Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac is that rarest of cinematic offerings – a superior movie to the one upon which it’s directly based. Horror rehashes are often bemoaned by fans as soulless cash-ins on the classics of yesteryear. It doesn’t help, either, that Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes outfit has set out, in recent times, to plunder the cherished memories of iconic figures such as Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees and Leatherface in a series of abysmal and disastrous remakes.
This remake, thankfully, is different. William Lustig’s grotty original isn’t as well known outside of horrordom as those febrile favourites beloved, especially, throughout their 1980s slayday. If Maniac (1980) is remembered at all, it’s for a deliciously gory shotgun death devised by makeup and effects legend Tom Savini, and a rather lurid poster.
Frank (Elijah Wood) is the owner of a retro mannequin store in downtown L.A. and a bit of a sad-sack loner type. He’s also a serial killer with classic ‘Mommy’ issues. Maniac is conceptually very strong and presents a nocturnal odyssey of dark desires that is as smart in aesthetic design as it is savage in content.
Elijah Wood as Frank.
Wood portrays the character from a surprisingly sympathetic angle that works well because he’s a better-looking fella than overweight, boggle-eyed Joe Spinell ever was. Indeed, it feels spiritually akin to Hitchcock’s Psycho, where Norman Bates, at first, comes across as a shy, likeable guy. This tactic infuses the material with a sense of doom because the audience is given a privileged position regarding Frank’s true nature and how carefully he hides it. Like an abandoned dog realising his owner isn’t coming back – ever – an intense dissatisfaction dwells then rises within the poor man that boasts horrid consequences for ladies to whom he takes a liking.
A major triumph is Maxime Alexandre’s high-definition, anamorphic photography. L.A., here, is an expressionist world of neon lights and twinkling, abstract cityscapes. Desolate subway systems, empty parking lots and deserted streets present a world far different from the relative safety of daylight hours. One can almost smell the locales and it isn’t a particularly welcome selection of fragrances.
With a memorable electro score, a script co-written by Alexandre Aja, outrageously provocative set-pieces and an excellent central performance from Wood, the film delivers the goods as a neo-slasher. Maniac is a keeper.
Follow Martyn on Twitter: @Martyn_Conterio