Tag Archives: psychological

Maniac (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He wants their hair.

A loner (Joe Spinell) terrorizes New York City by killing young women and scalping them. He then takes their hair, brings it home, and places it (actually he nails it) onto the heads of some mannequins that he has.

In a lot of ways this is the same old mechanical slasher flick as it has all the predictable characteristics of the others that dominated the early 80’s. The story is simple and strung along by long, drawn-out murder sequences. There is some suspense, but it is minimal since we know exactly what is going to happen. The victims are young, good looking women, who are clueless to the dangers that are lurking until it is too late. One segment in particular features a nurse getting off of work late at night, who mentions her fear of the killer and yet for some reason she still foolishly refuses a ride home from her friend and instead walks down a dark, lonely street and into, of course, eventual carnage.

There are also some rather glaring technical errors. One features a woman (the same one who refused a ride) running from the killer by going into an empty subway. Although isolation is the whole factor here there is one shot, taken from inside a departing subway car that clearly shows a whole bunch of people standing just across from her on the other side of the tracks. There is also a segment where Spinell takes his girlfriend to his mother’s grave. When the car pulls up to the cemetery it is a nice, bright afternoon, but when they reach the actual grave it has become pitch black with a strange unexplained fog that has rolled in. Lastly there is the ending. This is a man that has terrorized a whole city and yet only two policemen in an unmarked squad car come to his residence and when they do they don’t even bother to secure the site.

Despite the low-budget problems there are a few things that raise this slightly above the rest. One is the fact that it actually manages to get inside the killer’s head. You hear the inner conversations between his ‘good’ side and his ‘bad’ side. Of course this only touches the surface of a true schizoid personality, but it does offer a little more depth than most. It also helps create a good portrait of a tormented soul and you end up feeling more sadness than fear for the man. The film also consistently has a dark, grainy look, which helps accentuate the ugly theme. Having it take place in New York City gives it a little more distinction and atmosphere.

The special effects are good. The part where he blows a man’s head off, through a car windshield, looks very realistic and has become the film’s most famous scene. The surreal ending, where the mannequins all come to life and exact a sort of revenge, is also well-handled and imaginative. Makeup artist Tom Savini, who also appears as the character of ‘Disco Boy’, has had a lot of success, but the stuff here may be his best.

Director William Lustig shows some panache and Spinell, who also co-wrote the screenplay, gives a surprisingly strong performance, but their attempts at creating a better understanding of a crazed killer prove placid and simply done for shock value.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 26, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Not Rated (Graphic Violence, Brief Nudity, Language, Adult Theme)

Director: William Lustig

Studio: Magnum Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (30th Anniversary Edition)

The Nanny (1965)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid doesn’t like nanny.

            Bette Davis plays a nanny to an upper-class British family whose oldest son Joey (William Dix) is accused of accidently killing his younger sister. Joey, who is only 10, is sent away to a home for disturbed children. When he returns he accuses the nanny as the one who did the killing and a psychological game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

Davis is sensational. She plays a type of character that she has never done before and the results are fascinating. She is much more subdued and evasive than usual and she falls into the role of the unassuming nanny in a seamless fashion. The different setting works well for her and I commend her tenacity for taking on a project that was not glamorous. She even puts on some thick eyebrows for her part and at times, especially at the beginning, she starts to resemble her most hated rival Joan Crawford.

Dix is amazingly good as the kid and it is a shame that he did only one other picture after this one. I liked the independent nature of the character and he plays off Davis quite well and showed no signs of being intimated by her. Making the adversaries have such extreme age difference and personalities gives the story an interesting edge that helps carry the picture.

The evocative black and white photography helps accentuate the dark-tone. The British setting along with the expected formalities of that culture, particularly that from the father character Bill (James Villers) give the film some distinction.

The first act though goes on way too long. We are given the general premise right up front and then have to spend the whole first hour going through the scenario that Joey doesn’t like his nanny and is suspicious of her again and again until it becomes derivative. When the second act does finally come about it seems too late. The revelation isn’t all that clever or creative and the climactic sequence desperately needed more action and punch. The final result is unsatisfying. The viewer is given an intriguing premise that it can’t sustain to the end ultimately making this a misfire despite the outstanding presence of Davis and some high production values.

There is also the issue of the three-year-old girl who is adorable and an absolute scene stealer and yet right up front you are made aware that she is killed, which makes the proceedings rather depressing. Having to then watch her actual death is disturbing and, for its time period, rather vivid and startling.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 27, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated: NR (Not Rated)

Director: Seth Holt

Studio: Hammer Productions

Available: DVD

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

seance on a wet afternoon

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psychic is a phoney.

Myra Savage (Kim Stanley) is an emotionally unbalanced woman and failed psychic who comes up with an idea that she hopes will revive her career. The plan is for her husband Billy (Richard Attenborough) to kidnap Amanda Clayton (Judith Donner) who is the young daughter of a rich businessman. They will then place her at a strategic location and hold a public séance at which time Myra will ‘miraculously’ predict her whereabouts. This will then, they hope, make her famous and world renowned, but of course things don’t work out as expected.

This is indeed a unique and unusual film that taps into some rare qualities. First and foremost is the black and white cinematography. Every camera shot and angle has a certain evocative flair that is well captured and vivid. The on-location shots pick up just the right amount of ambiance and lighting with each setting. The music score is great and helps create excellent tension. You also will love the little girl that they kidnap. She is adorable without it being forced. Her matter-of-fact sensibilities are a great contrast to Attenborough and Stanley whose characters are child-like and pathetic.

Yet the film doesn’t completely work. The story is handled in a plodding and methodical way without any twists or surprises. There is very little action, some definite slow spots and the conclusion is limp.

If you watch it for the performances then you will be more intrigued. Stage actress Stanley gives a rare film appearance here. It is easy to see why she took the role even though she was known to dislike doing films. The takes are long and give almost unlimited possibilities in creating a character, which is what all stage actors enjoy. She does well and at times may remind one of another legendary actress Geraldine Page who would have also been perfect for the part. Attenborough proves almost her equal. His expressions of shock and worry are memorable. The interplay between the two is fun especially towards the end when this otherwise passive man stands up to the domineering woman.

Overall there are some unique moments, but it is just not suspenseful enough and results in being only slightly above average.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 5, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Director: Bryan Forbes

Studio: Artixo Productions

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 & 2)