Maniac (2012) Movie Review
Written by Ted McCarthy
Theatrically released by IFC Midnight
Directed by Franck Khalfoun
Written by Alexandre Aja, Grègory Levasseur, and C.A. Rosenberg
Based on the screenplay by Joe Spinell
2012, 93 minutes, Not Rated
Released date TBD
Elijah Wood as Frank
Nora Arnezeder as Anna
Megan Duffy as Lucie
At the risk of raising the ire of some of the more ardent gorehounds who have read (enjoyed?) my past reviews for HorrorTalk, I must admit that I have not seen Bill Lustig's 1980 cult classic and notorious video nasty Maniac. To be honest, I remember seeing the original poster art - of a man standing in a pool of blood with a dripping buck knife in one hand and a freshly shorn blonde scalp in the other — at a young age, and the imagery quite turned me off. I therefore can't draw comparisons between it and the new 2012 remake. As a standalone film, though, I can say that the remake is, while flawed, a very aggressive and grisly film.
As with the original, the bare bones story concerns a soft spoken mannequin store owner named Frank (Elijah Wood, taking over Joe Spinell's character) who spends his nights stalking and scalping women. He takes the fresh scalps back to his apartment and studio and staples them to the bald heads of his dressed up mannequins and talks to them as if they were his lovers. He finds someone special, though, in Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a beautiful French photographer who finds Frank's mild mannered nature endearing and comforting. The two keep up a friendship while Frank fights to keep his bloodlust at bay and a secret.
I wasn't aware of the involvement of Alexandre Aja and Grègory Levasseur as writers and producers before I saw their names in the credits, but their influence is evident here. The French duo made 2003's similarly thinly plotted but bloody High Tension, and Maniac shares that film's tone and unflinching approach to straightforward, extremely graphic violence. The film definitely delivers on that front, with all the stabbings, slittings, and scalpings shown up close in a way that's borderline clinical.
Another noteworthy thing about this film is that it's shot almost entirely from Frank's point of view, with Wood's visage only showing up in reflections. It was an interesting gimmick for a while, but got old really quick. I think part of that had to do with my main complaint, which is that I didn't buy Elijah Wood as Frank. I don't dislike Wood as an actor (and he in fact seems like a very amiable guy, judging from the Q&A after my screening), but I think he's always had a very limited range. Plus, since he's been acting since such a young age, I still tend to associate him with his younger roles. And I don't mean in Lord of the Rings, I mean in Radio Flyer and North. I understand the desire of an actor to take on a grimy, reprehensible, against-type role, but this (and, to a similar extent, his role as mute mutant Kevin in Sin City) just feels like Wood's trying too hard. His awkward hyperventilation and tortured reactions while he's killing aren't nearly as effective as they'd be if Frank had been played by a more naturally intense actor like Nick Stahl. The supporting actors are basically all there to cry and/or get carved up, but the lovely Nora Arnezeder does what she can with her role of Anna.
Bottom line is, if you're a fan of Elijah Wood, the original Maniac, or grotesquely violent horror films, you're probably going to see, and perhaps even like, this film. As a horror fan, it definitely had its moments (there is a visual effects gore shot at the end that is really impressive and still has me wondering how they pulled it off so realistically). However, I certainly don't see it ranking up with the elite classic horror remakes like Dawn of the Dead, The Fly, or Aja and Lavasseur's own remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and just saw this one as unnecessary more than anything else.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a film screening.