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Last Call Blog | The Last Drive-In | Season Two-o, Week 2 – Maniac

Sweaty Joe Spinell gives a, well, maniacal performance in Maniac, a flick he wrote, while Tom Savini talks about 'sploding his ownself's head during the first feature of Season 2, Episode 2 of The Last Drive-In.

Did you want Around the World or The Ultimate?

Last Call Blog | The Last Drive-In | Season Two-o, Week 2 – Maniac 1
Our pal Joe Spinell, aka Frank Zito. He’s a Maniac. The man slices, he dices, he grunts and gives a mean monologue. (Art by T.J. Denton @TDenton_1138)

Week Two, Episode 1 started with Joe Bob in surprisingly understated Western wear explaining why people wouldn’t dare tell you what to do with your dog in Texas and ended with stories of what made Joe Spinell Joe Spinell. Along the way, JBB treated us – as always – to The Ultimate, and all for the bargain-basement price of a $4.75 monthly subscription to Shudder. All this plus special guest Tom freakin Savini, coaxed away from his Pittsburgh special effects empire to explain why it’s perfectly natural to fall in love with the women you behead and impale.

Savini as guest tied to the night’s first flick: Bill Lustig’s love-it-or-hate-it, banned-in-the-Philippines Maniac. Not since Silence of the Lambs have we seen such gratuitous hair-coveting by a deranged psychopath with sexual issues, reinforcing my lifelong belief that conditioner should always be optional.

Elijah Wood’s 2012 version of Maniac was so uncharacteristically excellent for a remake that I hesitate to even call it that. It stands on its own as an excellent film and in some ways is a more comfortable watch than the gritty, greasy, low-budget horror wonderland for which we have Lustig and Joe “Nobody’s better at playing the rat bastard” Spinell to thank. 

Funded in part with Lustig’s porn profits and starring porn actors, Maniac proves that the special relationship between horror and adult entertainment – like the drive-in – will never die. It’s what you get when New Yorkers compete for the title of You Won’t Believe How Much Sleezy Crap is in my Head. Why yes, yes we would, ‘cause we know how much sleezy crap is in ours.

Here’s the summary as only Joe Bob can tell it:

Maniac, the gritty, back-alley story of a guy who lives in a crummy Brooklyn apartment where he collects department store mannequins so can dress them up with human hair and pretend he has girlfriends that remind him of his mother [Let’s let that last part sink in], while carrying on a more or less normal relationship with a babe photographer who he meets in the park. It’s the ol “I have to kill women because I love women so much” plot. And sure we’ve seen it before. But have we seen it with a scene where Tom Savini explodes his own head? I think not.

Let’s roll those totals…

Last Call Blog | The Last Drive-In | Season Two-o, Week 2 – Maniac 2
  • 8 Dead Bodies
  • 2 Breasts
  • Throat Slitting
  • Garroting
  • Hooker Strangling
  • Scalping
  • Exploding Head
  • Subway Stalking
  • Sword through the Back
  • Bloody Decapitation
  • Funky Photo-Shoot Music in a Room Full of Hot Models Dancing
  • Zombie-Mother Gravesite
  • Gratuitous Tom Savini
  • Times Square Fu
  • Mannequin Fu
  • Shotgun Fu

Maybe because the film’s called Maniac or just because I’m in a weird freakin mood, let’s recap the film’s kills Clue-style:

  • Frank Zito in a seedy motel room with a pair of hands (complete with post-mortem wretching)
  • Frank Zito on a dark side road with a rifle (twice, complete with shrimp-dip-filled fake head, followed by unconvincing, back-at-his-apartment tears of joy)
  • Frank Zito in the subway bathroom with staggered close-up shots and medieval-style bayonet (and to a nurse no less, right when we need our frontline healthcare heroes the most)
  • Frank Zito in a model’s apartment with a switchblade and bubbling sternum

These shots put the oy in voyeur, with the stalking and slaying of Frank’s victims played out over brutally long segments. You can forget about the cool, featureless, detached killer. Spinell turns out all the whimpering, sweaty, white-T-shirt-wearin ventriloquist depravity we can handle, verbalizing every existential grunt and groan and reminding us how hard it is to maintain an interior monologue when you spend way too much time alone. 

That monologue gives Maniac life. Spinell’s powerful performance gives us multiple characters from multiple perspectives – all in a voice that lilts with sincerity and lies, vulnerability and viciousness, hope and despair. With Maniac, Joe conceived of and wrote one of the most depraved mommy issue gore flicks of all time.

Next Up: Ben takes on Heathers!

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