Is Maniac The Goriest Film Ever?
Welcome to Bay Of The Living Dead, a regular column about the horror genre.
William Lustig’s Maniac shocked moviegoers and critics alike upon its release in 1980. A character driven slasher film, Maniac featured scenes of extreme gore unlike anything that had previously been seen on the screen. The film was deemed unsuitable for children and released with the designation “for adults only”.
So how shocking is Maniac? You can find out by checking out the newly restored Blu Ray of the film which has been released by Blue Underground, purveyors of cult cinema. In one of the earlier murders seen in the film, a prostitute is strangled to death. The blood flows freely as her killer then proceeds to cut her scalp off her head, which he takes home and attaches to a mannequin’s head–his collection of mannequins is sizable.
Joe Spinell was an established character actor who specialized in tough guy roles (he appeared in the first two Godfather films) when he co-wrote and starred in Maniac. He’s quite good as Frank, a repressed nerd who’s driven to kill as the result of being abused by his prostitute mother. Spinell gives the character a surprising amount of depth for an exploitation film. Even as he tortures his victims to death, it’s clear that Frank is suffering from a great deal of mental anguish–Frank is a tragic figure, and Spinell conveys this beautifully.
But it’s the blood and gore that are the main selling point of Maniac. Frank slices and dices one victim after another, scalping them all so he can add them to his collection. The blood gushes freely in some of the most shocking gore scenes ever filmed.
Maniac indeed shocked people when it was first released, with critics lambasting the film for its depiction of extreme violence. But audiences loved it–the film made millions against a budget of $450,000. It remains a cult film today.
Blue Underground brings Maniac to Blu Ray in a newly remastered, 3 disc special edition. The extras menu is generous, and includes vintage interviews, commentary tracks, and an appearance by auteur William Lustig at an anniversary screening of the film. The set also comes with a souvenir booklet and a soundtrack CD–it’s the ultimate celebration of what is perhaps the bloodiest American exploitation film ever produced. Even the box cover, an image of a man holding a bloodied knife in one hand, and a disembodied head in the other as he stands in a pool of blood, is shocking. But hey, that’s exactly what the audience for a film like this is looking for!
Blue Underground also offers 1979’s Zombie, a film which makes the classic Night Of The Living Dead seem like a tea party. A simple tale about a young woman (Tisa Farrow) searching for her missing father on a voodoo infested tropical island, Zombie rivals Maniac in the gore department. In one particularly shocking scene, the zombies attack a woman, impaling her eye on a piece of broken wood–director Lucio Fulci treats his audience to the unforgettably shocking sight of the wood actually being rammed inside the poor woman’s eye–all in glorious closeup. The zombies then feast upon her flesh–munching on her like raw meat.
An Italian film shot in New York City and the Dominican Republic, the film features an international cast who appear to be speaking different languages in their scenes with each other. The film’s English dubbing doesn’t quite match the lip movements, and this makes for a few unintentional laughs. But overall, Zombie is a scary and suspenseful gorefest, with some of the creepiest looking zombies ever–they actually look like rotting corpses!
Once again, Blue Underground offers a generous extras menu, which includes a nice collection of interviews and commentary tracks, and a documentary on the career of director Lucio Fulci. Definitely worth checking out.
If you prefer your zombies to be more genteel, then have a look at Plague Of The Zombies, a 1966 chiller making its Blu Ray debut courtesy of Scream Factory. Produced by legendary horror film studio Hammer Films, Plague is set in a small, isolated village in Cornwall, England, circa 1860. There have been a number of mysterious deaths over the past year, with many of the deceased spotted walking around town soon after their burial. They’re all under the control of the village Squire, who’s using them to work in his mine.
Can the local doctor and his former medical school professor stop these horrors before it’s too late? You’ll have to watch Plague Of The Zombies to find out.
Completely devoid of the blood and guts which made Zombie’s reputation, Plague Of The Zombies, a British film, features actors who might be quite at home in any episode of Downton Abbey. Still, it’s a fun, atmospheric film which includes lots of scenes of digging up corpses and one exceptionally spooky sequence in which the dead literally crawl out of the ground. Plague Of The Zombies is an old fashioned monster flick that’s great fun! Scream Factory’s disc includes a making-of documentary and the film’s theatrical trailer.
And finally, a film which has nothing to do with gore or zombies. Mermaid: Lake Of The Dead is a brand new film from Russia about a young man being pursued by an evil mermaid who wants his love and his soul. She’s actually the ghost of a young woman who drowned centuries ago after the man she loved rejected her and married someone else.
“Do you love me?” she whispers to our hapless hero, as he becomes increasingly possessed by her.
Mermaid: Lake Of The Dead is a bit of a feminist horror film. For once, the man is the victim, it’s his girlfriend who comes running to his rescue. This is a refreshing change of pace from what’s normally seen in fright flicks, where the women can’t fend for themselves and need the man to save them. In this film, the woman is strong and fearless, and makes for an impressive hero.
Beyond the feminist subtext, Mermaid: Lake Of The Dead is a scary film, with many scenes that will leave viewers on the edge of their seats. Based in part on a Russian fairy tale, it’s something different, and in this era of sequels and remakes, it’s a welcome respite.