16th Mar2013

‘Maniac’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Liane Balaban, Morganne Slemp, Genevieve Alexandra, America Olivo, Sammi Rotibi, Sal Landi, Dan Hunter, Megan Duffy | Written by Alexander Aja, Gregory Levasseur | Directed by Franck Khalfoun


After helming remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha, the gang behind the “trapped in a parking lot with a psycho” film P2 reunite for yet another remake of a 70s horror movie, this time the notorious video nasty starring Joe Spinell and directed by William Lustig –  Maniac. Only this time it’s Frodo’s turn to go on a homicidal trip!

Yes, everyone’s favourite hobbit Elijah Wood steps into the shoes of Joe Spinell as the deranged Frank, owner of a quasi-abandoned mannequin store and all-round creepy dude who, to the outside world, seems like a typical loner. However Frank has issues, lots of them – migraines, hallucinations, strange OCD-like compulsions – this is a man who is for all intents and purposes completely deranged. Stepping into Franks world is Anna (Arnezeder) a French photographer who wants to use Frank’s restored mannequins as part of her fine arts exhibit…

As sleazy as the film that inspired it, this iteration of Maniac takes the story and key set pieces from the original (minus the stunning shotgun death) and re-locates the action to Los Angeles, with the cities seedy back alleys and unkept streets as a backdrop for Frank’s exploits. And whilst the core idea of Frank scalping his victims remains the same and is just as graphic as William Lustig film, director Franck Khalfoun adds a first person perspective to the action which is not only a bold choice and a superb technical achievement, but it’s also one that makes this version of Maniac much much troubling than the original.

Whereas 1980′s Maniac had a chubby, pot-marked, sleazeball as a lead, this version has Elijah Wood who makes for a much more convincing “love interest” for Anna. However the real star of the film is the audience. By shooting the film from Frank’s POV and only showing the character in reflections, Khalfoun makes the audience identify with Frank and make them complicit in his crimes. Which is bound to disturb some, and (wrongly) excite others; and unlike many modern horrors, the film lingers on the violence a la Fulci’s The New York Ripper – hence the rumoured four minutes of cuts to the film for the official UK release.

However despite the technical innovation and the stylish Drive-like soundtrack, Maniac still feels very much like it’s treading the same water as the original, offering nothing new beyond the POV format and in the end left me feeling nothing but ambivalence towards it.

** 2/5


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