Two serial killers, Joe Spinelli (Jeff Fahey - Lawnmower Man and countless straight-to-video releases) and Beth (Kellie Waymire - who tragically died of a rare heart condition aged only 36) meet at Edgemare institution for the criminally insane. He's the "blueblood killer", responsible for the murders of assorted lawyers, doctors and the like. She's the "hitch-killer", her crimes never really explained.

Against a background of institutional corruption, their relationship develops. With an inspection looming, the governor (Leslie Easterbrook - the Police Academy series) and her assistants are worried about the troublemaker Joe and decide to have him taken care of. Fortunately another inmate, himself co-opted into the running of the institution, gets wind of the plot and assists Joe in escaping.

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The staff torture Beth for information whilst Joe, who has discovered he cannot live without her - love conquers all and all that - returns and somehow manages to free the other inmates, who proceed to take the place over.

In the confusion Joe and Beth escape and decide to start a new life together. They meet an old back-to-nature type named Boley (John Furlong) and connect. But, inevitably, their past resurfaces...

This romantic serial killer comedy drama - talk about high concept - has its heart in the right place, with writer/director C. W. Cressler dedicating the film to minor horror icon Joe Spinell, the driving force behind Maniac.

Spinell's 1980 serial killer/slasher film - he was the writer and star, with William Lustig directing - relates the story of Frank Zito, abused as a child, who feels compelled to kill. Then he meets a fashion photographer and embarks on a frankly implausible relationship, though its final outcome is rendered moot when Frank is inexplicably ripped to pieces by his vengeful victims. The end - though doubtless more charitable commentators will argue that, a la Taxi Driver, it's impossible to distinguish between the protagonists fantasies and exterior reality here.

Maniacts is a much less extreme film than its primary model (which is still only available in the UK in a cut form) but is similarly flawed in its basic premises, even if we ignore the plausibility of Joe Spinelli being deemed insane when his motivation is identified as revenge and his victims as representatives of the establishment rather than the more conventional marginal types no one really misses.

It is not that one would necessarily deny the possibility of serial killers entering into loving relationships, more that the real world examples that present themselves - Fred and Rose West, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady - are arguably something that is not appropriate material for the artist.

And, even if we might dispute this, there nevertheless remains the feeling that the tone Cressler takes towards his material, in lacking both the (apparent) matter-of-factness of a Henry: Portait Of A Serial Killer and the gleeful outrage of vintage John Waters, will leave it struggling to make a mark even within its target constituency; an impression compounded by the paucity of violent action for gore seekers.

Likewise the potentially interesting theme, that Joe and Beth are rational and reasonable individuals who just don't understand how to respond to the insanities of contemporary society, is needlessly undermined by overdoing the asylum scenes with exaggerated comicbook caricaturing - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest reportage style indictment this is not.

Gets marks for effort, then, and works as a showcase for its two leads - Fahey's deadpan contrasting nicely with Waymire's bouncy energy - but little more.

Reviewed on: 06 Aug 2004
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Two serial killers in a criminal insane asylum run away together.
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Director: C W Cressler

Writer: C W Cressler

Starring: Jeff Fahey, Kellie Waymire, Leslie Easterbrook, John Furlong, Mel Winkler, Bob Bancroft, Vincent Guastafero, J R Pollard

Year: 2001

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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