TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: NIGHTHAWKS (1981)

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NIGHTHAWKS (1981)

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Nighthawks is a flick that has some nostalgic importance to me as I saw it at the long gone Rialto Theater in Ridgfield Park, N.J. which, at the time, was a block away from my home. It’s also a pretty good movie with some gritty NYC atmosphere and tackled the subject of terrorism on U.S. soil years before it would become an actual concern.

Story has two loose cannon New York City cops, Deke DaSilva (Sylvester Stallone) and partner Matthew Fox (Billy Dee Williams), being transferred into a new anti-terrorist unit headed by British operative Peter Hartman (Nigel Davenport). Their first objective is to track down a vicious international terrorist, who goes by the name Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer) and who may be headed for the Big Apple for his next strike. Despite not quite seeing eye to eye with Davenport’s methods, DaSilva and Fox have bigger problems to worry about when the merciless Wulfgar indeed shows up in the city and starts his reign of terror. Can the two NYC cops stop this stone cold killer before he brings the world’s greatest city to it’s knees?

This 1981 action flick still feels very 70s as directed by Bruce Malmuth from David Shaber’s script. It does have that gritty, backstreet NYC vibe and that goes a long way in making this enjoyable. It has that 70s style such as a police chief who shouts everything he says (the late, great Joe Spinell), a few disco scenes and a very Serpico-esque hero in the bearded and ear-ringed DaSilva. There are some nice action and chase sequences, though nothing groundbreaking and the film really makes good use of the film’s NYC locations. That and we get a strong villain for our heroes to try to bring down and with that, you have a recipe for a really good thriller. What holds Nighthawks back from being on a higher level, closer to something like French Connection, or at least The Seven-Ups, is a weak script and rumored studio interference that edited out some important character development, such as the relationship with Deke and his estranged wife (Lindsay Wagner), who is hardly in the finished film. Apparently some of the violence was edited down as well, to please an MPAA who was very strict at this time due to some of the slasher film backlash. The result is a film that moves almost too quickly for it’s own good and lacks some real meat in-between the bare bones. DaSilva and Fox track down Wulfgar basically due to a plot convenience and a ‘hunch’ instead of demonstrating the detective skills and street savvy the characters were supposedly chosen for…then you blink and the film is at it’s climactic set piece. Also, after being portrayed as a total badass early on, DaSilva suddenly becomes hesitant when faced with the terrorist in earlier confrontations. Doesn’t quite jell without a bit more backstory. Obviously, production issues effected this film, from the original director (Gary Nelson) being fired, to rumored tension between Stallone and Hauer, to the hatchet editing job by the studio and reportedly by Stallone, too. The result is a fun action flick instead of the well-rounded thriller with a lot more substance that the filmmakers supposedly set out to make. On the plus side, there is some atmospheric cinematography of old NYC by James Contner and a fitting score by ELP’s Keith Emerson to give the film some needed mood.*

The film has a good cast. Stallone is Stallone as DaSilva and it would have been nice to see excised footage that may have made this a meatier role for him. His military record is briefly mentioned, but there are hints it played a larger role with DaSilva’s character. Billy Dee is solid as Fox, but is basically a sidekick and we really don’t get much character development on him, either. Hauer is really effective as Wulfgar and his performance overcomes having some of his character development edited down as well. Davenport is the tough as nails as the director of the A.T.A.C. and he makes a good foil/mentor for Stallone’s rebellious DaSilva. Lindsay Wagner is long suffering/estranged wife, Irene and gets far too little screen time to make an impact, but serves her purpose well enough. Joe Spinell is dead-on as the gruff NYC police chief who seems to be drinking way too much caffeine and Persis Khambatta makes for a suitable cold killer as an associate of Wulfgar’s named Skakka.

I like this flick, but do wish a director’s cut would surface one day, so we could find out if the studio and star re-editing saved or hurt the movie we got. There was also violence removed to satisfy the MPAA which may have hurt some of the flick’s intensity, too. It’s still a fun, nostalgic action movie about a dirty, grimy, crime-ridden NYC, before the city got it’s act together in the 90s, and and features Stallone in a more human role before the success of Rocky III and First Blood would turn him into a larger than life character, for the rest of the 80s. There is also some personal sentimentality attached, but overall it’s a good Saturday night trip back to 80s NYC that is still worth taking.

-MonsterZero NJ

*(Additional information concerning production details as per Nighthawks‘ Wikipedia page)

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: MANIAC (1980)

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MANIAC (1980)

Having recently watched and really enjoyed the 2013 remake of this 1980 cult classic, I thought I’d revisit the original and see how it holds up. I’ll be honest, I never really liked this slasher flick much and upon watching it again, my opinion hasn’t changed. Maniac is an ultra-gory slasher about the mentally disturbed Frank Zito (Joe Spinell who wrote the story and co-wrote the script.), a man who likes to slaughter and scalp young women and then dress up mannequins to resemble his victims, scalp and all. He was abused by his now dead prostitute mother and he has quite bi-polar feelings about women as a result. The deranged Frank is carving his way through NYC’s nightlife when he encounters beautiful fashion photographer, Anna (Caroline Munro). Frank falls for Anna, but can he keep his scalpel in his pants or will Anna join the mannequin of the month club?

As directed by William Lustig, Maniac is a sleazy horror that would fit perfectly in the Time Square grind houses it was made for. It seems more like an excuse to gorily dispatch young woman and their dates, if they aren’t alone, than an actual attempt  to make a good thriller. Spinell’s scenes of talking to his mannequins and crying about what he’s just done to the latest victim come across as more silly than scary or disturbing. Spinell, a New York native who passed away suddenly in 1989, made a career of playing sleazy street thugs and gangsters, but doesn’t have the range to really make these scenes work and they just induce giggles. Though, it does add a bit of a camp factor I must admit. The film itself is slow moving and there is no tension or suspense as the victims are basically just that, fodder for Frank’s arsenal of weapons. They are dispatched soon or immediately after we meet them and there is no emotional investment in them and their fates are obvious from the minute they appear. The film is really most famous for some of make-up FX master Tom Savini’s best gore effects, used in the victims’ deaths. The scalpings, stabbings and shootings all are quite realistic and disgusting and any effectiveness the film carries, is from his work. He even got to shoot himself as he plays a young victim’s date who has his head shotgunned to pieces by Zito. The catch is that Savini was also a stuntman and doubled for Spinell by jumping up on the car hood and shooting his own character in the face. Savini’s work here was considered quite shocking and got Maniac released unrated. His FX still hold up today, though the rest of the film really doesn’t.

My final gripe is that I don’t believe for one minute that Munro’s beautiful photographer would actually date a guy like Spinell’s Zito. Aside from the fact that he is just sleazy looking with his long greasy hair and pot marked face, more importantly, he just acts weird and the fact that he tracked her down to find her, should set her internal creep alarms off immediately. He basically stalks her and she agrees to go out with him after a strange conversation that should have any woman on her guard. Also, they don’t finally meet till the last act and their ‘relationship’ is never given time to develop to the point of believability. If it was given more time, maybe we could see Frank overcome the creep factor and win her over. Based on what little we do see, it doesn’t work. If they didn’t date, though, the movie wouldn’t go anywhere and technically, it doesn’t. Predictably, cuckoo Frank can’t help but emerge when taking Anna to visit his mother’s grave (which should have been another sign, Frankie is a tad off), which sends the movie to it’s gory and somewhat abrupt conclusion.

All in all, I recognize Maniac’s place as a cult classic 80s slasher, but Tom Savini’s masterful FX aside, I think it’s reputation far exceeds it’s actual merit.

2 and 1/2 mannequin heads

maniac 1980 rating

WARNING: TRAILER IS GRAPHIC!

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REVIEW: MANIAC (2013)

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MANIAC (2013)

Maniac is a remake of the classic 80s horror flick and if William Lustig’s gore-fest was a quintessential grind house slasher then Franck Khalfoun’s film is an art-house slasher as well as a remake… and a very effective and disturbing remake it is. Maniac, like the original, tells the story of Frank Zito (a brilliant Elijah Wood), a man who restores mannequins by day and stalks and gruesomely murders young women by night. The story is basically the same as the 80s film except this one is set in L.A. and the original was in New York. Frank has serious mother issues and when he murders his pretty victims it’s an extension of the hurt and anger he felt from watching his now dead hooker mom ply her trade when he was a child. Sexuality brings out entirely different urges in poor Frank and a lot of young ladies are suffering the consequences as Frank’s hook-ups end rather gruesomely. After his objects of desire are slaughtered, he dresses his mannequins up like his victims including their scalps so they, unlike his dead mother, will stay with him forever. But, Frank meets Anna (Nora Arnezender) and quickly falls for the pretty French photographer with an artistic interest in his mannequins but, can Frank overcome a deeply twisted mind and really be happy with her or will Anna soon become just another  piece in his horrid collection? Produced and co-written by Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, Piranha 3-D) Maniac is a film that is not only a beautifully shot art house style flick but, a very disturbing and gruesome horror. Khalfoun films most of the movie from Zito’s perspective so we generally only see him in reflections and mirrors. Only on a few occasions we see Wood’s serial killer from our perspective but, maybe it’s because in these moments Frank is watching his own gruesome actions as if a bystander in his own life, separating himself from his deeds. This effectively put’s us in his eyes and very uncomfortably in his head and it really gives this film it’s impact especially during the film’s intense and blood soaked last act. We stalk his victims along with him and this first person perspective makes us both an unwilling participant and a helpless witness to his demented acts. And this view point works so well because Woods gives a bold yet, disturbingly subtle performance in the role originated by Joe Spinell, who also wrote the original. Woods really paints the portrait of a truly deranged individual yet, gives us reason to believe that his Frank could actually be a kind and gentle man had he not been twisted by watching his mother’s depraved sexual acts as a child. Arnezeder’s Anna is sweet yet, a little eccentric as the artsy photographer, making her likable and obviously causing us to fear for her as we know the true nature of the man she sees as a gentle, timid soul. The rest of the cast are fine though the focus remains on Frank and Anna but, Khalfoun’s camera captures enough of the supporting characters personality so those that fall prey to Frank’s sharp bowie knife don’t come across like the mannequins that populate his shop/home and aren’t just body count. His camera also captures some beautiful images too and there’s a really nice nod to the original’s movie poster captured in the reflection of a car door… there’s also a playful jab at that film’s lead, Joe Spinell, too that will amuse fans of the original. The film is set in modern day yet has a delightfully 80s feel to it including it’s atmospheric electronic score by ‘Rob’. The gore effects by Greg Nicotero and KNB are extremely realistic and graphic and will make even the most jaded gorehound wince. And while not quite as gory as the 80s classic, I felt the gore here was more effective because, it is used a bit more sparingly and has more impact when it occurs. Maniac ranks among some of the best of the recent horror remakes, it has some flaws, such as some dialog was added by Wood in post production whose line readings seem to be a bit flat, but, it does improve upon the trashy, gory, fun original by making it a seriously disturbing ride in the shoes of a twisted mind. It’s chilling and shocking at times and and very unsettling even in it’s quieter moments. One of the best horrors I’ve seen this year and ironically, one of the others (Evil Dead) was also a remake.  So much for my complaining about all these horror remakes. A highly recommended horror.

A solid and disturbing 3 and 1/2 mannequin heads!

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