Sunday, 4 May 2014


I’m going to kick this review off with a controversial statement. Re-makes are a good idea. I’m not saying all re-makes are good, or that all films should be re-made, but in some cases they can be great. Most genre films are so painfully unoriginal that they feel a title card away from a re-make anyway. Audiences sensibilities, the boundaries of what is acceptable and the technologies used to create them are always changing. So in the right hands, yeah, a Clash of the Titans re-make could have been pretty amazing. It wasn’t, it was a pile of steaming kraken shit, but it could have been. Here’s hoping the new Godzilla film will be testament to this. Let’s not forget, The Thing, The Fly and even Scarface were impeccable examples of the re-make being done right.

Speaking of shit re-makes...
So the remake of 1980’s Maniac was an interesting concept. The original Maniac was lovingly made but deeply flawed, greatly hindered by the fact it has aged about as well as Madonna's dignity, perfect re-make fodder. The story is of disturbed psychopath Frank (Elijah Wood) a man with a complex about his mother which runs so deep him, Norman Bates and Oedipus could start boy-band. He uses dating websites in order to explore the city, collecting women’s scalps which he uses to decorate some of the mannequins he keeps tucked away at the back of his restoration store.
One day he spots Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a French photographer who bases her work around the anthropomorphising of shop dummies (which must be why she liked Frank so much, boom boom!). The relationship between them starts to become more than professional, for Frank at least, and Anna seems to have the possibility of becoming Frank’s saving grace.
1980 Poster
That’s kind of it for the plot really. It is what it is; it doesn’t draw anything out or take any particularly unexpected twists. Anyone who has seen the original will recognise a lot, from the settings, to some of the dialogue and even a few tongue in cheek references to the original cast. The changes are subtle but important and where as I personally found myself struggling to keep concentration during the original I found myself glued to this version throughout. It is as faithful a remake should be, director Frank Khalfoun seems to know and love the original and which elements could be changed, but never loses the essential essence of the story.
Original movie aside, Maniacs most obvious talking point is its first person perspective, as we view the world literally through the eyes of Frank himself. This perfectly demonstrates the issues the censors had back in the Video Nasty days of the early eighties where, a lot of the time, one of the main problems they had was that a film would be unapologetically from the killer’s point of view, verging on sympathetic. Very few were quite as literal as this though and even the likes of Driller Killer didn’t seem so unrelenting in their psychopathic exhibitionism.
The mind-bending genius,
Gaspar Noe
Visually it takes a lot of cinematography cues from Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void minus the drug fueled surrealism, and it looks great. The tone has a tendency to shift from over the top grind-house gore to shocking art-house realism. For instance the opening sequence sees Frank (well doesn’t see Frank but see’s us seeing what Frank sees as he sees himself seeing. Oh fuck it!) following a girl home before stabbing and scalping her, her skin seeming to slip off her head with little more than the slightest touch. Whereas later on the scalpings take a more realistic amount of effort and time to carry out. It can be forgiven as an opening sequence but did detract slightly form the overall vision.
First person violence yo!
Maniac does achieve something really quite shocking in the fact it had me really quite shocked. I’m not trying to make out I’m super hard-core or anything but thanks to good old desensitisation it takes a lot to phase me with cinema. Yet I found myself glued to the screen by the intensity of the action. The pace does not let up and that is only exaggerated by the first person perspective. We are really inside Franks head and it’s a fucking nasty place to be. His constant migraines and manic episodes do end up achieving exactly what the censors were worried about, you sympathise with Frank. The emotional connection is what really raises this above any other slasher film I have ever seen. Sympathising for the victim is easy, the killer can just be evil incarnate, but actually allowing the audience to understand the kind of mistreatment and abuse that can lead to such psychopathy is a real challenge.
In the middle of all the unashamed nods to the exploitation cinema that created the original (from the faux eighties synth soundtrack to the fact there are more women who get their tits out in this film than not), is a very clever and well-constructed look into the psychology of free-will and accountability. Whether intentional or not it is easily possible to dig beneath the surface of this film and find it deals with issues that are rarely tackled with such skill and heart.
So that's how they did it!
To hear that Elijah Wood was staring in the main role of Maniac would be enough to put a lot of people off, and I understand why. Our brief glimpses of him do seem a bit off and his performance is by no means perfect but his soft and unsteady voice feels more and more at ease with his characters central issues as the film goes on. He is a man who has never left his childhood behind and carries psychological scars that leave him mentally incapable of being held responsible for his own actions. He is crazed but soft and fragile at the same time. Even in his more calculated moments of stalking and violence there seems to be a resistance and innocence about him.
Maniac is good, extremely good. Any film with such gore and violence that can still revolve around a touching love story has achieved something special, and this does exactly that. You may be sympathising with a killer but you are cheering for his rehabilitation, not to see him succeed in killing more people. It deals with Frank as a human and not a mindless killing machine. It is a perfect remake with the same central concepts, but presented in a way that delves deeper than the original. It is more violent, touching and shocking and has been made with just as much passion. Topped off with the same bat shit crazy ending, which is as mental as it is brilliant, Maniac should not be judged by its cover.

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