A serial killer with a fetish for scalps is on the hunt. Frank is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna appears asking for his help with her new exhibition. As their friendship develops and Frank’s obsession escalates, it becomes clear that she has unleashed a recently-repressed compulsion.
Being a remake Maniac retreads William Lustig’s grimy 1980 original, which despite sharing shelf space with the likes of Halloween and Friday 13th for 30 plus years was never nearly as revered. Unlike more commercially successful slasher titles Maniac version one was more in line with the cult films of Abel Ferrera and Frank Hennenlotter in its seedy shock which fell decidedly more into the horror underground with its departure from the suburbs and summer camps of other franchises at the time. This time round director Frank Khalfoun takes all the right cues from its source. In most ways this is still your average slice’em up with creepy mother issues and despatching of naïve female knife fodder but where it’s all too often a negative here the grimly back to basics style makes it more of a welcome film that creeps up on you despite usual expectations. In utilising POV for most of the violence and with it winding up in every scene throughout works effectively, lending a matter of fact intensity that is all too often lacking in contemporary slasher films. The stripped back to its roots approach gives makers the opportunity to pool their efforts where it counts in a film of this nature, after all the story is minimal at best and far from original. Instead setting the 80 minutes up as a viciously stylized experience is beneficial, especially the lack of clunky psychoanalysis (see Rob Zombie’s misguided Halloween re-mangling) adds to the appreciated briskness which serves its overall outcome very well.
Where the makers are concerned I have to give it to the French forces behind the scenes when it comes to delivering the red stuff in a lovingly striking fashion. Along with the POV shots the camera stalks, jars and judders with appropriate menace. The gore FX are simply flawless and for as questionable as it is to use the word subtle when describing this kind of in your face blade-happy violence I am referring to the seamless blending of the CG effects with the practical, it never looks anything but perfect and while this may seem a disposable point in a film this stark in its brutality it is potentially make or break, ultimately in Maniac how the kills are executed (pun unavoidable) is of the up most importance. L.A serves as a fitting backdrop, nicely replacing the original’s New York setting it manages to update the alleys, steaming grates and urban isolation, nicely recreating the seedy ambience that leaves one feeling alone despite the surrounding cosmopolitan pace. Adding to the successful unease is one of the best soundtracks I have heard for many a year, with its fittingly abrasive synthesized drone and perfectly pitched homage.
Elijah Wood appears very at home as shy serial scalper Frank; with his aptly incandescent eyes the actor uses his expected passiveness to channel Norman Bates to the hilt, showing a streak of murderous eerie that made him the only real menacing figure in 2005’s Sin City. As befitting of most horror nobody else is worthy of individual mention, through lack of screen time and character not actual incompetence. Maniac is a vicious little gem that deserves its own stab at modern cult status, refreshingly shirking any intent to pursue deadend sequels and gleefully in the spirit of the original. Fans of the original look out for a particularly fun shot evoking the infamous VHS ‘does what it says on the tin’ poster.