Directed by Franck Khalfoun
Frank (Wood) is one very deranged individual. Scarred by childhood experiences of his promiscuous mother and plagued by debilitating migraines, he is also regularly overwhelmed by a compulsion to stalk, kill, and scalp beautiful women. A mannequin restorer by trade, Frank uses these newly liberated scalps to adorn his props, who in his twisted psyche then become his permanent companions – female partners who will never leave or abuse him.
All of this has the potential to change, however, with the arrival of Anna (Arnezeder), a French artist who wishes to use some of Frank’s impressive mannequins as part of her latest installation. As the two get to know each other, it seems that a potentially real relationship may be brewing for Frank – but is redemption actually a possibility for someone so deeply disturbed? If you’ve seen the original Maniac, then you already know the answer to that.
So yes, of course – this is a remake of William Lustig’s original 1980 cult splatter-fest, but you can officially put the knives away: Khalfoun’s Maniac is as perfect a remake as Lustig’s creation could ever hope to receive.
The major change here is quite a technical revelation: Maniac is shot almost entirely from Frank’s visual point of view, with Wood for the most part seen only in reflections. The audience is privy to every action, every movement, and every thought as Frank battles with his demons and vision-altering migraines and, of course, stalks and murders his victims. It’s a deeply disturbing and horrifying presentation of the mind of a madman and one that will no doubt cause many a censorship issue when seeking certification due to the (albeit unwilling) demand that the audience become complicit in Frank’s activities. At one stage Khalfoun wisely breaks the camera away from the first-person perspective as Frank’s knife is buried in the back of one soon-to-be-scalpless lady and slowly swings us around to view the full external horror of what we’ve been dragged into.
And it is horrific, indeed. Frank’s butchery of his victims is brutal, painful, and visceral with some superb gore effects and a climactic scene involving a car that will no doubt be rewound and watched again and again by many viewers in order to appreciate its technical perfection and daring. No, the filmmakers thankfully do not attempt to recreate the legendary shotgun-to-the-face scene, but the mannequin mutilation ending is here in an all-new, astoundingly grotesque glory.
Special mention must certainly go to lead Elijah Wood, whose slight physique and handsome looks are a far cry from the original’s dumpy, greasy Joe Spinell. He throws himself absolutely into the role, ensuring that there is nothing over-the-top, nothing particularly theatrical, and absolutely nothing funny about Frank. It’s a frighteningly real performance, and every time he shows up in a mirror, you can’t help but know that you’re looking at one seriously fucked up individual. Simply put, in Maniac Elijah Wood is incredible.
Everything just falls into place here, from the performances to the sleaze-filled streets at night and the phenomenal, pulsing electronic soundtrack. Maniac is a film that will challenge you, shock you, and disturb and repel you. It not only respects the original (featuring a few appreciative nods, including a visual recreation of the original’s poster in reflection) but may easily stand head-and-shoulders alongside it. Everyone involved here can pat themselves firmly on the back – this isn’t only one of the best horror remakes ever produced (taking easy position next to the likes of The Fly, The Thing, and The Blob) but a masterpiece of technical wizardry and a deserving horror classic in its own right.
Destined to be a severe cinematic agitator, it’s going to be an interesting time while this one tries to bypass the various censorship boards intact. Whatever the result, uncut will most certainly be the way to go.
5 out of 5