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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