Spinell: A Maniac Remembered

Recently, the Cannes Film Festival debuted the trailer for the remake of William Lustig’s notorious 1980 slasher flick, Maniac. Directed by Frank Khalfoun, this new version takes place in Los Angeles instead of New York, and stars midget actor Elijah Wood in the role of scalp-collecting lady killer, Frank Zito.

Already there is a lot of buzz from people who think that this will be an effective, stylized remake, as well great deal of whining from people who believe that the only reason Hollywood remakes exist is to ruin their adolescent nostalgia. Seeing as I don’t  fall into either camp on this issue (I don’t think the remake looks great, but I’m still looking forward to seeing it), theres no point in my griping about a film I’ve yet to watch. Rather, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about the original maniac, Joe Spinell. There aren’t many occasions to celebrate this chunky I-talian American actor and I think he deserves his due.

Born Joseph J. Spagnuolo in Manhattan’s Little Italy, this sweaty man was one imposing guinea. Towering at 5’11, he was not the kind of guy you wanted to chase you around the subway station in a ski mask. He was a big, ugly greaseball with awkward shaggy hair. The sort of anti-social character you’d expect to see leering at you in a Times Square porno theater. When he strangled a hooker, cut off her scalp, and then placed it on a mannequin head, it was very believable. Similarly, when he had temper tantrums and cried out for his mommy, that seemed equally convincing.

Maybe that’s because, to some extent this role was close to home for the brutish baby man, Spinell. Though he was married for two years to porn actress Jean Jennings, he spent the majority of his life living with his mother in Queens. Everything about this guy, from his presence in the 42nd street grind house world to his close relationship with his ma, really seemed to resemble his Maniac character. He still seemed like a sketchy psycho in earlier bit parts for Taxi Driver and Rocky. Even when he bled to death from hemophilia on mom’s couch in 1989, it eerily reflected a certain scene from the movie.

So, in summation, while the Hobbit, Elijah has certainly proven via Sin City that he can “hop around” and be crazy, there is only one guy out there who could take a name like Frank Zito and give it (literal) weight.

And that’s my favorite New York creeper, Joe Spinell.

On a side note, its also worth mentioning that during Cannes, five unattractive French women who call themselves “The Beard,” stood outside in the rain to protest a lack of female directors in the festival. Apparently, these bearded ladies weren’t familiar with Maniac and its unfavorable history among gorilla err guerrilla feminist groups. They completely missed an additional opportunity to bitch.

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The MMA Mushroom Tea Massacre

While the Miami zombie attack has been all the rage as of late, theres an older bit of demonic drug-related mayhem thats been on my mind again.

About a year ago, my dear Aunt Tina brought this sensational murder case to my attention. Although she’s an old hippie who lives off the grid, so to speak, she shares my morbid fascination with gruesome deaths, and couldn’t wait to report on this one.

The thing that particularly shocked her about this case was that it took place near to where she lives, in Del Norte County, right around the mountainous border of Northern California and Oregon. Though violent crime and crystal meth are nothing new to this ravaged reservation community, this particular kind of thing was a shock for everyone in the region. That’s because this kind of killing is what my friends and I refer to as “really fucking black metal.”

The whole thing occurred in the wee morning hours of March 21, 2010, when mixed marshall arts fighter Jarrod Gaylen Wyatt attacked his training partner Taylor Powell with a knife. When police arrived on the scene, Powell’s corpse was strewn on the couch, his chest torn open, his tongue cut out, and the skin completely peeled from his face. An organ that turned out to be his heart turned up in the wood-burning stove. The autoposy revealed that it was still beating when it was pulled from Powell’s body. Wyatt, who was naked and covered in his friend’s blood at the time of his arrest, insisted that he’d been fighting with the Devil.

In a recent article that my aunt sent to me, dated 5/22/12, there was speculation as to whether or not Wyatt was competent enough to stand trial. (A judge ruled the following day that he was, in fact, competent.) Wyatt’s defense claims that the fighter was not in his right mind at the time of the murder because he and his friend had been drinking psychedelic mushroom tea.

Now, in my own case, I’ve shroomed a few times, but I’ve never seen or felt the presence of Satan, as much as I’d like to say otherwise.

I look at Wyatt, here, with his unfortunate hair bun, and I have to wonder (whether the tea induced madness was real or not) what gives this dude a direct line to the Devil? Was it one too many cage fighting concussions? Or maybe the big “D” was the only opponent he was still subconsciously afraid to grapple with?

Before resorting to such extreme combat tactics on his friend, I think he should have at least attempted to heed the warning of those churchin’ southern black folks.