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Directed by Franck Khalfoun
Starring Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Jan Broberg
Originally Released: May 26, 2012
In 1980, a little horror film following the slasher-motif was broadly panned by critics – but it was the horror fans who saw the true value of the original Maniac! The short-sightedness of the critics was discounted as the movie developed a strong cult following among horror fans, and while it was no box office success, it served as an extremely important part in horror history, with groundbreaking effects work from Tom Savini, and a psychological depth in the script by initial Maniac, Joe Spinell.
32 years later, and we have a new Maniac on the scene in the form of Elijah Wood in a performance that shatters his previous “nice boy Frodo” image and reputation. A remake in structure, but tribute at heart, Maniac follows the tale of a tormented young man named Frank, indulging in serial killing activities.
As we journey through the story, the tale is shown in the first-person observation, immersing us in the psychological torment of the main character – and see that it is only through killing that Frank begins to feel free from the mental and emotional scars bestowed by his dead mother.
A young French photographer named Anna (Nora Arnezeder) who takes artistic pictures of mannequins, crosses paths with Frank, who has inherited his mother’s mannequin store. Sensing a connection, the two collaborate on an artistic project – which Frank continues to moonlight as a violent murderer, scalping his victims, and placing the trophies on the heads of his personal mannequins.
While Frank begins to feel outside his tormented body with Anna, he feels the same during his murders – however what would happen if his new world with Anna begins to fall apart?
While Elijah Wood’s performance in Maniac is stellar (more on that later), the true star of this remake is the first-person approach. It is not done just because the filmmakers could do it – we’ve seen that go awry in many films.
In Maniac, however, the first-person perspective is a psychological submersion – craftily shot – with the only transitions to third-person being when Frank feels “outside of himself”: when he murders, or when he remembers his moments with Anna. It is key to the plot, it is key to the psychology, and deeply embeds itself into the subtexts and symbolism.
Wood plays the Maniac excessively well, and disturbingly so. His well-meaning mannerisms from previous films are still present, deeply rooted in the psyche of Frank; but adding much unnerving concern to the overall character. It’s disturbing to its core. Despite his smaller frame than the first Maniac, Wood pulls off the violent attacks convincingly. He is as much the Maniac in 2013 as what Spinell was in 1980.
But while the cinematography is good and Elijah Wood is excellent, the other performances are not as fair. Some of the characters are extremely unconvincing, with terrible delivery. Arnezeder is satisfactory as Anna, with a good on-screen rapport with Wood; though this connection feels weaker than the one between the same characters in the original.
From a horror fan perspective, the frights and the gore are of a good standard – which is precisely the problem: the original Maniac was groundbreaking with his bloody effects and scares, a movie responsible for putting Tom Savini on the map as the master of gore. In the new movie, there is less innovation than the original – and while it is on par with contemporary horror, it doesn’t step up to the benchmarking role that the first Maniac had.
The soundtrack and score is also worth mentioning, as while some reviewers have pointed out that its synthpop tickles of some inspiration from Drive – though fans will recognize many of the themes and styles reminiscent of the original Maniac. While I’m sure the modern influences are undeniable, there is clear influence from the first movie.
While some may not be able to handle it, the new Maniac works well as a stand-alone piece, with its winning glory being the fine balance between first-person and third-person. It is a far deeper movie, emotionally and metaphorically, than the original – with much more of Frank’s internal turmoil, and his history with his mother, explored.
Horror fans will most definitely aspire to check it out – general film viewers, add it to your queue to check out some time soon.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5