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Dancing Like She’s Never Danced Before: Lustig’s Grisly Grindhouse “Maniac” Gets an Ultra Redux | Blu-ray Review

Perhaps one of the oddest inspirations which resulted from William Lustig’s grindhouse narrative debut, which became a major cult classic, was Michael Sembello’s song, reconstituted for Adrian Lyne’s 1983 film Flash Dance, netting an Academy Award nomination with its new lyrics.

In 2012, Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur scripted a remake made by Franck Khalfoun and starring Elijah Wood, relocating the narrative from New York to Los Angeles, although the result didn’t have the same impact. Perhaps its because Lustig’s original, which was the director’s lateral move from pornography, is itself somewhat derivative.

A psychotic serial killer with mommy issues is brutally murdering people in New York, scalping the women and taking his souvenirs home as hair pieces for the mannequins in his squalid apartment. It seems significant childhood trauma has warped Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) irrevocably. But when he spies a beautiful photographer (Carline Munro) taking pictures of him in Central Park, he develops a relationship with her which seems to stop the rampage, but not for long.

Part of why Maniac doesn’t entirely work is how it eventually dispatches Zito, which feels, in a sense, a bit anticlimactic. But Spinell’s performance (he also starred in another infamous serial killer film from 1980, Friedkin’s Cruising) and uncomfortable screen presence (The Godfather/Rocky/Taxi Driver actor also co-wrote) is what really makes Maniac memorable, not to mention some excellent make-up effects from Tom Savini.

The relationship established with Munro never really feels believable (though her photography skills seem more adept than, say, Faye Dunaway in The Eyes of Laura Mars, 1978) while DP Robert Lindsay (who lensed both of Lustig’s previous porno films) lends a seedy, voyeurism to his jagged camerawork. Reminiscent of early Abel Ferrara (who also began his career in porn), particularly 1979’s The Driller Killer, Lustig (who went on to direct the Maniac Cop trilogy) is requisite viewing for fans of grindhouse, cult cinema.

Film Rating: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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