Color, 1990, 85 mins. 45 secs.
Directed by Adam Rifkin
Starring Noel Peters, Shannon Wilsey, Stephanie Blake, Melissa Moore, Clement von Franckenstein, Jason Logan, Robert R. Ross Jr.
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0 4K/HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

While he was The Invisible Maniacdirecting films under his own name, filmmaker and Chicago native The Invisible ManiacAdam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City, The Dark Backward) was also honing his craft on a couple of occasions with "tiny" exploitation movies like Psycho Cop Returns under the name "Rif Coogan." The most notorious of these, The Invisible Maniac, only received a handful of theatrical bookings around the world but became a familiar sight on VHS shelves around 1990 with its Republic U.S. tape sold as a lighthearted monster movie comedy. Despite the frequent one-liners delivered by its serial killer protagonist, this is more of a straightforward sci-fi slasher film best known in the history books as the film debut of actress Shannon Wilsey, better known as '90s adult film superstar and rock musician girlfriend Savannah. Featuring lots of the internationally required levels of nudity and violence for straight-to-video product, it's a down and dirty exploitation film that feels like the twisted love child of Zapped!, H.G. Wells, and Splatter University.

Traumatized by his abusive mother who instills a hateful attitude to women, scientist Kevin Dornwinkle (Peters) grows up to become a specialist in what he touts as "molecular deconstruction:" the ability to render living creatures invisible. Unfortunately his big demonstration in front of several prestigious scientists turns out to be a The Invisible Maniacbust, and their derisive laughter sends him on a killing spree that lands him in a mental hospital. Upon escaping, Dornwinkle adopts the name "Dr. Kevin Smith" and someone snags a gig right away as a physics teacher at the closest high The Invisible Maniacschool (populated by about a dozen students, all evidently in their late twenties). The buxom principal (Blake, noted burlesque performer and the singing telegram nurse from Ferris Bueller's Day Off) has no qualms seducing the students and faculty alike to get what she wants, while the pupils are all jerks plotting pranks to play on their new teacher. Of course, it's just a matter of time before Dornwinkle gets pushed too far and decides to put his now-working invisibility formula to homicidal use.

Shot quickly and loaded with both a high body count and the aforementioned heavy doses of gratuitous nudity, The Invisible Maniac is tonally bizarre but never dull as it lets Peters indulge in a wildly over-the-top performance that finds him essentially cackling nonstop through the second half. Along with Wilsey/Savannah (who followed this up with Sorority House Massacre II) and Blake, it has a wild roster of actors from the era including Melissa Moore (Samurai Cop, Hard to Die), Debra Lamb (Deathrow Gameshow), and a short appearance early on from Clement von Franckenstein, a character actor in numerous Hollywood productions who also had a stint in adult films for a few years in the '70s. Extra points for crediting one of the actresses as "Claudette Rains," too! The horror content gets pretty wild at times, and while the method of tearing off the actress' tops before most of the murders seems sketchy by today's standards, it's two men who get the most memorable deaths via foot-long The Invisible Maniacsandwich and a gory rooftop plunge. It gets quite nasty at The Invisible Maniactimes as well, including one mean-spirited stomping bit out of Russ Meyer's SuperVixens.

Once a '90s video and cable mainstay (at least late at night), The Invisible Maniac went out of commission for ages until the 2022 dual-format UHD and Blu-ray edition from Vinegar Syndrome. The film's debut on any kind of disc format, it might take the cake as the most unlikely UHD title to date and first hit as a Black Friday title with a limited lenticular slipcover. (On top of that, it was teased much earlier with a famous invisible -- well, "translucent" -- slipcover option months earlier.) As you'd expect, the negative probably hasn't been touched in decades and results in a gorgeous 4K presentation here with the HDR on the UHD really bringing out a lot of punch in the saturated primary color schemes. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono audio sounds crisp and clean throughout with no issues, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided. Rifkin and Elijah Drenner appear for the first commentary track, which is packed with info about the film and the director's career including his mentoring by John Landis, the casting of Peter (who auditioned for the role played by Bill Paxton in The Dark Backward), the necessary "skeevy" elements needed for financing at the time, the non-union shooting conditions, and the state of the industry at the time. A second track from the always entertaining foursome from The Invisible ManiacThe Hysteria Continues tackles this as a semi-slasher from the waning days of the subgenre along with The Invisible Maniacplenty of observations about the height of Skinemax, other invisibility movies, and the backgrounds of some of the key players. The new featurette "Fast, Cheap and Out of Sight" (32m8s) brings together interviews with Rifkin (and his alter ego), executive producer Cassian Elwes, Lamb, Blake, actor Rod Sweitzer, crew member Dan Povenmire, and composer Marc David Decker chatting about the making of a film they knew wouldn't be "good" but offered a fun time to all involved, from casting to scoring to home video release. They also go into the bizarre request from one territory to lengthen the film by over 13 minutes regardless of what the footage entailed, which is also represented here with the entire 13-minute extra dream sequence involving the mute janitor and a lot of topless women (pulled from VHS). An archival, tape-sourced Request video interview with "Rif Coogan" (12m11s) features the director again in character (complete with mustache and cowboy hat) touting the release of the film. Finally you get a music video for the catchy theme song, "He's Invisible" (4m16s), a 10m5s reel of making-of footage from the music video, and the original VHS trailer (scored with music from Beetlejuice!).

Reviewed on December 11, 2022.