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Maniac (2012)

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Maniac (2012)Starring Elijah Wood, Liane Balaban, Nora Arnezeder

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

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror

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Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White

Directed by James S. Brown

We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.

Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.

Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.

As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.

With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.

8 out of 10.

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Coulrophobia Review – One of the Most Entertaining Killer Clown Films in Quite Some Time

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Starring Pete Bennett, Warren Speed, Daniella D’Ville, Roxy Bordeaux

Directed by Warren Speed


The word ‘Coulrophobia’ refers to the fear of clowns, and if you happen to suffer from it, you might want to avoid director Warren Speed’s film of the same name. However, if you can stand the sight of clowns with gaping wounds in their manly parts, then you’re in for one heck of a fun time.

An all-female hockey team get lost deep in the Scottish woods on their way to a match (don’t ask), and are captured and forced to participate in a series of horrific games by the Grock family of clowns. All of the members of said family are absolutely fucking insane, but the one that really stood out was Twitch (Pete Bennett), who wears jester cloths and it said to have a short attention span. He longs to be a violin player and wishes he could blend in with normal society like the other members of his family. And you almost feel sorry for him, even though he’s a mad killer with bells on his head.

Director Warren Speed also appeared as Milo, a grunting mute who had his tongue cut out when he was a boy. As mentioned above, we see a close-up shot of a open wound in his penis being stitched up, which is not an image that will be leaving your mind anytime soon. Speed is clearly fearless when it comes to his art.

Inter-spliced with all the torture and mayhem, we also see documentary-style telling the sad history of the family involved, and this was where the film unfortunately faltered, because these scenes seemed out of place and just didn’t flow with the rest of the plot.

Ultimately, however, Coulrophobia almost seems like a film Rob Zombie might have made before he lost his way and started churning out trash like 31. Comparisons to House of 1000 Corpses are inevitable, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. This is one of the most entertaining killer clown films in quite some time.

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User Rating 2.88 (16 votes)
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The Gatehouse Review – What Is Found in the Woods Should Be Left in the Woods

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Starring Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft

Directed by Martin Gooch


Now while no one will sneeze at the prospect of bringing up a bit of a rebellious child alone, it’s those damned kids that like to tempt fate by pissing off creatures in the woods…oh kids, they do the funniest things, don’t they?

In Martin Gooch’s moderately spooky presentation, The Gatehouse, a struggling writer named Jack (Willis) finds himself behind the 8-ball following the tragic drowning death of his beloved wife, and if that isn’t enough to torque your drawers, his young daughter, Eternity (Rayner) is becoming quite the salty soul herself. Unfortunately the little one has been finding herself bullied at school, and her recourse of sorts is to simply toss attitude around as if it was pleasantly acceptable. Her pastime has become lonely wanderings in the deep woods, digging for hopeful treasures…and we all know what problems reside in the woods, don’t we, horror fans? Well, Eternity’s father is attempting to re-start his writing career with a frightening backstory – taking the reigns on a novel that was abruptly ended when the author committed suicide, and supposedly the tome is quite the dark piece of literature.

Eternity’s never-ending quest for fortune and glory in the forest leads her to a most interesting (and ultimately) dangerous discovery (don’t sweat it – I won’t spill it for you). Bottom line here is this: the little girl has taken possession of something that should have been left in the friggin’ woods, and now someone (or something) wants it back PRONTO. What follows is a lackluster series of “spooky” events, and far be it from me to say, I’ve seen creepier stuff watching the evening news. Gooch then tries to bombard the audience with a plethora of instances and swerving plot direction – it’s fun at the beginning but can grow a bit tiresome over a duration.

Performance-wise, both Rayner and Willis play the perfect combination of mentally-shot dad and determined-to-be-independent daughter – their scenes are ripe with subtle contempt, and the right amount of indecision. Overall, the film is best suited for those fans of fantasy/fable-like horror, and while it might not scare the pants off of you, it definitely will give us all another reason to stay the hell out of the woods once and for all.

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Summary

Children in a forest-setting don’t always add up to cutesy-pie encounters with furry creatures – this one’s got a few scares to keep fans of coppice-horror appeased.

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User Rating 3.56 (18 votes)
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