Maniac is a remake of the classic 80s horror flick and if William Lustig’s gore-fest was a quintessential grind house slasher than Franck Khalfoun’s film is an art-house slasher as well as a remake…and a very effective and disturbing remake it is. Maniac, like the original, tells the story of Frank Zito (a brilliant Elijah Wood), a man who restores mannequins by day and stalks and gruesomely murders young women by night. The story is basically the same as the 80s film except this one is set in L.A. and the original was in New York. Frank has serious mother issues and when he murders his pretty victims, it’s an extension of the hurt and anger he felt from watching his now dead hooker mom ply her trade when he was a child. Sexuality brings out entirely different urges in poor Frank and a lot of young ladies are suffering the consequences as Frank’s hook-ups end rather gruesomely. After his objects of desire are slaughtered, he dresses his mannequins up like his victims including their scalps, so they, unlike his dead mother, will stay with him forever. But, Frank meets Anna (Nora Arnezender) and quickly falls for the pretty French photographer with an artistic interest in his mannequins, but can Frank overcome a deeply twisted mind and really be happy with her or will Anna soon become just another piece in his horrid collection?
Produced and co-written by Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, Piranha 3-D) Maniac is a film that is not only a beautifully shot art house style flick, but a very disturbing and gruesome horror. Khalfoun films most of the movie from Zito’s perspective, so we generally only see him in reflections and mirrors. Only on a few occasions we see Wood’s serial killer from our perspective, but maybe it’s because in these moments Frank is watching his own gruesome actions as if a bystander in his own life, separating himself from his deeds. This effectively put’s us in his eyes and very uncomfortably in his head and it really gives this film it’s impact especially during the film’s intense and blood soaked last act. We stalk his victims along with him and this first person perspective makes us both an unwilling participant and a helpless witness to his demented acts.
This view point works so well because Woods gives a bold yet, disturbingly subtle performance in the role originated by Joe Spinell, who also wrote the original. Woods really paints the portrait of a truly deranged individual yet, gives us reason to believe that his Frank could actually be a kind and gentle man had he not been twisted by watching his mother’s depraved sexual acts as a child. Arnezeder’s Anna is sweet yet, a little eccentric as the artsy photographer, making her likable and obviously causing us to fear for her as we know the true nature of the man she sees as a gentle, timid soul. The rest of the cast are fine though the focus remains on Frank and Anna, but Khalfoun’s camera captures enough of the supporting characters personality so those that fall prey to Frank’s sharp bowie knife don’t come across like the mannequins that populate his shop/home and aren’t just body count. His camera also captures some beautiful images too and there’s a really nice nod to the original’s movie poster captured in the reflection of a car door…there’s also a playful jab at that film’s lead, Joe Spinell, too that will amuse fans of the original.
The film is set in modern day yet has a delightfully 80s feel to it, including it’s atmospheric electronic score by ‘Rob’. The gore effects by Greg Nicotero and KNB are extremely realistic and graphic and will make even the most jaded gorehound wince. While not quite as gory as the 80s classic, I felt the gore here was more effective because, it is used a bit more sparingly and has more impact when it occurs. Maniac ranks among some of the best of the recent horror remakes, it has some flaws, such as some dialog was added by Wood in post production whose line readings seem to be a bit flat, but it does improve upon the trashy, gory, fun original by making it a seriously disturbing ride in the shoes of a twisted mind. It’s chilling and shocking at times and and very unsettling even in it’s quieter moments. One of the best horrors I’ve seen this year and ironically, one of the others (Evil Dead) was also a remake. So much for my complaining about all these horror remakes. A highly recommended horror.
Rated a solid and disturbing 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) mannequin heads!