Joe Spinell: An ode to an underrated legend and our favorite Maniac

Mannequins (Photo by Lukas Schulze/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Mannequins (Photo by Lukas Schulze/Bongarts/Getty Images) /

Joe Spinell, the underrated cult legend was born on Oct. 28. At 1428 Elm, we decided to celebrate his birthday with an ode to our favorite Maniac.

Joe Spinell starred in the horror cult classic, Maniac, a film that explored the mind of serial killer Frank Zito and New York’s once seedy underbelly. And while William Lustig surely made a name for himself in genre films, Maniac’s star Joe Spinell acquired icon status.

Fans that are newer to the horror genre might not recognize his name and that’s ok. However, he was important to horror albeit a short time.

Cinephiles will no doubt recognize him from his unaccredited role as a mobster in Francis Ford Coppola’s, The Godfather. It was the perfect film for the mean looking Italian tough guy.

While his gruff exterior could scare the paint off a 42nd Street grindhouse theater, the real Joe Spinell would have given you the shirt off his back if you were lucky enough to call him a friend.

Off screen, Spinell wrestled with his demons. He was known as a voracious partier who more often than not succumbed to the lure of booze and drugs.

Anything he did onscreen, was magic and riveting. He never chose a role just for the sake of securing a paycheck. The thespian poured his heart and soul into every one of his performances.

Genre fans associate him with his portrayal of the demented serial killer, Frank Zito in Maniac. Joe was so dedicated to his craft that he researched and studied a plethora of serial killers to bring his character to life. In fact, Frank was a composite of various real life boogeymen.

Maniac was one of three great horror classics that Joe Spinell participated in and it remains his swan song. He even worked on a treatment for a sequel that would have had a different serial killer roaming the streets. A seven minute promo entitled, Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie was filmed with the hopes of gaining support to make a full length feature.

While he was on his way to becoming a horror legend, tragedy struck and in 1989, at the age of 52 he passed away. His lasting body of work is a befitting legacy.

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You can watch Maniac on Shudder, Amazon Prime, VUDU, EPIX and Tubi. 

Have you seen Maniac? Let us know what you think of Joe Spinell’s performance in the comments.