Thursday, May 2, 2013

Maniac (2012): A New Take On An Old Classic

 Review by Marie Robinson

You are probably (hopefully) familiar with the 1980 slasher Maniac; however, you might not know that a remake was released last year. As far as I know it has only been shown at film festivals so far but looks like it is receiving a limited release in the States in June.

Usually I try and go into remakes with an open mind and not compare the film with its original too much. Because, after all, it is a separate movie and deserves at least a chance to be treated as such. Remakes can be pointless and annoying when they are just a total carbon copy of the original (Gus van Sant’s Psycho), or are just fucking bad (2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street). Taking a completely different spin on the original concept and recreating a film can go a lot of different ways. In my opinion, this year’s Evil Dead was a bold move, a new vision, and it turned out great.

 The 2012 Maniac was directed by Frank Khalfoun and written by Alexandre Aja, who we can now consider to be quite a name in the horror industry. He is not unfamiliar with writing remakes, as he penned 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes, but has also given us some original pieces such as High Tension and Mirrors.
The movie is quite the reinvention of the original; almost every aspect is different. Different doesn’t mean bad! But it is different. First of all, the iconic poster for the 1980 version is the lower half of a hulking man, a severed scalp in one hand, a hunting knife in the other, and an engorged mass of genitalia between. The new posters remind me a bit of Drive. One is of a stern pair of eyes gazing back from a rear view mirror reflection; the other, that I have chosen because I like it better, kind of has an Inferno feel to it with the pink and blue color scheme.

The main character, Frank, is played by Elijah Wood. My initial reaction to this was, “Uhhhh, what?” Mostly because the original Frank is a massive, less-than-attractive Italian-American dude (played by Joe Spinell) and Elijah Wood is a scrawny, decently attractive Caucasian guy. However, we know that Wood is a good actor, and that he can bring on the creepy intensity (who can forget his performance in Sin City?). He is also a self-stated horror and genre fan; he and horror director Josh C. Waller created a film production company called The Woodshed Horror Company. They already have at least six films signed! There isn’t much info about most of them because they are in pre-production, but a couple you can look into are Toad Road and A Girl Walks Home at Night.

In the new film, Frank is a lonely and very disturbed man who runs a shop were he restores manikins. He also has a haunting obsession with his deceased mother—who is ultimately responsible for his mental instabilities—and deals with this by stalking young women, murdering them, and taking their scalps back to his shop where he glues them onto his manikins and pretends they are his girlfriends. He believes he has found love in a French photographer who shares his passion of manikins, but will his obsession get the best of him? Will mother get in the way again? Can he suppress the urge to take a beautiful woman’s life?

If you have seen the original you probably know the answer to that already, but I’d say Maniac is still worth the watch. It is very strange, and the subjective camera style (similar to the 1980 film) may take a minute to get used to, but it is very cleverly shot. Writer Aja really tries to make the film a study of an unsound mind, much as he did with High Tension. He is known to have graphic gore abound in his scripts, but director Khalfoun does it elegantly and sees that it does not take away from the story.

Wood gives a great performance as Frank, especially once you consider that he is only on screen half the time and is acting mostly through dialogue and grunts, screams, and cries. I did yearn for more shots of his famously expressive eyes, but he can give a strong performance without them.

(Emblem for The Woodshed Horror Company)
I’m still not sure how I felt about this film; I’ll have to sit on my feelings for a while longer. It is bizarre, understated, and in my opinion pretty damn unique. I think I am having more fun reflecting on it than I did actually watching it! Weird, I know, but that is exactly what Maniac is. I really think you guys should check it out when you get a chance and let me know what YOU think! Until then, hold on to your scalps!

Oh, and I will be writing up more on The Woodshed Horror Company as I hear about it, so keep an eye peeled if you are interested in that.


Chaybee1 said...

Just an FYI - Maniac hits VOD June 21st. Can't wait!

Marie said...

Awesome!! Thanks for letting us know!!

Hey! Look Behind You! said...

I'm looking forward to checking this out!

James Gracey said...

I've been looking forward to this since I first read that it was shot entirely from the main character's POV. Sounds fascinating. I can't help but think of Laura Mulvey's notion of 'the gaze' in horror. She said that it works to make audiences identify with a male perspective - usually the male killer. I know slasher films have used POV since the get-go, but to see a whole film shot in this way could be quite powerful. Let's wait and see. Great review.

knobgobbler said...

Sounds promising.
The original was effectively bleak and I'd hope some of that nihilism is maintained in this new one.
I expect the romance angle to be a bit more plausible with Mr. Wood than it was with Mr. Spinell.

Voje Bukacuda said...

If you compare their voices in the collinson twins when they are talking to each other to the earlier film Come Back Peter the voices are similar- maybe they had voice lessons- but there is still the trace of a very attractive accent.By the way has anyone seen another film they were in called I Am A Groupie?