2012/ France, USA
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Starring: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, America Olivo
Words: O. Innocent
Let’s get this out of the way first; Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac (2012) isn’t as good as William Lustig’s 1980 original. It isn’t that the remake’s a bad film, it just doesn’t exude that same seedy, grime-ridden sickness that made the original such a notorious (it remained banned in the UK until only a few years ago) underground exploitation classic. But then again Khalfoun’s version isn’t going for grime, it’s going for a stylish, high gloss kind of sickness. Taking the same basic concept as the original Maniac – psychologically disturbed man with mother issues goes out at night to stalk and kill beautiful young women in order to cut their scalps off to adorn his mannequin collection – the remake then does something quite unexpected as it proceeds to fuse said concept with stylised, neon-drenched visuals and a pounding ‘80s style soundtrack more at home in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011) than a horror film. Rather than clashing horrendously, this amalgamation of beauty and brutality works surprisingly well, going a long way to distance Maniac from its dank and gritty torture porn contemporaries as it showcases a visually stunning, almost arthouse homage to ‘80s slashers.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Maniac’s embracing of experimentation is its use of first person POV. While it’s true that the killer’s POV shots are something of a prerequisite turned cliché when it comes to slasher films, Maniac does something genuinely new and exciting with the trope. In Maniac the whole film is almost exclusively seen from the killer’s point of view, creating a disturbing viewing experience as it explores the old adage that POV implicates us in the on-screen murders. However, by taking us even further into the killer’s world and his warped mind, we consequently get to know the character intimately which allows us to feel empathy for this ultimately pitiable character. Elijah Wood, far removed from his career defining role as The Lord of the Rings’ Frodo, here gives a chilling yet compelling performance as the killer who, despite the heinous acts he commits, you just can’t help feeling sorry for.
The film also benefits from a strong screenplay co-written by French filmmaker Alexandre Aja who has been responsible for some of the most exciting genre output of recent years with the likes of Switchblade Romance (2003) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006) remake pushing the genre into new territories of the extreme. Aja’s screenplay for Maniac also goes to extremes, but it also nicely balances the gore quotient with the psychological development of Wood’s character. Talking of gore, the remake certainly doesn’t skimp on the blood and guts with The Walking Dead’s effects masters, KNB providing practical effects that are so well done they are absolutely sickening. Rounded off by Rob’s amazing, menacing synthesiser score, Maniac, while not the immediate exploitation classic its predecessor was, is still a fascinating, visually striking and viscerally exhilarating slice of modern horror cinema.