Is Maniac another unimaginative remake or has Hollywood managed to successfully reinvent a cult classic? Franck Khalfoun’s contemporary and thrilling spin on William Lustig’s 1980 film of the same name artistically follows the same story as the original and continues to play on the cultural fears of unknown truths and true intentions. The film follows the story and the inner workings of a young maniac as he mutilates his victims so that they remain somewhat “immortal”. Frank Zito, played by a still youthful Elijah Wood, appears more innocent than his middle-aged and overweight 1980s predecessor (Joe Spinell) but is still dressing his mannequins in order to keep his victims “alive” after their brutal deaths.
The film is relocated from New York to Los Angeles, with its desirable façade masking a dark and seedy city that preys on people’s lives. This remake sees the new technology of the internet being the forum that allows Frank to browse and potentially meet women. Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography uses an interesting camera technique where almost the entire film is shot from a character’s point-of-view, creating more confrontation and impact through the disturbing images we see as well getting us closer to Frank’s thoughts and actions. This is performed remarkably well by Wood considering the minimal amount of time he is directly seen on screen. The audience mostly see him through mirrored reflections of himself in various states of anger, distress and troubled self-realisation. The camerawork and reflections give us Frank’s troubled personality and life, dating back to his childhood relationship with his mother, where his past experiences collide with his present ones.
Frank’s innocent demeanour disguises a disturbed man that is seen by no one but himself, the women that are his victims and of course us the viewer. French photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder) not only captures images around her but also Frank’s attention before becoming his designated love interest. She has a purity and beauty that Frank sees in his mannequins. She also potentially offers some form of redemption for him; she fits the same profile as his victims and yet his thoughts are focussed on love rather than psychotic lust. There are moments that fracture this hopeful relationship that keep the tension high, such as when he and Anna watch The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) allowing Frank a “killer in me” moment recognising confused identities and compulsive murder in the silent classic.
Maniac is bold enough to disrupt typical slasher conventions with the introduction of Anna and the explicit positioning of the audience aligned to the killer’s point-of-view. Combine these two interventions in the genre and we get to follow - and uncomfortably understand - the killer’s motivations. Slasher films have always had the killer at the centre of the story but Maniac goes one step further by constantly and directly sharing the murderer’s point-of-view. This has a powerful effect on the viewer in the most distressing sequences and scenes also designed to elicit sympathy as we engage with Frank’s view on the lives and death around him. Director Khalfoun and producer/screenwriter Alexandre Aja continue to create the suffering and suspense we have seen in previous films they have collaborated on including Switchblade Romance (2003) and P2 (2007) in which the attitude and style of the thriller is combined with the scares and chills of horror. The anger, frustration and anxiety from Frank emerge in true horror fashion as the title sequence begins with bold red lettering appearing in conjunction with a chilling soundscape of blood splattering and flies buzzing like something in the style of Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. The intensity of the image and sound rapidly descends on the audience to create the familiar adrenaline rush that horror film fans so often embrace.
Even though Maniac has been nominated for awards at the Chicago International and Switzerland’s Neuchâtel Fantasy Film festivals it is unlikely to win any major awards. But it does deserve acclaim in the horror community simply due to how well it unsettles and disturbs human desires as illustrated through the captivating performances of both Wood and Arnezeder. So if a slasher movie with aggressive masculinity, gore levels to rival the Saw films (2004 - ) and an absence of any female empowerment does not appeal, then this film may not be for you. However, you should still take a look because the artistic direction, modernisation and surprisingly unpredictable ending packs a powerful punch even for those familiar with video-nasty nostalgia. After all, you might find yourself taking odd pleasure in unravelling the psychotic ways of Frank.
Maniac is out on DVD now
We have three copies of Maniac to giveaway, courtesy of our friends at Metrodome. To enter, check out our competitions page and email us your answers before 7pm Friday 5th July.