BBFC Classification: 18
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Starring: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, America Olivo, Genevieve Alexandra, Megan Duffy
Bill Lustig’s original Maniac from 1980 was – and still is – one of the most notorious horror movies ever made. Set in the grimy streets of a pre-Giuliani New York City, Maniac told the story of loner Frank Zito – brilliantly portrayed by Joe Spinell (Rocky/The Godfather) – who has some mommy issues that lead him to kill and scalp his victims in order to decorate the mannequins that adorn his room and help him converse with his dead mother. Dark, gritty and very disturbing, Maniac has stood the test of time and is just as effective now as it was then, which begs the question “Why remake it?”.
Well, because it is possible to tell Frank Zito’s story in a different way and do it some justice, that’s why. Doing what all good remakes should do, this new version of Maniac has a basis in the 1980 film but due to some stylistic changes and an unusual casting choice it stands on its own as a very different beast. Shifting from New York to a more desolate LA, this film stars Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) as Frank, a young man who has taken over his family’s mannequin restoration business after the death of his mother. It’s safe to say that Frank hasn’t entirely gotten over her death – or her life, as she was also a junkie prostitute who wasn’t shy about bringing young Frank along on her conquests – as he has taken to stalking beautiful young women and scalping them so he can create beauty with his mannequins.
However, Frank is also trying to overcome his issues with women by joining dating sites but those murderous impulses keep coming back, until he meets photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder – Safe House) who wants to take pictures of Frank restoring his mannequins for her art exhibition. But can Frank’s genuine feelings for Anna overcome his darker side?
So plot-wise Maniac isn’t massively different from its source material but the key difference is that this film is shot almost entirely from Frank’s POV, a style that has been used several times in films like Peeping Tom and Halloween but only in key scenes or as a plot device, and except for a few brief shots of his face in reflection, Elijah Wood is only really represented by his voice and hands. It’s a genius and, with hindsight, somewhat obvious move that puts you right in the mindset of Frank and brings on the feelings and emotions that Frank goes through whilst committing his crimes (and in one nausea-inducing scene, when Frank loses his dinner you may also do the same).
Aside from the stylistic change the casting of Elijah Wood is the other obvious change and is something that could prove to be a little divisive. On the one hand, it’s an inspired piece of casting as Wood had impressed as the psychotic Kevin in Sin City, his cherubic features and quiet demeanor making his character more chilling than if he were loud and obvious. On the other hand though, is the fact that Joe Spinell’s Frank Zito was a grotesque figure who just looked dangerous whether he was suited and booted or wrapped up in a bomber jacket and shades, and whilst Elijah Wood does a good job he just doesn’t carry as much menace as the character really needs, his underplayed line delivery not as effective as Spinell’s demented breakdowns, and that shy-boy-next-door approach has already been done to perfection by Anthony Perkins in Psycho.
But it’s a small grumble when everything else on the screen is so awesome. Written by Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur, (both The Hills Have Eyes/P2) and C.A. Rosenburg, and directed by Franck Khalfoun (P2), Maniac draws a lot of inspiration from its European producers and has a very strong giallo vibe as Frank stalks his victims, although once the blood start flowing the vibe is very much that of an old school American slasher. The score also adds to the arty feel with its 80s-style synths recalling the best of Goblin or John Carpenter and wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the original given the mainly nighttime city setting.
So is Maniac 2012 better than Maniac 1980? Not an entirely fair question given the wide definition of better and the differences between the two films, but it’s unlikely that anybody brought up on found footage horror and a fondness for hobbits will find a lot to like in the grimy original as the sight of an overweight Italian-American in his vest and pants sweating over whether to kill or shag Caroline Munro isn’t for everybody. Maybe this new film will encourage people to seek out the original, which can only be a good thing, but even if it doesn’t Maniac 2012 stands as a film that will likely still be discussed in 30 years time for trying something different and standing apart from the norm. And you weren’t expecting that from a remake, were you?
Special Features: Cast & crew interviews, trailer.
UK Release Date: 1st July 2013