A mannequin restoration specialist, psychologically damaged by his mother’s promiscuous lifestyle, spends many an evening stalking, killing and scalping attractive young ladies, but when a young photographic artist pays him the attention he craves, can he turn over a new leaf for her?
Contrary to popular belief, not all horror remakes are teen-baiting, music video trash. Sometimes a filmmaker will have the gumption to re-purpose the original concept and present it as an almost entirely different package, as Zack Snyder did with his Dawn of the Dead; other times, but very rarely, the director proves to be huge horror fan, and armed with an understanding of what they love of the genre aim to make an even more extreme version of the original using contemporary tools and polish, as was Alexandre Aja’s want with his remakes of both The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha.
It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise then that the remake of the 1980 video nasty (as we call them here in the UK), Maniac, produced by that self same Franco-horror-aficionado, Alexandre Aja, is one of the better horror remakes of recent memory, largely due to the fact that it embraces both systems of reinvigorating an old movie.
I feel I must state that I haven’t actually seen the 1980 original, so can only review the new version on its own merits rather than in comparison, but I do know for a fact that it differs from the original in one very significant way, and this would be the re-purposing aspect of the venture. Where the original is told from the classic third person perspective of a film narrative, the remake is told almost exclusively from the first person, which is to say, the audience experiences the gruesome events of the film through the killer’s own eyes, which puts us in the unique position of actually being the murderer.
From this you’d think that the ever versatile Elijah Wood (here portraying his second on-screen, mental killer), would have very little to do besides acting as his own unhinged reflection, but the use of his grubby hands and the ongoing soundtrack of his heavy breathing and murmuring creates an atmosphere of discomfort that puts you in just the right place to be doubly affected by the shocking violence.
And that violence is where the modern tools come in. The gory violence, specialising in variations of scalping, sells in every conceivable wince inducing way. The physical effects are actually quite staggering and if there is CG mixed in there it’s pretty damn seamless.
The story is no more advanced than the description above suggests; Maniac is contemporary exploitation cinema through and through; it isn’t tongue in cheek, it doesn’t apologise for itself, its just visceral and horrific, y’know, like a horror film should be.
So it isn’t artistic, but that being said, the performances are all of a high standard and its directorial execution, though not heavily polished, is full of heart, and those rough edges actually bring to mind its old school sensibilities in quite a refreshing way.
Maniac most certainly isn’t for everybody; it’s narratively slight and distinctly lacking in subtlety, but its disgusting, grizzly, uncomfortable, violent and a great horror film.
B grade – for originality
C grade – for story
B+ grade – for direction
A- grade – for horror effects
Overall grade – B+
Maniac is currently on limited release in the UK and goes on limited release in the US from June 21st.