While digging through some of my not-so-recent purchases, I came across the 2013 remake of “Maniac.” I decided to throw it in, as I remembered it being pretty hardcore. Boy, it did not disappoint! In fact, upon a second viewing I like it even more. It is without further ado, that I am extremely excited to recommend “Maniac” for your viewing (dis)pleasure.
I’m not talking about your pappy’s “Maniac” from the 80’s, but the IFC Midnight label releasing of “Maniac” starring Elijah Wood. This is one remake that pays its dues to the source material while staying fiercely original on it’s own. It gives fans of the classic just enough of a “wink–and-a-nod” to make you smile, while making sure not to alienate those that haven’t seen it. I’m not in the business of over explanation, so I will simply tell you why you should see it.
The set-up is basically the same as the original. Loner Frank Zito (Elijah Wood) can’t connect with the women he meets, so he collects their scalps to put on mannequins in his workshop. They keep him company, while also tormenting him, as they come to life in his mind. Sound disturbing? What actually takes place on screen will have you squirming with delight, or looking away in disgust as this horror show unravels. The pre-credit murder set piece will certainly establish the tone, and give you a good barometer of what’s to follow. If you are put off by this sequence I would advise cutting your losses NOW, as the blood and gore flow like wine from here on out. The words misogyny and brutality definitely come to mind, but the film still maintains an evil sense of playfulness as it attempts to blow your mind. Elijah Wood’s performance as Frank is nothing short of brilliant. Although we don’t see much of him, I don’t think a lesser actor could have handled the subtleties of the role.
At its heart, it’s a tragic love story. On the surface, it’s a brutal exercise in the grimy depths of the slasher genre. It’s one of those films that makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong. It gives the viewer the sense that you’re seeing something you shouldn’t be seeing. For a long time my mission in life was to dig up the most obscure, volatile, and extreme films in existence. I have a core group of horror “buffs” that often try to outdo one another. That being said, “Maniac” has quickly become a go-to entry level extremity for others wanting to join the club. More than a few people have turned down future invites based on this film alone. I can only imagine what “A Serbian Film” would do to those delicate psyches. “Maniac” is by no means an entry level film, just for those that have already ventured down the rabbit hole of the extreme.
The real revelation here is the visual style that the filmmakers employ to get the job done. The film is shot in a “first person” style, which puts you in the shoes of the killer. Anyone who has seen “Enter The Void” will have an understanding of the core concept. This “first person” angle pushed the New Zealand Office of Film and Literature Classification to ban the film earlier in 2013, citing “The murders are depicted in first-person perspective, inviting a viewer’s vicarious participation”. I don’t happen to believe that films/video games have a causation effect on anything, but what do I know? Plus, when has the warning of excessive violence scared off a true horror fan? If anything, it sparks that “quest for the holy grail” instinct in the most hardened fans of the genre.
Director Franck Khalfoun (P2) pulls no punches when it comes to the presenting the red stuff. Working from a script by splat pack icon Alexandre Aja (High Tension), and frequent collaborator Grégory Levasseur, you know that the bar is set fairly high. Let me be the first to tell you that they do not disappoint. In fact, the filmmakers are actually able to elevate a classic slasher yarn into an artsy and morbidly beautiful film. Leave it to the French to add an artistic spin on something so brutal. This one is not for all tastes, especially if you’re squeamish. The extreme visualization of the violence on screen isn’t for the faint of heart. However, those of us that can stomach the carnage are in for a real treat, because it is so much better than your run of the mill “killer” movie. As of this column, this writer attests that it is easily the best horror film of 2013, and possibly one of the best slasher offerings in decades. I would be remiss not to mention the EPIC score by Rob from the French alt rock band Phoenix. He creates an eerie and unsettling atmosphere by adding just the right amount of 80’s synth-pop to set the tone. It matches the film perfectly and helps to further elevate the film into more artistic territory.
This film has been a multiple festival favorite, winning several awards, while also causing controversy all over the world. Let’s face the facts that horror movies are a very subjective experience more than any other film genre in my opinion. Of course not everyone will agree with my assessment. The things that scare one person may not scare another…But if you dig slasher films, this is a must see!! “Maniac” is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray.