Just two crazy kids in love
Running Time: 90 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18
Country: United States
William Lustig's 'Maniac' would hardly have distinguished itself from the countless other slash-and-dashers made in the 1980s, were it not for the rivetingly intense performance of the late great Joe Spinell, who elevates his mother-fixated psychokiller to a tragic hero inspiring pity as much as fear. If the title of C.W. Cressler's 'Maniacts' is not enough to signal that it is intended as an homage to Lustig's film, then the main character's name (Joe Spinelli) and status (he too is a mother-fixated psychokiller), as well as a prominent dedication to Joe Spinell in the closing credits, are the clincher.
Yet beyond these and a few rather half-hearted attempts at gore (that never match up to Tom Savini's glorious splatterwork in the original), the two films have little in common. Although its two main characters are serial killers, and its plot includes institutional corruption, brutal torture and murder, at heart 'Maniacts' is a feelgood romantic comedy (of sorts) about the redemptive powers of art, love, commitment, faith, sacrifice, and hope. In other words, 'Maniacts' is multiple homicide with a smily Christian face, making it one of the weirder films to emerge in recent times from the US subculture.
At the brutal and corrupt Edgemore Institution for the Criminally Insane, Joe Spinelli (Jeff 'Lawnmower Man' Fahey, who it's fair to say is, despite his character's name, no Joe Spinell) meets Beth (Kellie Waymire). Despite their differences – he has been dubbed 'the Blueblood Killer' for killing 'nice, important people' linked to his mother's death, whereas she is known as 'Queen Elizabeth' for her belief that she is a true blueblooded member of the royal family – they fall in love, and make a bloody escape to a farm whose owner, the elderly renegade Boley (John Furlong), welcomes them like his own kin. For a while they enjoy this country idyll – but with an unscrupulous realtor (Chris Maleki) scheming to take over the property, and the (real) Queen Elizabeth due for a royal visit to the local town, the pair's old habits are destined to die hard.
While no masterpiece, 'Maniacts' is an engaging enough curiosity. For if you can look beyond the unfunny jokes, stereotyped characters and general silliness, there is something deeply unhinged about this film. Take, for example, its alignment of the two killers to a long succession of American rebels, outsiders and rugged individualists, who, it is suggested, would get along just fine if they were left alone by all those pesky doctors, lawyers, politicians, bankers – and of course Native Americans. This is a message so profoundly reactionary, and the killers' many victims are portrayed as so utterly 'deserving' of their fates, that it is genuinely unclear whether you are watching a black satire of American ultra-conservative insanity taken to its absurd limits, or a (mad) piece of hard right propaganda. Throw Christianity into the mix (as the American Right so often does), and you have a film of confusingly mixed messages that might well leave you questioning your own sanity.
It's Got: Violent guards, sadistic matrons, corrupt doctors, thuggish gangbangers, greedy realtors, wise old farmers, loveable serial killers - and the Queen opening London Bridge (in Lake Havesu Arizona).
It Needs: Better acting, funnier jokes, and some semblance of coherence (although that might ruin it entirely).
DVD Extras Scene selection; choice of Dolby Digital 2.0/5.1/dts 5.1); original theatrical trailer; Tartan trailer reel (Tesis, Tattoo, Versus, Red Siren, House of 1000 Corpses, Confessions of a Trickbaby). DVD Extras Rating: 3/10
Alternatives:Maniac, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
From funny farm to farm on the range, this homicidal romantic comedy is redeemed only by its own daft dementia.