IFC’s remarkable Maniac, is now on VOD platforms (Brad’s rave review here) and is in the midst of a Los Angeles theatrical run. A few days back I spoke with Franck Khalfoun, the man responsible for this unique, stylized movie. In many ways I think this film is horror’s Drive, and I wanted to talk about some of the aesthetic choices he makes that really work for the film.
In the slasher redo, “Frank (Elijah Wood) is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna appears asking for his help with her new exhibition.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 and the number of victims increases, it becomes clear that Frank is far more dangerous than he seems. With a pulsating electronic score by Rob, the film is an intimate, visually daring, psychologically complex and profoundly horrific trip into the downward spiraling nightmare of a killer and his victims.“. Nora Arnezeder, Genevieve Alexandra, Jan Broberg, America Olivo, Morgane Slemp, Sal Landi, Dan Hunter, Freedom, Délé Ogundiran, Steffinnie Phrommany and Joshua De La Garza also star in the feature directed by Franck Khalfoun.
What everybody was saying when we first announced it. It’s a potential career killer. Maniac has been copied by everyone. I was in a scene bitten from it in High Tension, you know? It was daunting to remake the movie that had already been copied by everyone. I knew the one thing I could rely on was the fact that the genre audience who was upset with me making it, they actually like movies. So I knew if when they saw the movie they would take it for what it was worth and throw their preconceptions out the window. They would allow it to live.
They can reverse course once they understand you’re doing it justice.
I think they’re wary because there have been so many bad remakes that have just exploited the titles.
The violence is severe, but not “torture”-ish. There’s a stylistic aspect.
I feel like when the original came out it was a for fest and that was shocking. But today’s audience is more sophisticated, they’ve seen everything and gore isn’t necessarily going to be the most effective way to get the movie across. I was really careful not to go too overboard so you wouldn’t be taken out of what was going on. You want nudity and violence, but you don’t want to lose your audience. To keep the audience caring and connected, you have to connect with them on a different level. The violence isn’t that gory, it’s just a juxtaposition against images that make you feel safer.
You photograph LA in a way I haven’t seen before, it’s almost what I would imagine 1980’s New York to be like.
I lived in LA for a long time and I lived downtown in the 80’s. I remember how beautiful it was and how dangerous it was. It was gorgeous architecturally but very dangerous and isolated. And that’s closer to the original film than New York would be today, it’s gentrified and safe. It’s this old decadent part of town and it’s this weird mix of homeless people, artists and rich people in expensive lofts. And at night, there’s nobody around. What a great place for a hunter to find people.
Sure, that’s where Richard Ramirez lived in the 80’s.
I remember living down there at the time, we all knew the night stalker was there. I remember that clearly.
Obviously Elijah Wood is 180 degrees different from the original take on this role.
I needed an actor with range, a good actor. That’s obviously where my concern is. I felt that the one thing that bugged me in the original was I didn’t really buy the relationship with Caroline Munro and Joe Spinell. You were waiting for him to kill her at all times rather than hoping he wouldn’t. I think the audience here hopes that he will change his ways and that something inside him will flourish. So having the character be more handsome and likable, to me, is terrifying.