While Halloween and Friday the 13th took the world by storm, William Lustig’s 1980 Maniac never received the same attention as the aforementioned slashers, but definitely helped pave the way for A Nightmare on Elm Street and as well as its own line of various copycats. Maniac was quite simply forgotten (except among us hardcore horror nuts), which is why the idea of remaking it for name value never made any sense. Yet, to my surprise, Alex Aja and producing/writing partner Grégory Levasseur actually had something to say. There’s a purpose for this remake, and the execution propels it into becoming a modern horror classic.
The premise is basically the same except the psychotic Frank, played by Joe Spinell in the original, is replaced by a younger and more sympathetic Elijah Wood. Frank, in the 2012 version, collects and restores mannequins. On the surface everything is normal as he attempts to keep it together, but his tormented past turns him from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde in a flash. He stalks and murders women, and then returns to his secret room plastered with mannequins dressed up like each victim. And like the original, he collects their scalps, which are then stapled onto the mannequin’s heads as trophies.
The modern spin is that Franck Khalfoun, who directed the horrendous P2 for Aja and Levasseur, shoots everything from Wood’s perspective. It’s NOT found footage, but it’s directed as such. The audience embodies Frank’s everyday life, which makes for quite a gut-punching experience. And while this concept is nothing new (Enter the Void recently did this), it’s a refreshing take on the slasher genre that makes the viewer literally become the killer (it’s a bit like the original Friday the 13th when Pamela Voorhees stalks in the shadows). The first person perspective validates the remake and sets the table for some extremely compelling performances.
The acting really glues everything together. Wood is an oddly sympathetic character and many of the victims are so incredibly well cast that it emotionally stings a bit when they die. Nora Arnezeder plays the female lead, Anna, a mannequin photographer who crosses paths with Frank when she passes by his store and sees his work on display. She’s such a likable character that it’s painful watching as she’s being led like a lamb to the slaughter.
Speaking of slaughter.
Maniac goes from 0-60 in the blink of an eye as it opens with a shocking kill that will have horror fans salivating for more. At first it feels as mean spirited as the original, but eventually it transforms into a visionary slasher that somehow manages to balance emotion with splatter. The original goes for shock value while Khalfoun’s remake goes for dirty realism (which is nailed home when Frank continually uses bug spray to kill all the flies caused by the rotting flesh). At no point does Khalfoun pull back; every kill is fierce and brutal and the camera never looks away when a victim is being scalped (obviously, this is because Frank wouldn’t be looking away, but Khalfoun could have chosen to edit it down).
It’s such an interesting parallel that Lustig’s 1980 Maniac set the stage for hundreds of slasher copycats and now, here in 2012, Khalfoun is doing the same thing with his remake. Again, it’s not for the faint of heart and I expect mainstream critics to scoff at it, but they’ll eventually be proven wrong. Relish in knowing that the new Maniac is a horror film that our community will own and cherish for years to come.