Creating Tom Savini’s Death in Maniac

Tom Savini seemed to have had an obsession earlier in his career with destroying heads. First, the scalp of a zombie was removed by a helicopter propeller in Dawn of the Dead, then Betsy Palmer was decapitated at the end of Friday the 13th, whilst Farley Granger would meet his demise at the end of a shotgun barrel in The Prowler soon after. Yet, perhaps his most memorable decimation of the head saw Savini playing the victim, as his face would explode from a shotgun blast whilst making out with a young woman in William Lustig’s grindhouse classic Maniac. One of the more notorious moments from the early 1980s slasher cycle, Savini would play one of the movie’s few male victims, with most of the focus being on the mutilation of attractive young woman at the hands of a demented serial killer, portrayed with terrifying conviction by character actor Joe Spinell.

Savini’s death would come during a sequence in which he has met a girl at a disco and has parked his car under a bridge to make out with her. Spinell would pull up nearby and slowly make his way over to them with his shotgun, before jumping onto the hood of the car and shooting Savini in the face, causing most of his head to explode. Lustig had claimed that the sequence was inspired by a true story he had read in a newspaper regarding the ‘Son of Sam’ murders, in which David Berkowitz had terrorised residents of New York during the mid-1970s. There had been two instances where Berkowitz had fired upon a young couple in their car, which Lustig had allegedly used as a source for what would become his movie’s ‘money shot.’

To prepare for the scene, Savini, who had already pushed the boundaries of prosthetic effects through his work on Friday the 13th, created a latex mask of his own face which was moulded around plastic. In order for the features to split easily on impact, Savini took a small blade and sliced along the hairline, although the incision would be subtle enough to not be visible to the cameras. The shooting of the scene took place underneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that runs across The Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island in New York. To prepare for the mind-blowing effect, Savini filled the artificial head with pieces of animal brains and cow intestines, as well as shrimp and chicken salad, before coating it all in fake blood.

Due to the grotesque concoction, the inside of the car smelt revolting, although both Savini and his co-star, Hyla Marrow, would be forced to act under such unpleasant conditions. With three cameras positioned around the car, Savini and Marrow began to make out as Spinell jumped onto the hood, being careful not to slip due to the moisture created from the fog machine. Savini then took over the role of the killer for the death shot, in which he would fire live Magnum rounds at the prosthetic head through the windscreen. The fake head was attached to a life-sized dummy that Savini had dubbed Boris; a prop he had initially created for Dawn of the Dead. Having dressed the dummy in his character’s clothes, whilst changing into Spinell’s wardrobe, Savini then leapt onto the hood of the car, before taking aim at Boris.

Firing the shotgun point-blank through the glass, the blast from the shot sent Savini falling backwards off the car, whilst the head exploded, causing its contents to spill out over the back of the driver’s seat. Fearful that the noise of the shot would attract unwanted attention, Lustig loaded the shotgun into the boot of the car and instructed Spinell’s assistant, Luke Walter, to drive out of the area across the bridge to Staten Island. Legend has it that, whilst attempting to make his way through a tollbooth, the car was surrounded by police and Walter was forced to explain why the vehicle was covered in blood and guts. Lustig completed the filming of the scene inside a garage on 125th Street in Harlem soon afterwards, with Marrow once again covered in fake blood so that Lustig could capture some reactionary shots. These had not been obtained whilst on location, as the crew were forced to flee the scene once Savini had fired the shotgun blasts.

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6 Responses to “ Creating Tom Savini’s Death in Maniac ”

  1. awesome stuff man!! i love MANIAC, one of the best, Savinis work was so amazing in that film

  2. Cheers dude! I agree, this is a great movie for gore fans! I miss Savini’s old school FX.

  3. great article! we will be showing MANIAC in March at BLOOD THIRSTY THURSDAYS in San Antonio, Tx

  4. me too, his work in The Prowler, The Burning and Day of The Dead is amazing stuff

  5. The Prowler is a personal favourite.

  6. Me too, one of my top Three choices is The Prowler. very amazing, perfect slasher in my opinion

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