William Lustig’s Maniac is a gritty classic shot guerilla-style on the sleazy streets of pre-Giuliani NYC. What made the movie resonate above the scum is the great Joe Spinell’s portrayal of Frank Zito. Spinell played the titular maniac with a tremendous amount of vulnerability and loneliness. Sure he stalked, scalped, and murdered a buncha women, but he wasn’t some squawking criminal getting off on all this violence. You really felt sorry for the pathetic bastard.
For their remake, director Franck Khalfoun (P2) and writer Alexandre Aja (High Tension) made their Frank Zito even more empathetic by casting a hobbit and shooting from his POV. Nearly the entire film is shot through his eyes, giving the film a wholly unsettling, voyeuristic feel. While no one may have wanted a remake of Lustig’s classic, Khalfoun’s Maniac is the rare case in which the original is improved upon to a certain degree. And IFC’s given it a terrific Blu-ray release, complete with commentary and a comprehensive behind the scenes.
The Maniac remake follows essentially the same story as Lustig’s film, only through the maniac’s eyes. Remember the video for Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up?” It’s kinda like that – POV with glimpses of reflections in mirrors and hands entering the frame to do horrible things. Elijah Wood (The Good Son) plays Frank 2.0, a lonely mannequin enthusiast who, behind his unassuming facade, is also a compulsive killer of women – savagely murdering and scalping them. Then he staples their hair onto mannequins and has one-sided conversations with them. I’ve been there, bro.
A lot of people remarked that seeing the film play out in first-person put the the audience in the killer’s shoes and really allowed us to feel what it’s like to be Frank. I just thought it was cool. After 90 minutes, I couldn’t relate to Frank or understand him, but I did enjoy the film. Maybe it’s my aversion to pretty boys, but I felt more empathy for Spinell’s Frank. Wood’s performance is mainly dialogue with a few moments of on-screen time. The adolescent-looking actor does a great job conveying menace through his panting and one-sided whispers. Like I mentioned though, I failed to feel any sympathy for him.
Regardless of my lack of feelings for Wood, the POV is effective and Maniac is a remake worthy of the title. Technically, it’s bonkers. After watching the behind the scenes you appreciate the filmmaking feats even more. It’s clear that Khalfoun understood Lustig’s source material and used it to create something fresh for a modern horror audience hungry for something more.
Side note: there’s a nice, subtle nod to Spinell when Frank 2.0 sits down to eat with a woman he met online. When she describes what she thought he’d look like, she states “fat, black hair, greasy skin” – which perfectly describes Spinell.
Maniac is presented in 1080p HD in 2.35:1 widescreen. The film was shot with Red Epic cameras and the transfer is consistent with strong detail. Much of the film was shot at night, and the Blu-ray offers strong contrast. The blood red splatters (of which there are numerous) really pop against the otherwise bland colors.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track really helps puts us inside Frank’s ear drums – especially during his migraine bouts where ringing noises go berzerk around the channels. We hear what he hears and his dialogue is appropriately louder than others’. Rob’s electronic score is reminiscent of old horror scores from the ’70s. On the Blu-ray, the music pumps with the clarity.
The audio commentary features Khalfoun, Wood, and executive producer Alix Taylor. The trio offer a disappointingly unenthusiastic track. They present some insight into the character of Frank and deliver some fun shooting stories, but there’s really nothing gripping about the commentary.
The behind the scenes, on the other hand, is really interesting and insightful. It runs about an hour long, in which the cast and crew cover a lot of ground. The BTS contains a lot of on set footage that provides technical appreciation for how cinematographer Maxime Alexandre pulled off the seamless POV work. There’s also deep looks at the special effects, gore wizardry, and the casting of Elijah Wood (Radio Flyer).
The disc also contains 4:00 of deleted scenes, which include someone being pounded with a bat off-screen and Wood’s hands braining hair.
Oh hey, what else is this inside the Blu-ray package? It’s an insert reprinting a review from our very own Brad Miska!