss the movie, Joe Spinell, and why the next 4K record will be a must for the fans.
It’s fucking disgusting: The maniac just turned 40. Birthday reached. It’s one of the greatest slipper films of all time, several family films have been released, a famous remake has been made and there’s even a comic book with a cross-over with the New York Ripper Lucio Fulci! Not to mention the fact that 4K Blu-ray in ultra high definition will be released soon. What do you think Maniac is most responsible for the success and longevity of the film?
William Funny: Joe Spinel. Joe Spinel could read the phone book, and you’d like to see him. He’s so interesting. He just had this magnetic presence. I’m not the only one. If you look at his CV, you can see that he has worked with directors several times. You all know this guy’s just someone you don’t want to lose sight of.
I’m telling you, his friends at his funeral, you know Sonny Grosso? Sonny Grosso was Eddie Egan’s partner at French Communications. Roy Shyder painted it. I’m at the cemetery with Sonny, and most people have already left. We were there for a while, and I remember what he said to me: We just buried a million smiles. That sums Joe up, at least for his friends. Bury a million laughs.
He had a really interesting outlook on life. He was a lot of contradictions. I really miss him. Of all the friends who died, people I know… …I miss him. I miss him very much.
BIDI: When I came back to the movies, I remembered I was a young horror fan in the late ’80s and ’90s and I was amazed at how quickly film critics attacked every horror movie that portrayed female victims as misogynists. Of course, this indictment against Maniac and even its reissue in 2012 has been withdrawn. A relatively recent critic even described the original film as a notorious misogyny. How do you respond to such accusations in this film, and what would you say to fans of a younger genre who have not yet seen the film because they are afraid of its content?
It’s funny: Misogynists didn’t make the movie. We just followed the tradition of the horror movie. We didn’t really see that men were his main victims. If you look at the serial killers of the ’70s, [it was] the golden age of serial killers. You had John Wayne Gacy, you had Henry Lee Lucas, you had David Berkowitz, you had Ted Bundy. In the ’70s, you had all these interesting serial killers. We were thinking of making some kind of compilation. With the exception of John Wayne Gacy, the victims of these serial killers were mostly women. It would be unfair to do anything else. It just reflected what was going on at the time. What we did to Joe, we sort of gave him a selection of these different serial killers.
BIDI: There’s a pedigree for these web psychopaths going back to Norman Bates, whom I see in Frank’s shadow. But with Frank, you and Mr. Spinel gave this character the humanity that many villains in murder movies rarely possess. How important was this aspect of the film when you made it?
It’s funny: Very much so. We’ve thought about it. Joe saw these people as tortured souls. And that’s what we wanted to add to the movie. That he was a man who acted under duress, which he couldn’t control. He’s going back to Norman Bates, he’s going back to Peeping Tom. The idea is that the monster is inside of us. In the form of a person who seems normal. We didn’t do Jason and Michael Myers.
BIDI: Speaking of humanizing Frank – Anna (Caroline Munroe) plays a big role in helping the audience see Frank as a person. Because of this he can be almost normal in some ways, at least for a while. If things go wrong, which of course they should, Frank sends them into a spiral of out of control. If Frank had never met Anna, do you think he would have tried to kill himself? Would we be on the same side?
It’s funny: This whole suicide thing or whatever… I wanted the film to stand out in the last part. I don’t know if she pushed him in. – I don’t think so. – I just think he’s gone crazy for some reason. Something grabbed him in the cemetery and he crossed all boundaries.
BIDI: I hope you can cheer me up. I have a few questions about some of the little things in the movie. First of all, I’ve just seen the debate tweet again, so I hope you can put it to bed. Is the film poster an erection or a bulge? Did you get a word in marketing, and what did the poster say?
It’s funny: I vote for an erection! No, but I got a call after work. A dealer three blocks from my New York apartment called me at the end of the day. You said it yourself: Come on in, we’ve got a picture for your movie. And we’re all going, including Joe, and Joe always said: There’s an erection! It was so funny. I said nothing but shit! Are you sure you want to delete this information? Not just an erection, but a bloody head. He’s standing with a blood-soaked knife. It was beautiful for a while!
BIDI: In your movie, we have the maniac and we have the maniac cop. Are they in the same universe, and if so, could the paths of Frank Zito and Matt Cordell ever cross?
It’s funny: No! He was completely out of his mind. He was completely out of his mind.
BIDI: When the film ended, it seemed that the sequel was inevitable. Maybe there were other films about Maniac – whether it was the sequel to that first film, or maybe even other films nicknamed Maniac Cop?
It’s funny: That’s what happened. Joe wanted to do a sequel to Maniac. I didn’t want to get in Joe’s way. In short, we have reached an agreement with the producer to license the rights to the sequel of the maniac, so that Joe can continue. Literally three weeks before the shooting, Joe was dead.
BIDI: That would be Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie, the promotional video that was shot?
It’s funny: That’s how it was. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a script. I think it was something like that, but I’m not sure.
BIDI: Let’s take a dip in this four-kilometre publication. What can movie lovers expect from this release that they have not yet received from the previous Blu-ray?
It’s funny: Let me tell you something. About two years ago my producer came across the maniac’s original negative. Something we lost. It was very painful for me, because the negative we had for Maniac was 40 years old and getting worse. I’ve always been a little depressed at the thought that my film would no longer exist.
So we found the original negative of the 16mm camera, and everything was scanned as fast as possible. That’s how we made this Blu-ray. When we did Blu-ray, we always thought… : Are we gonna do a 4K? Aren’t we going to 4K? We really didn’t know where the market was going and we haven’t seen any genre films other than 4K Suspiriya. Everybody downplay, talk about it: Ah, there’s not enough market for that! Even our manufacturer said: Why do you want to do 4K? It doesn’t make any sense. There aren’t enough people who want it.
But my instinct tells me that if we’re gonna do it, so are others. So I decided to bet and put this and the zombies at 4K. I know I own the company and it’s my movie, let’s release it, but I have to tell you The Maniac looks spectacular on a 4K record. That’s right. I look at him and I say: Oh, my God, it looks like I made a movie last night! It still looks like a movie. Doesn’t look like it was on video or anything. But for me it was just unbelievable. I was very surprised at how it turned out. So I look forward to the release of the 4K Maniac. We then have a separate Blu-ray Disc that has all the special features [of the previous version], plus some that are on the disc itself with features. It’s got everything, except there’s no soundtrack for the record. And we’ve updated the sound of this movie and Zombie in Dolby Atmos!
It was extremely expensive! But I took the view that the movie is mine forever, just like the zombies. So if I’m taking a risk, I’m taking a risk on both of them. Because if they don’t take effect, I have unlimited years to get my money back.
Funny, they [bleep] did a good job. The first signs are that sales are surprisingly strong. They’re probably identical to the Blu-ray version we’ve made so far.
BIDI: Any last thoughts on Maniac?
It’s funny: You know, I was 24 when I took that picture. I was really in a movie… It was instinctive. I don’t have much knowledge. It’s a kind of movie I made after seeing countless movies. It’s funny, I made a movie, and I don’t remember thinking about it too much. I just wanted to make a movie that would appeal to the audience I was on 42nd Street. He was my easy target. I wanted to make a movie that would give the 42nd Street audience what they want. And I have to say I did it. And I’m happy.
In addition to this conversation, Mr. Lustig also noted that The New York Ripper and The House at the Cemetery will have the next 4K releases coming down from the Blue Underground Pike.
The maniac and the zombie will be released on the 26th. Can be available in 4K Ultra HD.
Special thanks to William Lustig for his time.