Directed by William Lustig
Written by C.A. Rosenberg, Joe Spinell
Joe Spinell as Frank Zito
Caroline Munro as Anna
IMDb 6.5/10 Rotten Tomatoes 39% Metacritic NO DATA
I have had my eye on this film for quite some time. It was highly controversial when it came out, which was at the height of the 80s slasher film craze. 1980 was a crazy year for the slasher film. So many films were trying to stretch into new realms of the horror genre. Originally released unrated, it was specifically marketed to people over the age of 17. Eventually, it received an R rating BUT, went through a small period of being banned in the UK.
The story takes place in New York City. A grown man, Frank Zito, murders and scalps young women, taking them home and adding their scalps and/or corpses to his mannequin collection. He has very apparent mommy issues and a real insecurity with women. Frank was abused by his mother, who was a prostitute. This sprouted a hated for women in him and as he grew older it grew into a violent and hateful contempt.
First off, let me say that I’ve seen Joe Spinell in a few movies and he always looks old, he always looks the same and he always looks like a serial killer. The guy is like the poster boy for serial killer central, as far as looks go. (I’ve been watching true crime for 20 years. I’ve seen serial killers of all kinds. Spinell is “aces” in the “creepo” department.
But, his actual ability to convey the behavior of a serial killer…eh. There’s a point in the film where Frank is supposed to be crying or sobbing himself to sleep and honestly, it’s one of the worst and most annoying sounds ever. It couldn’t sound anymore forced or fake.
I suppose the idea behind the plot is a fairly good one. I mean, while the research shows that most serial killers were abused as children, the fact is that the majority of the victimized DO NOT grow up to be victimizers themselves. So, it’s not a stretch that an abused boy with a fractured psyche might not be able to handle his emotions in a healthy and productive manner.
However, the big controversy of the film was the violence. I love a good splatter movie any day. This would qualify…if I had turned the sound off. What little dialogue there was, wasn’t very good. I read that the film had a $350,000 budget and was basically filmed on the fly, with no filming permits, with little props (using what’s on hand and available) and filming in real locations on a whim. It shows. Interestingly, the film grossed $10 million at the box office in spite of the flat plot, skeletal dialogue and basic filming.
The bonus of the film was we get a fairly decent kill scene with the one and only Tom Savini as a victim. That’s actually the scene that sticks out the most to me. Unfortunately, the film really didn’t have a lot of substance. You know, like Halloween (1978) kind of set the bar and the formula for the ideal slasher flick. The plot was basic but, there was enough that went on that you didn’t lose your target audience, the audience didn’t get bored. This film just seemed to be a camera following an ugly guy around while he tried to get up the nerve to make it with a hot chick and when he got the opportunity, he failed miserably and got all pissy and killed her. (That’s actually more common in real life than you might think...among psychos at least.)
This film was re-made in 2012 starring Elijah Wood. I have that version too. I’m hoping it is better. This one was just okay. I thought being a classic slasher film that it would have been better. My hopes were sadly dashed by the harsh reality of Joe Spinell and the fact that not only is he not the best serial killer actor he’s not the best horror writer either.