Friday, June 28, 2013

Maniac (2012) - A Review

I warned you not to go out tonight…

In this remake of the 1980 cult classic, Elijah Wood stars as Frank Zito, a mentally disturbed mannequin conservator who has a mean mommy complex and a fascination with women’s hair. In this modern day revisioning, we are introduced to a whole new format for the horror genre, in that the entire film takes place in the viewpoint of the killer. We are not following the victims here, we are looking at them through Frank’s eyes. The only time we actually see Frank is either in his own reflection or in the rare instance of 3rd person viewing. 

This film has been receiving rave reviews since its release at last years’ Cannes Film Festival, however it was only up until last Friday that the American audience was able to see it in select theaters and nationwide on VOD platforms. I have been anticipating this film for a while, so I was excited to finally feast my eyes on the pure and savage brutality that it promised. 

Read on, for the full synopsis and review!

Title: Maniac Director(s): Franck Khalfoun
Producer(s): Alexandre Aja
Writer(s): Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur, C.A. Rosenberg
Starring: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Genevieve Alexandra, Jan Broberg Felt, Megan M. Duffy, Liane Balaban, Joshua De La Garza, America Olivo, Sammi Rotibi


The film opens, as mentioned, in the viewpoint of our loveable and crazy killer Frank Zito (played by Elijah Wood) as he is sitting in his car and setting his sights on his next victim. He’s got his eyes set on a lovely brunette who is just leaving the club and is trying to hail a cab, all while being verbally assaulted by a horny prick in a limousine. She makes it home safely, although not for long, as Frank is waiting for her outside her apartment door where with a large bowie knife and murderous intentions. This sets up the tone for the entire movie. There is no gradual descent into the madness, this film is madness.

Frank is mentally damaged, he likes to take his scalps and staple them to mannequins that he keeps around his house. He has full-fledged conversations, arguments, fights and even “dates” one of these mannequins. To say he has issues puts it lightly. This guy is a criminal-psychologists wet dream. 


One morning, a young woman named Anna is found taking pictures of his shop. After questioning her motives, we learn that she is a photographer with a penchant for photographing mannequins in an attempt to “bring them to life”, as she says. After Frank shows her his work, which she quickly falls in love with, she asks him if he would create some mannequins that she can use in her show. Frank is quick to fall in love with young Anna, and as his feelings for her rise, so does the body count. 


When Maniac was initially released in 1983 it was the ultimate in midnight horror. It was a test, if you will. Who could make it all the way through? You had make-up and visual effects master Tom Savini who created and was the victim of one of the most controversial killings in horror. The critics hated it. Naturally, that made the fans love it. Needless to say, when I heard that it was being remade I was interested. When I heard that Elijah Wood would be playing Frank, I was very interested. When I heard that Alexandre Aja wrote it, I was sold.  

If I was asked if I could think of one, single word that best describes this film I think that I would be at a loss. I have no idea. So many different ones come to mind; voyeuristic, visceral, gritty, disgusting, awkward, uncomfortable and so on. Due to the nature of the way this one was filmed, it adds an element like one I’ve never really experienced in a film. While there are horror movies that show you small bits and pieces through the eyes of the killer, Halloween, The Silence of the Lambs, you are never fully immersed in said killer’s mind. You don’t see the world as they see it, you don’t hear their thoughts and see what that process may be. I had no idea that this was the case with this version of Maniac until 20 minutes before I watched it so I was in for a ride when I discovered that this was the case.

When the film started, there were times where I had to remind myself that I was seeing the film through his perspective, however after a few minutes I was able to become completely immersed in Frank’s world, and that in-of-itself was unsettling and a little scary. For me, the true terror of this film was not in seeing him kill these women. Yes you see his hands, which feel like your hands, tearing women apart and that was plenty gruesome. I must say, the practical effects were top notch (I’ll touch on that later), but the really scary stuff lay in his selection process. When he’s closing in on his next victim. He, you, stares at these women to the point that it makes them uncomfortable. He taunts them and teases them while he’s closing in. You see them stare into his (your) eyes and beg him (you) to leave them alone. This is where the real terror of this film lies.  Ultimately, it was too easy to get sucked into his world.

I imagine it must be a very difficult feat, to film a movie in this fashion and be able to deliver without it coming off as hokey or cheesy. Elijah Wood had to compensate with the lack of visual stimulation, i.e. not being able to see his facial expressions, by vocalizing his thoughts and decisions. While there were moments where it just seemed strained, Wood did a bang-up job of encapsulating this character and making him almost seem like you could sympathize with the guy. I’m not even going to touch on whatever mental illness that Frank has, that seems like a sand trap that I don’t want to fall into, but it was really amazing to see him in this type of character, and I loved that Frank wasn’t played by a big brute, but a young, gentle looking man. Elijah Wood has the face of innocence, to see him do the things he does are shocking in its own right. 

I'm rambling, so let’s get on to the P’s and C’s:


1. Practical Effects. Holy moly were there some solid visual effects in this one. Of course when you hear of a remake of Maniac, you have to expect some gnarly carnage but I was even surprised at the extra steps that they took to really rub salt in the wounds. The original film was known for its iconic use of scalping, and there was no shortage of that in this one. The great Alexandre Aja was behind the script, and even though he didn’t direct it, you could still see his influence in the sheer amount of brutality that was involved. Classic shots were recreated and, well, I loved it.  
2. The Soundtrack. The original film was released in 1980, and one thing that I loved about this one was that there was no attempt made to bring it into the current time. It too appears to take place in the 80’s, before cell phones, the internet and flat screen televisions, and the soundtrack is an amazing electronic score that accompanies the decade perfectly. You all know that I am a huge fan of the use of score in a horror film, and in this one, the only time that you hear the soundtrack is when he’s prowling the streets in his big scary rapist van. When he’s doing his “work”, you get nothing but squishy sounds of, well, you know what. 
3. The Script. I’ve thought long and hard about this aspect of the film. Immediately following the first viewing of it, I was a bit unsure of the script. After spending a few days thinking about it, I’ve decided that I do in fact like the script quite a bit. There were great efforts to show that Frank is not a monster, at least not in the conventional sense. Frank struggles greatly with the problems that he has, and there is some great character development that takes place between him and Anna. In a way, he viewed Anna as his salvation from himself. He began to see her as someone that he could share a life with, someone who actually breathes, thinks and isn’t made of plastic. It adds a bit of a beautiful and touching side to the story. This was a man who wanted out, and he thought that she was it. 

1. Logic.
I understand that this is a horror film, and more often than not you have to completely suspend disbelief. I also understand that this was styled in the vein of an 80’s slasher flick, but even then I had trouble with a few things in it that I simply could not suspend my believe enough to go along with. Frank, I love you brother, but put on a god damn pair of gloves, there are people who wear shiny badges and their job is to catch assholes like you. Also, if you’re going to vomit in the toilet it’d probably be best to clean up as much as you can instead of simply wiping the side of the toilet and neglecting the glob of puke that hit the floor. Sincerely, Rg.

2. Frank’s Inner Dialogue. As I mentioned, this one was a little difficult, at times. It was necessary and it wasn’t all terrible, but I think the main point was that it was inevitable. Without being able to see his face, unless he was looking at himself in the mirror, you’re left with almost no other story telling devices other than having him simply speak out loud. It’s minor and it’s no deal breaker, but it still makes the con list.

Many critics have been bashing the film, claiming that it glamorizes the act of butchering women. I think that this film proves the exact opposite. If Frank was laughing mid-kill, if he was reveling in it, then yes, I would agree with that. But that is simply not the case at all. We are looking through the eyes of a tortured man and the things he does are disgusting, even to himself. I do not think that in any world, could the things in this film be construed as “glamorous”. Big Hollywood critics have never understood, nor do they want to, the art behind a horror film and the fact that sometimes a horror film can be used to show that murder really isn’t all that cool. Maniac is the perfect example of a film like that. Frank Zito is not Henry. He’s simply misunderstood (oh that cliché hurt).

Now, would I recommend this one? Abso-fucking-lutely. I saw it being called one of the greatest films of the year. I agree whole-heartedly. This one will be remembered for a long time, and I can’t wait to make a home for it on my DVD shelf. 


-Rg Lovecraft

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