Remakes suck. We all know it. Every time we hear another studio has pounced on another original property to be remade, we groan and roll our eyes and move on with our lives. It’s become a way of life now.
But remakes can be good! Few and far between, to be sure, but movies like Carpenter’s The Thing and Cronenberg’s The Fly are two of my favorites. You’ll notice they’re both horror, and that might be the key; horror tales are usually universal and timeless, and this helps the cause when stories are being looked at with fresh eyes. If the right ingredients come together, even the most lackluster properties can be revived.
Franck Khalhoun’s updated Maniac, based on the William Lustig version of the same name, is one of the best horror movies of the year, and the best one I’ve seen in a really long time.
The original was filmed in 1980 on a nothing budget. It was notable for having extensive Tom Savini gore, back when he was just turning into the king of splatter (right after Friday the 13th), and for the main performance turned in by Joe Spinelli. It was a minor picture, one that has a cult following nowadays but nothing else to show for it existing… except becoming the story for THIS film, which I think might turn into something a little bigger than Lustig’s effort.
The 2012 version of Maniac stars Elijah Wood as Frank Zito, a mannequin restorer living in LA who also moonlights as a serial killer that scalps his female victims and puts them on the heads of his mannequins and talks to them like real people. He tries to meet girls, but his homicidal tendencies and crazy mommy issues take over, until he meets Anna, the one first with whom he feels a genuine connection. However, things don’t work out, and with Frank around, you should probably watch your head…
(Just a liiittle off the top… hold still…)
Not the most pleasant story synopsis ever, and TURN BACK NOW if any of that made you queasy, because the filmmakers do us one better by filming the entire movie through Frank’s point of view. We see what he sees. This ups the ante tenfold – stalker sequences in first person were made famous by classic horrors like Halloween. Putting an entire film in the mind of as sick a person as Wood’s Frank is incredibly ballsy. Cinema is inherently subjective; you go into a theatre and you are putting yourself at the whim of its maker. But jeez oh man, this is taking it to the next level.
Elijah Wood can play a sick bastard. I mean a really sick bastard, and you’re in his head the entire time. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like this movie. The shots of him/us watching women, not looking away when they stare directly at him/us, are chilling. The stalk sequences are unparalleled – think of the opening shot of Halloween and multiply it, and up the grue at the end result.
Frank is also, and obviously, very mentally unstable and some of his thoughts and fantasies meld with real life. This is the best part of the movie for me, leaving no doubt this is a completely subjective first person experience. The camerawork involved in a shoot like this needs to be top notch, and it is. The acting is all very good, and I can’t say enough about Elijah Wood – we’ve never seen Frodo Baggins like this before, unhinged and completely insane. The practical effects are awesome too. Alexandre Aja, the brain behind recent horror classic High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes remake, co-wrote and produced it, so you can guarantee you won’t seen any CGI gore here. Everything is practical and wet and messy and horrid.
(Even before the wedding, Frank got the silent treatment)
Altogether, this is one of the more disturbing films I’ve ever seen. Everything works together to create an experience unlike any other.
For your nerves. Seriously.
Filmed in a way that sets it heads and tails above any other horror movie out there and with an awesome, against type performance by Elijah Wood, this is one that horror fans should seek out and experience right away.
Solid two beers.
Drinking Game (you’re gonna need it…)
Take a Sip: whenever Frank gets an awkward stare
Take a Sip: whenever someone gets a little more than a haircut
Take a Sip: whenever Frank has a hallucination/vision/crazy thing happen
If you wanna get drunk…
Do a Shot: whenever you actually see our…protagonist(?)