Saturday, June 10, 2006

Maniac (1980)

This movie would be offensive if it had any ambition. As it is, the accusations of misogyny, while understandable, are misguided. Yes, the film objectifies women, but that's only because it objectifies everyone. (Note that Tom Savini's most show-stopping makeup effects are saved for the film's two male deaths.) William Lustig's poisonous valentine to pre-Disney 42nd Street grime is the passive gaze writ large -- there are no characters, only bodies. This applies even to Frank Zito, the film's title character. As much time as we spend with him, and as much sweat as Joe Spinell expends in his performance (which is nothing if not committed), we never get a sense of Zito having an inner life. He's a standard-issue psycho with mother issues, and Lustig locks us out of his head so that we're only watching. This approach leavens a lot of the potential unpleasantness, but is this really the approach that best fits the material? A film like this is supposed to be unpleasant, and though this movie is a lot of things (humorless, hackneyed, dull), it's never as unpleasant or disturbing as it should be. The bottom line is that misogyny is an ideology, and ideologies require a convicted belief system. Lustig and Spinell, on the evidence we have here, don't believe in anything, not even their own film. Because of this, Maniac is a curious and dispassionate film that reveals itself to be unworthy of any, let alone serious, consideration. To hate this requires expending more energy on thought than the filmmakers did.

Grade: C-


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