Maniac. 2012. Dir. Franck Khalfoun. Screenplay by Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur; based on the original screenplay for the 1980 film by Joe Spinell.
Starring Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, and America Olivo. Canal+.
Rated 18A. 89 minutes.
★★★★ (Blu ray release)
First off, I really enjoyed the William Lustig directed original Maniac with Joe Spinell from 1980. There is a certain gritty, low-class charm to that movie which just really works. Spinell, of course, really terrified me, and most everyone who watched him become that insane killer onscreen.
But along comes Alexandre Aja, producing as well as doing some writing with Gregory Levasseur, and recreates Maniac, with help from director Franck Khalfoun. This vision of the film is even more crazy, more intense than the original, in my opinion. They took an idea, fleshed it out, changed it up a little, and came out the other side with something even more bizarre and frightening.
Not only do I find it more disturbing and more frightening than the original, it also uses unique techniques to really get the audience inside the killer’s head. The entire film, save for a rare few shots here or there at opportune and specific points (each with their own reason), is shot from the perspective of the killer, Frank (Wood). This means we see his whole life right from the windows of his soul. It is creepy. Also highly engaging: everything Frank sees, we see. We experience his experiences. The blood gets on his hands, and it feels like we’re there. Great way to immerse people in a character. Not forgetting how difficult it can be at times, depending on the story and situation, to film a movie as if right in the killer’s direct point-of-view.
The whole plot of Maniac revolves around Frank and his delusions. He restores mannequins in a shop his mother used to own. It becomes more clear as time goes by, the influence of his mother looms larger over his life, and has obviously damaged Frank in some way; it’s clear to us which way, very clear, immediately. Frank later meets Anna, and this shows some promise of maybe taking Frank out of his delusions. Although soon enough we see this will not be the case, whatsoever. Frank likes to scalp women. He likes to take the scalps home and staple them to his mannequins. He wants to build a life; one full of lifeless, obedient, perfect mannequins of his choosing. Frank is certainly a maniac.
Aja, whether he is directing or producing, always manages to dowse his films with incredible effects. Maniac, beyond its fresh use of point-of-view filmmaking, is ripe with blood and guts and disgusting things. Not only the blood, but there are some other images, horrifying sexual ones at times, that really stick with you long after the credits roll. A lot of the effects in Maniac are beyond visceral.
In fact, one of the best effects happens nearly right off the bat. The first scene depicts Frank stalking his newly discovered prey. He follows a young woman from a bar, all the way right up to her apartment door. Frank then ambushes her viciously, and takes his prize: a fresh and sloppy scalp. As he holds the girl by the back of her head, gripping her hair and slicing away, the scalp slips off, as its poor owner falls in a pile of dead weight on the floor. Sets the tone for Maniac and lets you know it will not be skimping on any of the horror, any of the gore for this remake. This kick starts the film’s pistons, which never stop pumping.
Another noteworthy mention about Maniac is the score. This film’s music blows me away. I can listen to it on its own, which I don’t often do with a film score or soundtrack either way. But the music is haunting. It’s a mix of piano and electronic music. The sounds get under your skin. There’s something about them that draws you in, taking you to Frank’s world. The score is beautiful and creepy, all at once. There’s something elegant and terrifying in the main theme especially. Sets the overall mood and jives well with Khalfoun’s atmosphere.
On top of the effects present, the film is really carried by Eljah Wood and his eerie performance as Frank. Khalfoun mentions in the Blu ray’s Making Of featurette how there is something more disturbing about a killer who does not look the part; for instance, comparing Spinell’s brutish character to Wood’s more slim look. One of the things which really works for Wood is the fact he doesn’t particularly appear imposing. You take one look at Wood and you don’t really feel the same fear as you might when meeting Joe Spinell in a dark alley, whether in a film or not.
Wood draws out Frank’s character with a lot of subtle acting. There are times when he goes wild, of course, however, it’s mostly the small, quiet moments where Wood really gets into things, and the character goes to fascinatingly creepy places. Without a really strong central performance a lot of horror films fall flat on their faces. With Wood and what I believe are his wonderful talents, Maniac really soars above most modern horrors where filmmakers often go for effects, whether CGI or practical, over character and plot.
As a horror film, Maniac is a 5 star experience. A lot of people expect a remake to expand on the original concept, as well as maybe step it up a little – if you feel that way and don’t believe Maniac delivers, then I have no idea what you’re really looking for in a remake. On its own this stands as a great modern horror, which to me will be a classic one day down the road. Even as a remake, this still holds its weight. The 1980 Maniac is loved dearly by a lot of hardcore slasher and horror fans. But I don’t see why people can’t get with this one. It is a fresh update; creepy, frightening, and gory at times. With, as I said, a spectacular lead performance in Elijah Wood. 5 out of 5 all the way.
Concerning the Blu ray release, it’s a 4 out of 5 stars. There is a great Making Of featurette, as well as a poster gallery, and some good commentary with Khalfoun and Wood. But there isn’t anything that really bumps this Blu ray above anything else in terms of being packed with extras. The quality is phenomenal. There’s nothing like watching a horror with style on a good screen in real high definition. You get to really dig into the effects. Not to mention the sound is quality – top notch.
Check this out. The Blu ray is beyond worth it, but don’t really expect there to be anything too amazing. The one featurette included is an hour long, so that’s not disappointing. You’ll get your money’s worth that’s for sure. Just not particularly my favourite release in terms of extra features that I have on my shelf, personally. As a movie, you can’t go wrong. This is a solid horror with many creepy, creepy scenes. This still lingers with me, even when I haven’t watched it in months.
Another Rare Horror review can be found here – this time for the remake.