[Review] ‘Maniac’ Is A Modern Horror Classic Not For the Faint Of Heart

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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.

Official Score

  • Remember-Slithis

    Sounds gruesome in a good way!

  • Canucklehead

    The original didn’t have much to offer other than Savini’s work and this sounds like it offers even less.

  • Danny-E

    I actually enjoyed P2.

    • sundaydrivexo

      I also enjoyed P2. I was a fan of the original Maniac actually, and I am for once really excited to see this take on it.

    • Frase93

      I thought I was the only one who found P2 fun to watch.

      • VampireJack

        Nope, count me in as a P2 fan also.
        I watch it every Xmas now. Good movie.

  • divisionbell

    Yes I can’t wait to see this one. The original was good and underrated. Reminded me a little of taxi driver. Excited to see Elijah wood play another psycho.

  • highly_suspicious

    excellent review! there’s been something special about this flick since the marketing first got into gear, and i’m super pumped to see this hitting it out of the park. All of the critics i respect have been vomiting rainbows about this film, so Team Maniac can just shut up and take my money already.

    Good to see Khalfoun righting the ship after a rocky start.

  • Aaron Emery

    I can’t express how excited I am for this, the trailers look beautifully shot and class as compared to the typical slasher. For the record though, I really like P2 what’s with all the hate for that film?

  • KingCujo

    I happened to see this movie on Halloween when it played the Scary Movie series at Lincoln Center in NY last week and I was really underwhelmed. I’m not a huge fan of the original but this one doesn’t really improve on it much and I think the gimmick that attempts to set it apart is really it’s biggest failing. The POV thing essentially reduces Elijah Wood’s performance to a voice-over and it hurts the acting. The dialogue was mostly added later in post, according to the director who was in attendance at the screening, despite being done live on set. And it had that feeling — the feeling of having been recorded in a studio. Wood just can’t surmount the problem that the lines always sound canned. It also doesn’t help that the script isn’t very revealing about character or particularly realistic — in fact, some of the dialogue is laughably bad and it’s made even more so by the POV. The ladies in the film are no great shakes either. But if you’re looking for good gore, the movie serves that up liberally and gruesomely. The practical gore effects are excellent and the retro musical score is on the money. The rest, not all that involving I’m afraid.

    • antacidsandcoffee

      ^This should have been the official review. I saw the movie last night on demand. The trailer was deceptive cause the movie seriously fell short. One hundred percent in agreement with KingCujo’s remarks on the voice-over affecting the acting and the script’s short-comings- could be why I did not find Wood’s character even “oddly sympathetic.” Also in agreement on the score and the gore effects. They stand out as the movie could have been better. As for the women in the film, I do think the actress who played Anna did a pretty good job considering.

  • Chaybee1

    I agree, I enjoyed P2 for what it was. It actually had a tense atmosphere and high level of suspense.