Savini on a Budget

'Maniac' director William Lustig gets two nights at the Ritz

According to director William Lustig, the problem with modern serial killers is there's no style. No-one dresses like a clown or fills their house with mannequins any more.

The king of New York schlock knows a thing or two about gruesome: He's in Austin for a Weird Wednesday midnight screening of his home-invading, baseball bat-wielding, wheelchair-tipping 1983 exploitation classic Vigilante tonight at the Alamo Ritz.

Last night he dragged himself from his sick bed for a double bill of two of his grindy favorites, 1990's Maniac Cop 2 and (no relation) his 1980 breakthrough pyschosleazefest, Maniac. In a Q&A interspersed with sips of tea, Lustig cheerfully explained how he and genius character actor Joe Spinell came up with one of cinema's most disturbing serial killers. (Disturbing true fact: The song 'Maniac' from Flashdance was originally written for this film. Really.)

Maniac contains one of the all-time greatest gruesome on-screen deaths: Tom Savini's head getting vaporized in slow-motion by a shotgun blast from Joe Spinell. Lustig had seen how good his effects work was in an early cut of Dawn of the Dead, and heard that Savini was working on a new film called Friday the 13th. So he invited him to work on his strange, gory-drenched odyssey of a mad slasher in New York.

This was real skin-of-the-teeth film making: During production, Lustig was working with a $48,000 budget (he admitted that Caroline Munro's part was originally cut out of the script, and it was only when her husband and producer Judd Hamilton came up with the finishing funds that they were able to cast the scream queen.) So even then, Savini should have been out of his price range.

However, according to Lustig, the gore auteur had just broken up with his girlfriend and was in no rush to get back to his home in Pittsburgh. So he ended up getting him, and all the film's shocking effects, for $5,000. In spite of those limited funds, Lustig said, "This movie gets written up in all the magazines and books for its special effects."

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Alamo Ritz, William Lustig, Maniac, Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Vigilante

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