REMAKE!!! Having read that word you are probably doing one of two things. Some will merely shrug their shoulders and get on with their day. Other, angrier nerds will have already built themselves into an apoplectic rage, before dropping to their knees, reaching skywards and letting out a soul shattering cry of pure anguish. Of all the remakes that have been greenlit in recent years, the mere notion of the Maniac remake has received the most vitriolic hatred online, despite the pedigree of producer Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha, two remakes Aja directed that, in my opinion, outstrip the originals).
The story sees Frank, the lonely and utterly insane owner of a mannequin store, stalking and scalping young women by night. When beautiful young photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder) takes an interest in Frank’s mannequins, and then Frank himself, he develops an all consuming and dangerous infatuation with her.
The main bones of contention regarding Maniac were as follows. It could never recreate the sleazy, nasty atmosphere and tone of William Lustig’s original. The violence would be toned down to get a teen friendly rating. Elijah Wood could never match up to Joe Spinell’s performance. It would bring nothing new to the table.
Happily, those (understandable) concerns were needless, Maniac 2012 succeeds on every possible level. It is an ultra sleazy, queasily violent, brilliantly performed and very adult horror flick, the likes of which have been sorely missed of late. The cinematography, locations and soundtrack combine to great effect in creating that sleazy atmosphere the original film is so often hailed for. The violence is squirm inducing, all up close and painfully, horribly graphic. This frequent, disturbing bloodletting is made all the more unpleasant by Franck Khalfoun’s inspired decision to film the entire movie from Frank’s own perspective through POV shots (think the Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ video made feature length, or a particularly upsetting episode of ‘Peep Show’). This lends a truly horrifying and disgusting intimacy to the murder scenes that is impossible to shake off, it’s one of the movie’s two masterstrokes. The other ace in the hole is Elijah Wood’s performance as Frank. Many a hilarious internet wag had moaned about the ertswhile Frodo Baggins taking over from the incredible Joe Spinell. Being a fan of Wood’s, and someone who rates him as a versatile actor, I was sure he’d be excellent (it helps if you’ve seen him play a mute, kung fu cannibal in Sin City). Despite his face rarely appearing onscreen except for reflections and CCTV footage, Wood is phenomenal in the role. His presence is incredibly strong throughout, the voice performance and choice of movement drawing an indelible image of an otherwise unseen character. In some ways Wood is more suited to the role than Spinell, his largely innocent appearance rendering him more believable as a brutal killer who might go unnoticed and rouse little suspicion in those around him.
As for any negative points, there is perhaps only one. A classic, fan favourite scene from Lustig’s film has no equivalent here, which is a crying shame, I would have loved to have seen a modern spin on it (provided it was CGI free). It would in fact have fit perfectly into the movie’s dying seconds as a pitch black punchline to what has turned out, against the odds, to be a superb slice of extreme and, most importantly, ADULT horror cinema.
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Stars: Elijah Wood, Liane Balaban, America Olivo
Runtime: 93 min