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
While aware that there is another Maniac review here on Nerdly, I felt the urge to review it myself after sitting down with the movie for the second time and being filled with the need to unleash words.
The original Maniac hit our screens in 1980 with Joe Spinell sludging up our televisions with his disturbingly dirty portrayal of Frank, the scalp obsessed nut-job with a heart of mould. It was a great horror movie with a fantastic lead performance and top notch gore courtesy of the maestro of visceral explosions, Tom Savini, who also has a small but memorable part in the original film.
Upon hearing the news a couple of years ago that Maniac was going to be put through the ‘remake mincing machine’, I was sceptical and disheartened, not quite sure how audiences were going to accept a new version of what is a cult sleaze-fest from the 80’s. It wasn’t the same as remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street, it wasn’t a popular or well-loved film as far as it’s acceptance from the general populace, it was a cult flick with a gritty and disturbing plot.
My worries were alleviated somewhat when I found out that the screenplay to the new version of Maniac would be penned by Alexandre Aja (P2, Haute Tension), the guy who wrote the screenplay to the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, which wasn’t bad, some might say it was actually a better film that the original one was.
Directed by Franck Khalfoun (P2), a guy who had only previously directed two movies, the new, glossier remake was introduced to audiences in 2012. It hit cinema screens in the UK in 2013. I was at the front of the queue, part excited, part concerned but fully intrigued by a remake of one of my favourite horror flicks of all time.
The casting of Elijah Wood was an interesting one, an actor whose previous work didn’t exactly scream out “possible horror villain”. I like Elijah Wood, his work in the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films is fantastic and his willingness to work on independent movies and try new things is applause-worthy. The only movie I’d seen prior to this in which Wood played anything like a “maniac” was his somewhat small role in the excellent Sin City (2005).
Without spoiling the plot too much, Maniac tells the story of a mannequin shop owner named ‘Frank’ who harnesses a repressed rage and is, shall we say, not very well in the old noggin’. The movie is stylish, perhaps sometimes too stylish for its own good. Its crystal clear direction and clean shots sometimes inhibits the film from feeling as dirty and grotesque as it should. Still, the look of the movie is beautiful and its style of shooting from first-person perspective is very fresh and brings a personalised discomfort to the viewer that makes the violent scenes, of which there are plenty, feel extremely vivid and horrific. We learn about Frank and spend time with him in his mannequin workshop, a place that brings a haunting mystery to the possibilities of where Frank came from and how he became the unhinged fellow he is today.
Comparing this film to the one on which it was based is pointless. They have their similarities but are so different in so many other ways that they don’t really resemble one another. This new vision of a maniac is brilliantly told. Its “point-of-view” perspective is clever and new, the cinematography is splendid and the secondary performances, while not outstandingly memorable, make for an uncomfortable and atmospheric ride through the psyche of a sick, sick man.
In closing I want to thank the makers of Maniac for trying something new while not abandoning where the original film came from. This is what a remake should be.