Directed by Franck Khalfoun
It's been a few weeks since I saw this flick at Film Society at Lincoln Center. I had seen American Mary the night before and though I was feeling horror-ized after seeing that I got the itch to see this flick because...well shit it's a remake of one of the most fucked up films ever.
As I passed by on my way to the theater a surreal setting of men dressed in tuxedos and women in an evening gown competition because, shit we were next to the ballet for gods sake, a bunch of degenerate and hardcore horror fans (which included Fred Vogel, director of the August Underground trilogy and various Toe Tag Pictures who I briefly talked while waiting on line) went to see the Maniac remake. I also knew director Franck Khalfoun would be on hand to do a Q & A and Maniac was making it's NYC premiere, it was all horror gravy.
It's hard to not compare Maniac to it's 1980 original. Lustig, Spinell and Savini effects takes you back to grimy fucked up times. All I kept thinking about while watching was comparing. But I'm going to try my hardest not to do that in my review.
Maniac is a far departure of the normal horror movies in the indie circuit. It's a brutal and relentless 90 minute first person point of view of a slasher doing slasher things. With it's POV gimmick, it clearly forces you to LOOK directly at the horrific kills without a cutaway. It's this forced perspective that during the course of the movie makes you in every way live the life of Frank, our intrepid killer. The horror he creates is far from playing a Call of Duty game. It's realistically sickening and oddly sympathetic as Elijah Wood's performance transcends the Joe Spinnell one in an American Psycho sorta way.
Once you get over the fact it's a remake that follows the originals story, the POV hitch, and that it takes place in Los Angeles (say what?) it is a unique piece of horror cinema. I was shocked by how it made me care about this misogynistic motherfucker, his past and his longing for companionship. From it's shocking opening to it's WTF ending, you can't ignore Maniac's rawness of bring a serial killer movie into a whole new level.
Just when the streets seemed safe, a serial killer with a fetish for scalps is back and on the hunt. Frank is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna appears asking for his help with her new exhibition. As their friendship develops and Frank's obsession escalates, it becomes clear that she has unleashed a long-repressed compulsion to stalk and kill. (via IMDB)
Khalfoun (who directed P2) said during his Q&A that horror (or genre) movies are bankable because they cross cultures. Horror movies can go beyond language barriers because fear is universal. The fact that Maniac was screened at the Cannes Film Festival is a testament to that.
Frank (Elijah Wood) suffers from migraines but that doesn't stop him from stalking his victims. His obsession is unique to us because we see his predator habits first hand via the 1st person POV. We see him drive, we hear him curse and narrate and taunt. The night is not safe with Frank and we're now stuck seeing what he sees.
The opening scene is legendary perfect. Slow stalking, a few tense moments and a dumb hot girl to slaughter. When the title gets shown, it's mind blowing and fuckin awesome. The movie soon delves into Frank's online habits, meeting up with 80s obsessed red head Lucie (Megan Duffy). She's easy prey and as a record plays, it's highly recognizable in the throwback scene we get. What is different in this Maniac is seeing the aftermath of the slaughter. A regretful Frank is nauseously guilty and we see his regret in the toilet. Through mirrors, we glance at the face of our slasher assassin and also of Elijah Wood, who's boyish scruffy look, cords and plaid are a far cry of Spinnel's porn star stache.
We get through flashbacks a sense of Frank's childhood as his super slut mom (America Olivo) sleeps with anything that has anything pointy. His closet becomes his prison as young Frank learns an anti-morality. In other words, his childhood is fucked up.
In one of the more effective kills and an homage to the original, Frank trails a dancer through the streets of LA. From a train pursuit to the moonlit streets, it seems Frank is way smarter than we know stalking his prey and disposing of her in a most horrific fashion. Khlafoun employs some odd techniques besides straight POV. We get out of body Frank as we see slaughter as the camera hovers above the action. There is a borderline psychosis in POVs but it works if you buy into it.
As the movie progresses and a few slaughters later he meets Anna (Nora Arnezeder),a photographer who is intrigued by Frank's mannequin shop. They soon develop a friendship and Frank struggles for normalcy in a relationship with Anna. This leads to an art exhibit of Anna's photos with Frank's mannequins. But Frank can't break old habits and when Frank consoles a heartbroken Anna, a slip of the tongue leads to a most fucked up conclusion.
What Maniac does well is make Frank a believable serial killer. He's an artist who could be in the throws of a psychosis. Frank suffers from headaches, taking pills to relieve them. My theory is that Frank's headaches are there to take him back to saneness, but he takes the pills to be the evil bastard he is. But it's just a theory.
Wood plays Frank in a way where you think he's misunderstood, fucked up from childhood and is victim of his eccentric behavior. Being a killer is the result. It's almost revenge like killing. Kill the sluts, the princesses and the people who annoy you. It's not until he goes after Anna who we get to know and like, do we despise his actions and want him to get his comeuppance.
Maniac force feeds you to see Frank's psychosis in all it's mannequin glory. The trophies (scalps) he gets from his victims are decorated on his mannequins.It's this fantasy world that Frank adores above all else, these mannequin women find no faults, his ideals are personified (literally).
The blood does splatter everywhere and it is unrelenting. The effects are top notch and coming through the killer's eyes is like seeing that Carpenter Halloween child Michael perspective in a whole new way. The ending is a WTF to all your senses.
What the remake doesn't have is the character of it's setting. Though unnamed, it's LA and LA just doesn't have the filth that is 1980s NYC. Drug and crime ridden New York was a character in the original. It's where roaches like Frank would have been created. The sense of fear riding the subway and going to see hooker-ville Times Square are devoid in the remake. The original Maniac is a product of a NYC we'd like to forget and it's like the filmmakers tried to find the most lookalike 80s NYC and replicate it. Unfortunately it just can't be.
Maniac also suffers from any memorable kills. It's mundane approach of a killer doing his killing in a documentary sorta way makes repeat viewing very limited. We all know the shotgun through the windshield scene. I wanted something similar and all I got was a weird ass flesh ripper ending.
All in all, one can say Maniac is straight up horror extract. You will witness a serial killer, one as repugnant and sadistic as Frank slaughter his victims in the most gruesome ways possible. You will question why he does this (mannequin fetish, raped childhood?) and you will want him to to be a normal when there is no way he can be one.
But in the end, it's a cold blooded motherfuckin killer getting his kill on. It's a horror movie seemingly going back to the basics of fear. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. And so is pure fucked up terror.
America Olivo boobies
Lots and lots of goreific moments
That crazy ending
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
Maniac comes to theaters December 26th. It's not a film for everyone, even the most seasoned horror veteran. But for the most part, it's a remake that takes the original and goes off into a new direction. It's definitely one of the most sadistic and unique horror movies this year which is why it spawned 3 spinkicks.
Check out the trailer.