I think I might be one of the few people within the horror community that doesn’t immediately puke my guts out when I hear a movie that people enjoy is being remade. Although, as some of you guys might know, I consider the original Maniac to be one of my top 5 horror movies of all time. A couple of years ago, I saw 35mm screening of it with director William Lustig in person, and I asked him about his opinion on remakes and if he thought anyone could ever do a remake of Maniac. His response was that this remake was already in development and was being worked on by Alexandre Aja. Although I was nervous as to whether or not a project like this could result in anything good whatsoever, I’m a big Alexandre Aja fan, and seeing his remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha gave me a little bit of faith. However, as with all remakes or sequels, do we judge a movie on its own merit or do we try to respect the source material and just constantly compare the differences? No really, what do we do? Can anyone tell me? I need to write a review and it’d be really helpful if you told me.
Okay, you’ve got the knife, you’ve got the bomber jacket, now gain 100 pounds and get some greasy skin and you’re GOOD TO GO.
Frank (Elijah Wood) is troubled, to say the least. The first time we’re introduced to him, he is stalking a girl home from a nightclub, cuts the power of the apartment building where she lives, allowing him to come up behind her and kill her. Hard to believe that a guy like this could have a normal day job, but he does! Although, I use the term “normal day job” loosely. Frank is following in his family’s footsteps by acquiring and refurbishing antique mannequins, and these mannequins catch the eye of an artist from France named Anna (Nora Arnezeder). They strike up a friendship together because Anna uses mannequins in a lot of her photos, and Frank, well, has a shit ton of mannequins. Frank doesn’t WANT to kill all of the women he’s killing, but we see that he has had some childhood trauma related to his mother, violence, and sex, so Frank has a hard time separating every thing. As his relationship with Anna intensifies, so does his desire to kill women, scalp them, and attach their hair to mannequins. Will Frank be able to put a hold on his murderous instincts long enough to win over Anna? I think anyone who has seen the original knows what the answer to that question is, and if you haven’t seen the original, stop what you’re doing right now and go watch it.
Hey Frank, don’t quit your day job of styling mannequin hair! Ha ha ha ha!
The two factors that make the original film what it is are the setting of late 70’s New York City and the madman that is Joe Spinell, which are two things that were impossible for this film to recreate. Instead, we have contemporary Los Angeles and Elijah wood. The director, Franck Khalfoun, did his best to make L.A. look as sleazy, grimey, and dangerous as New York was through a segment reminiscent of the opening of Drive, heavy on synthesizer and random shots of the city and its residents, but he had his work cut out for him. Although I haven’t spent much time in L.A., it didn’t seem quite as feasible that a woman could run around screaming for help in a parking lot without a single person noticing. Also, can anyone tell me what the subway system is like late at night in L.A.? I just had a hard time believing a woman could be running around at any subway station screaming for help and that there’d be absolutely NO ONE around to help her. In late 70’s New York City, I could see that happening, but not really in this day and age. That other part, about having Elijah Wood instead of Joe Spinell, had its pros and its cons. On the one hand, Elijah Wood is far less menacing and far less intimidating than Joe Spinell, so the possibility of women interacting with him and not immediately running away was a lot more feasible, but on the other hand, Elijah Wood is no maniac the way Joe Spinell is a maniac. He was fat, ugly, and terrifying. I can’t really compare their performances, because Elijah Wood did a decent job, but the character in this version felt different from the character in the original. Spinell seemed to play Frank in more black and white way, clearly defining when he was acting psychotic and when he was able to compose himself, whereas Wood played the character in varying shades of grey, with his insanity rising and falling in just one scene. Although Wood did have a disgustache and a receding hairline, he wasn’t as an imposing of figure as Spinell was.
I’M SURROUNDED BY WHITE CHICKS.
Since we’ve got those comparisons out of the way, how does this version of Maniac stand on its own? Pretty well, actually. Something I haven’t mentioned is the fact that 90% of the film is shot through the point of view of Frank, with only a few location establishing shots here and there. This might be one of the reasons that I can’t say Elijah Wood had some mind-blowing performance, because in reality, he was probably on screen for less than ten minutes, and most of the movie you are just hearing his voice. Other than the random sequences here and there in other movies, I can’t think of any other films that had THIS much P.O.V. footage without the fitting into the context of a found footage movie. This eliminated the element of jump scares, because you are seeing things AS the villain, and it also allowed more freedom to explore the hallucinations and psychosis that the main character was going through. Compared to what the original film accomplished, this version wasn’t quite able to pull off the same things, but compared to most contemporary serial killer or slasher movies, it was shot in a more interesting way and had some pretty gnarly special effects. I’d say it’s definitely worth checking out if just for the opening sequence alone.
Wolfman Moon Scale