There are relatively few conventions that a horror filmmaker needs to adhere to: have a convincingly frightening antagonist (who either has justifications for his actions or is simply a mindless butcher); maintain palpable and reasonably constant suspense; display any gore lovingly and copiously; and it never hurts to keep the attractive young ladies of the cast in varying stages of distressed undress. Joe Castro’s “Maniacal” fires on about half of these cylinders. The splatter factor is inspired, and one of the principles takes an ill-advised shower (is there any other kind in a horror movie?), but the maniac on the loose is not so much frightening as just kind of always around, like the younger sibling he is, while little suspense is to be had anywhere.
You know the drill: Gilbert Gill (Lee Webb), a mentally disturbed young man who brings to mind a young Peter Garrett, kills his creepy stepmother and tries to kill his verbally abusive father. For this he is sent to sunny Hitchberg Sanitarium – where everyone is a raving lunatic and exit doors are conveniently left unlocked. Fast-forward a year to find Gilbert’s older sister Janet (Perrine Webb) and father (Carl Darchuk) preparing for a home visit from the troubled teen.
Did I just have an aneurysm? Did they just say they were going to let a lunatic locked up for trying to kill his family go home for the weekend? Yes, yes I think they did.
They needn’t have bothered, because before they can even get to the asylum to bring Gilbert home, he escapes and starts working his way back to the rest of his family. To be fair, it’s apparent even before the heinous killing spree starts that not all Gilbert’s dogs are barking. Add to that the fact that his stepmother definitely harbored an unhealthy level of physical interest in the strapping young man and he obviously had no recourse but to go to town on her with a claw hammer. Come on, what would you do?
Were it left at that – if we saw more of Gilbert’s childhood torment and the abusive actions of his father – maybe, just maybe, we’d have some sympathy for his deviltry. But he tries to kill Janet as well – the only person who ever treated him nicely. And he kills two of the asylum orderlies, even after they thoughtfully give the violent psychotic a metal fork to eat lunch with. It becomes apparent early on that, childhood trauma or not, Gilbert is an a*****e.
One good thing comes out of Mrs. Gilbert’s hammer time: it conveniently sent Mr. Gill to rehab, for once Gilbert escapes Dad is a true Man of Action, joining forces with the local policeman (Michael Nyman) who is evidently afflicted with a rare disease that prevents him from calling for backup. Ever. Meanwhile, Janet and her two large-breasted co-ed friends (even the nerdy one with glasses has implants) decide to have a slumber party. “The guys” show up, and sure enough everyone pairs off, with two of the couples retiring to have sex (the horror movie equivalent of going before the Hanging Judge). Characters this poorly versed in the dynamics of the horror genre probably deserve to die, especially considering that all three of the ladies in question are improbably versed in the nuances of films like “Sleepaway Camp” and, *guffaw*, “The Slumber Party Massacre.”
Gilber, for his part, is obviously a superhuman killing machine in the mold of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or, uh, John Kirby. Trouble is, this bit of information isn’t imparted upon us until halfway into the film, and then in a throwaway fashion by Janet. Not that it ever matters, since nobody Gilbert goes after ever bothers to try and fight him off. This is okay by me, since doing so would only have gotten in the way of some pretty impressive (given the obviously shoestring budget) gore. Director Castro, who also did the effects, has done some inspired work here, and it almost manages to make us forget the rather clichéd plot.
Not completely, however. And while the money shots in “Maniacal” are something to see, they don’t completely make up for the rest of the film’s shortcomings.