Tuesday, February 10, 2009

All Classics, All Problematic

Bill Lustig's Maniac ('80)


* Has a foul, depressing, sleazy atmosphere.
* Is ultra-violent (thanks to Tom Savini's vivid make-up effects).
* Boasts an amazing Joe Spinell performance.
* Has a terrific Jay Chataway score (available).
* Throws ex-Hammer beauty Caroline Munroe into the mix.
* Features numerous, bloody mannequins and dolls.
* Tom Savini's head gets blown off with a shotgun and we get to stare at the neck stump as it spurts blood.


Relationship between Spinell and Munroe is ridiculous.

Billy Tang's Red To Kill ('94).


* Fetid atmosphere of menace
Is set in a hospital for the physically and mentally disabled
* Features half a dozen brutal, beautifully shot rape scenes
* Musical score is menacing and disturbing
* Lead actress is cute and subjected to horrific humiliation
* Boasts a graphic scene in which lead actress rips out her pubic hair and says "Dirty, dirty, dirty" over and over again
* Delivers a mid-film plot surprise that further brutalizes a rape victim
* Ends violently
* Has no compunctions about offending everyone


* Actors playing the disabled are out of control (they are parodies)
* Story has zero credibility

Billy Tang's Run and Kill ('93)


* Has an award-winning psycho performance from Simon Yam
* Stunning cinematography
* Gruesome, sadistic, tough as nails staging of violence
* Boasts the protracted burning to death of a little girl
* Psycho has a conversation with the charred remains of said girl
* The head of said girl is knocked off
* Enthusiastic use of large, sharp knives
* Depicts garroting in a gleeful manner
* Features a big, fat man (Kent Chang) in a sympathetic lead role
* Gives us Chang's mother plunging to her death
* Increasingly nihilistic atmosphere
* Danny Lee plays a cop (again)
* Fetishistic attention given to scenes of retribution
* Depressing score that offers no hope


* Slow to get going
* Not an entirely believable set-up
* Some silly music over opening scenes

Dr. Lamb
('92), directed by Billy Tang and Danny Lee.


* Stunning photography by Kin Fai Miu
* Outstanding lead performance by Simon Yam
* Argento-esque climax
* Exquisitely directed scenes of necrophilia
* Realistic breast removal and amateur surgery
* Expertly staged moving car sequences
* Chilling score
* Inspired use of rain
* Bloody dismemberment with an electric saw
* Solid direction
* Fast pace
* Wallows in bodily fluids and every paraphilia imaginable


* Inappropriate and disruptive use of black humor such as a flying, severed breast landing on the back of a policewoman.
* This type of humor didn't do The Untold Story any favors, either.

Your thoughts?


  1. I love this "write up" as it focuses many films I love and points out many interesting viewpoints to each film. For example, you are precisely right concerning Run and Kill.

    However, I've been attempting to finish Maniac for about 6 months now. What makes this so good?

  2. It's not the sum of its parts. It's parts of its sum that made it "good". I wouldn't call it good "filmmaking", though, where all the elements work hand in hand. It has no momentum.

  3. I have to comment on 'Maniac'- it is a favourite of mine.

    I agree with your estimation of the relationship between Spinell and Munroe; it always reminded of me of the fundamental flaw in 'Taxi Driver'- what the fuck was Cybill Shepherd doing with 'Travis Bickle' in the first place?? And that fucking ending??? (Luckily, by the time I got through the bloody denouement the first few times, they could have grafted in a few minutes of Betty Boop as the epilogue and my pulse would still be racing, the sweat pouring down my face, and it would still have been the tour de force life changing motion picture experience it was, is, and always will be)


    Obviously, DeNiro was as perfect as he was ever going to get (his subsequent stuff was great, but am I the only one who felt he peaked with Taxi Driver, dropped a few notches to 'great', then maintained altitude, dipping here and there along the way?) Trouble is DeNiro is considered a God to some religions, so you can't say too much. And especially when you are a nobody, hurling missives in someone elses blog, it seems especially seedy and cowardly. Nonetheless, I still can't, on reflection, get over the nagging feeling that Taxi Driver was his crowning achievement- even when I was his 'Max Cady', and his stirring turn in the Tobias Wolff thing.

    When I look back on Bickle, it is as though I fucked Briget Bardot in the 'Novices' as a teenager, then spent the rest of my life fucking real Nuns. Not bad stuff, I guess, but not a patch on the early triumph.

    Anyway, back to Maniac. I must say, Spinell's 'too cool for school' posturing was a little too much for me to swallow. Wouldn't the average woman tell him to stick his 'affected ambivalence' up his arse and walk away, if she said anything?

    It reminds me of the beauty and the beast mythology. In my opinion, I tend to accept the new age assertion that 'looks aren't everything' in certain circumstances; but those circumstances do not include acting the way Spinell did. As I see it, you can be an ugly man and still score, but you better be 'one charming mother fucking pig, like Arnold in Green Acres'.

    Acting cool and dissinterested, leaning so far away from the chick in the bar that you almost fall backwards out of your chair, will not get it done. Period.

    Remember, aspiring psycopaths, Bundy was charming; Spinell in psycho was not.

    Look and learn...