Franck Khalfoun

Martyn Conterio

Franck Khalfoun joined forces with acclaimed horror filmmaker Alexandre Aja and Middle-earth’s Frodo (Elijah Wood) to direct a startlingly good remake of Maniac, based on the 1980 psycho horror, remembered mostly for the gore effects designed by Tom Savini as well as Joe Spinell’s bug-eyed performance.

We spoke with Khalfoun about taking on the job and why, oddly, he doesn’t like remakes much.

GFW: Are you a fan of the current fad for remaking 1980s horror classics?
Khalfoun: No.

Why make one, then?
I think a lot of them are an excuse to use a brand and a lot of the time they don’t focus on character and one of the things about my Maniac is that it does.

How did you get involved?
I was approached by Thomas Langmann the producer and Alex Aja. I remember the movie from my youth on television and remember very clearly Joe Spinell. It was fascinating how I could feel empathy for this character. I’d seen many other remakes and there wasn’t much there.

I think your film is superior to the original.
Thanks. I tried to make it as different as I could.

What do you remember specifically about Bill Lustig’s movie?
I remembered it was a very seedy film. I was a fan of Lustig and liked what he had done for the genre – and the movie – the things I remembered were character-based, and the gore.

The major difference between your Maniac and Lustig’s is the use of point-of-view camerawork? Why did you go down this aesthetic route?
It’s a continuation of what we’ve been talking about [regarding remakes] and trying to tell a new story. I told Alex Aja I’d be willing to take control of the movie if we could come up with a creative way of doing it – something fresh. We watched a bunch of movies and came up with the idea. Watching horror movies, some of the scariest moments are POV shots – the killer stalking. There haven’t been many films done in POV, only a few. Also, it was sort of timely … all those found-footage films out there and all those first-person shooter video games. The audience would accept it more.

Yet there are key moments where you break away, often when Frank has just killed a victim. Why did you suddenly break the illusion?
There’ a couple of reasons. Here I am trying to make a movie … primarily, I had to figure out a way to see the character and you want to empathise with him and connect the audience to the character. It was a real challenge. I started researching and I found that real-life serial killers talked about out of body experiences right after they’ve killed – like orgasmic.

I totally get that, though I’m no serial killer, obviously.
I thought it was a clever way of seeing Frank from the outside and offer that symbolic perspective. We had trick shots and mirrors, etc. because it was important to see the character, but justify it from a creative angle.

How did Elijah Wood get involved?
Elijah is a big fan of horror films and at first I was taken aback. I can imagine a man like Joe Spinell in the film, so you think of somebody of that stature. I never believed the love story in the original movie, but Elijah gave me a charming character that doesn’t look so abrasive and alarming.

Was he worried that Maniac might be read as misogynist?
I don’t think Elijah saw the character as a misogynist or the film as being so, more that Frank is a lost soul trying to find love and redemption. Killing and suffering … at no point did he or I feel that the movie was glorifying or condoning the violence that goes on.

Maniac is supremely gory, were you ever worried about going too far? I’ve seen the film a couple of times and there have been walkouts.
I don’t think they’re as graphic as the original, or [compared to] a lot of stuff that’s out there … it seems more graphic and visceral because we are active participants in the murders because we’re trapped in Frank’s POV. There’s a visceral connection and maybe they seem more graphic than they are. I also didn’t want the film to be cartoonish: I wanted it to hurt.

I get that.
At no point in the movie are you rejoicing in the fact he’s killing women. So, if I’d have gone over the top with the gore, you would have laughed and lost the emotional resonance.

Another element of Maniac, that many have commented on and praised, is the electro musical score. It lends the film a stylish elegance a world away from classical horror scores.
It sounds like the 1980s, doesn’t it? It’s a homage to that, and Rob did a tremendous job. Also the fact that this character is maybe stuck in the past as a child and it’s the music that was around when he was a child, so it’s a clever link and creates the emotion.

'Maniac' is released in UK cinemas on 15 March.

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