Tearing through the crowd like a chainsaw at its FrightFest screening last year, the rest of us horror fans have had to wait until now for the release of Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac remake. But believe me, it was well worth the wait.
Brutal and brilliant, this is a simply stunning slasher movie which elevates the original 1980’s movie (directed by Maniac Cop creator William Lustig) both visually and structurally by truly getting inside the central psycho killer character’s head, quite literally, by showing the whole film from his point of view.
To many this may sound like a gimmick, and in many ways it is. However it is a brilliant gimmick which Khalfoun takes to a whole other level. For slasher fans the use of the killer’s point of view in a first person shot is a classic trope seen all though the genre, as far back as Powell’s Peeping Tom and Hitchcock’s Psycho, both from 1960.
Like those films, Maniac is more interested in the character of the killer rather than his victims, and Frank Zito played sublimely by Elijah Wood is a fascinating sadistic specimen.
The owner of a mannequin shop which he inherited from his less than maternal mother, Frank spends his days restoring dolls and his nights killing women. Mentally unhinged, he fights his urges, desperate to prevent himself from killing, yet he’s seemingly powerless to do so.
However, salvation appears one day in the form of Anna (Nora Arnezeder), an artist interested in his strange collection. But Frank’s dark side is never far away and as his internal battle rages on. Only time will tell if anyone will survive.
Opening with a stalk and slash scene seen in so many slashers before, the film plunges us into Frank’s world of death and chaos, a world both starkly realistic and disturbingly violent. Watching the story unfold through Frank’s eyes with his voice in our ears, seeing him as we see ourselves in reflections, it makes it hard to not to feel both a connection with the odious and unhinged character, but also sympathy for him. Khalfoun toys with the POV showing us Frank’s nightmarish hallucinations and his flashbacks to his abusive past which further move us to understand this maniac.
This is strenghtened by the inspired casting of Elijah Wood, who gives a masterful performance, embodying the little boy lost in an obsessive Oedipal complex, both in his look and his characterisation which manages to tred a razor sharp line with the audiences emotions – taking them between compassion and revulsion throughout the film.
By showing the whole thing from Frank’s extremely subjective perspective we are allowed to vicariously live his life and voyeuristically experience his evil, safe in the knowledge that we are unable to alter his awful actions in any way (except by closing our eyes and why would we want to do that?)
In this way Khalfoun makes the film as much about voyeurism as it is about Frank, but this is just one of the many layers at work in this revolutionary remake.
Penned by Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur, the pair behind P2, The Hills Have Eyes, the Mirrors remake and Switchblade Romance the movie is in many ways an homage to the slasher genre itself, especially the heyday of serial killer horror in the 70’s and 80’s.
From the look of the movie, to its ultra gore and violence, to the truly excellent electro soundtrack by Rob (which evokes Carpenter and Fabio Frizz at their best) the film deliberately relishes not only the original film its formed from but its horror heritage much as Hobo with a Shotgun did.
Inspiring images of Grindhouse cult classics such as Lucio Fulci The New York Ripper or Mario Bava’s Hatchet for a Honeymoon as well as early Argento Giallos, the film embraces its origins making something much more from them and therefore putting it far above other horror remakes which either ignore their past or reject it entirely.
Maniac is as much a deep and meaningful visual essay on voyeurism as is it is a blood soaked ode to the slasher genre. It’s as much a chaotic, character driven, excellently acted exploration of a serial killer as it is a highly original and imaginative remake. And for these reasons it is also one of the best horror films so far this year.
Check out our interview with Elijah Wood right Here.