Review: Maniac / Cert: 18 /Director: Franck Khalfoun / Screenplay: Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur, C.A. Rosenburg / Starring: Elijah Wood, Norah Arnezder, Jan Broberg / Release Date: July 1st
It’s hard to work out why this remake of William Lustig’s seminal and infamous 1980 horror movie exists. Lustig’s version remains notorious for its unrelenting violence and graphic bloodletting, and whilst this new version is no less gruesome – and occasionally downright repellent – its impact is diminished a little by the fact that the audience has become inured, across the intervening decades, by the tidal wave of ever more extreme horror films which followed in the wake of the original and all the other groundbreaking, stomach-troubling horrors of the early 1980s. It’s to the credit of someone, then – probably director Khalfoun – that Maniac 2012-style is capable of shocking even the most hardened horror nut; this is grim, bleak and bloody stuff – and yet the artistry and stylishness it brings to what could so easily be dismissed as a grubby, ugly slasher is admirable.
The story, what there is of it, concerns loner Frank (Wood), abused and mistreated by his prostitute mother as a child, prowling the streets of Los Angeles and stalking young women whom he terrorises, tortures and finally, graphically, scalps. He then fixes the bloody hair to the mannequins he keeps as part of his… umm… mannequin repair business. Every High Street should have one. Frank meets up with attractive French photographer Anna (Arnezder) and tries to fight his murderous nature by forming a proper relationship with a real woman. But will Frank be able to set aside his impulses at last and become a normal member of society? What do you think? Before long it’s ‘hair today, scalped tomorrow’ as Frank carries on murdering a little too close to Anna’s home.
Maniac is a nasty film which asks too much of its audience by expecting them to sympathise with a brutal and deeply troubled, unpleasant young man. The first person filming technique – we see almost all the action from Frank’s point-of-view (Wood appearing in reflection or in the peripheral vision of others) – is strikingly effective yet simultaneously disconcerting, giving the film an off-kilter, nightmarish quality of unreality. The violence is extreme and relentless – the seriously-squeamish need not apply – and occasionally exhaustingly explicit. Undeniably well-made and difficult, Maniac is too savagely real-world to sit comfortably in the more fantastical arena of the horror movie and much too unpleasant to appeal to the more traditional serial killer flick fan.