Maniac is exactly what it looks like. It doesn't try to be artsy or hammer home some nonsensical message. It's an hour and a half of Joe Spinell brutally murdering innocent women and kinda feeling bad about it. There's constant echoes of the Son of Sam murders, which were clearly an influence here, and what Lustig and Spinell end up crafting is a wildly entertaining bloodbath that's just as gruesome and debaucherous as I've heard about for years. Granted, I had a creeping feeling that it wasn't going to be my cup of tea. But what always grabs me first is intriguing characters, and holy hell is Frank Zito a rabbit hole of crazy.
Joe Spinell is fantastic as Zito, a serial killer who kills mostly gorgeous women, then steals their corpses to nail to the heads of the many mannequins in his apartment. His psychosis comes from his abusive mother, who died when he was young and whom Zito has likely been trying to replace with his victims. The scene where he blows Tom Savini's head off with a double-barrel has become iconic because of how unflinchingly grisly it was back in 1980, and still is today. This is one of those underground movies that mainstream critics said was unforgiveable horseshit. In truth, it's a great horror classic that still holds up.
Maniac is the kind of film you introduce to your die-hard horror fan friends, but odds are they've already seen it. It's a horrific, gory, nightmarish serial killer thriller, with a freakish metaphorical ending that really works. I'm very surprised this ended up being a decent film. But that's the gamble you often take with horror movies. Good to see it pay off sometimes.