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Maniac (2012)

IFC Films
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/15/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/20/2013

In my recent review for Fright Night 2: New Blood, I wrote about the explosion of horror movie remakes which became chic in the last 20 years. One of the key players in this trend is French filmmaker Alexandre Aja. Following his breakout hit High Tension (which was essentially a rip-off of the Dean Koontz novel Intensity), Aja directed The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Mirrors (2008), and Piranha (2010), all remakes. Aja has shown that he has some skills (The Hills Have Eyes is incredibly disturbing and probably the best of the horror remakes out there), so I don't know why he's always mining the work of others. For a remake of 1980's Maniac, Aja serves as Writer and Producer, handing the reins to Director Franck Khalfoun. Will this be yet another example of a pointless repeat of an old movie?

Elijah Wood stars in Maniac as Frank, a man who has many issues. He lives alone in the rear of a mannequin store which he once ran with his mother. His living quarters are filled with mannequins. Frank likes to stalk women, some of who he finds at random and some of whom who meets on-line, kill them, and scalp them. He then staples the scalps to his mannequins and, due to his hallucinations, sees the mannequins as the dead women. One day, Frank finds Anna (Nora Arnezeder) taking photos of his shop. He strikes up a conversation with her and learns that she's a photographer, and that she's interested in the mannequins. Frank shows her how he restores the pieces and they become friends. Frank finds himself attracted to Anna, but that only stirs his homicidal feelings. Can he actually have a normal relationship with her, or will his dangerous side take over?

While some people are decidedly dead-set against remakes, my opinion has always been that instead of remaking classic, well-known movies, filmmakers should look at flawed, yet promising movies and improve them. Maniac certainly fits that bill. Bill Lustig's 1980 original was one of the earlier entries into the slasher-cycle which followed the success of Halloween. But instead of focusing on a masked killer and being a murder mystery like its contemporaries, Maniac was pure 42nd St. sleaze which reveled in the exploits of a repugnant killer who preyed on women and had no redeeming qualities. The movie became an infamous target for critics and it was slammed by Roger Ebert.

So, Aja and Khalfoun have a lot of room for improvement, but they never take advantage of it. They've made very few changes to the story. Frank is still a depraved killer and the only motivation for his behavior that we're given is that he was very close to his mother and he once saw her engaged in group sex. Otherwise, we don't get a lot of information about Frank. One difference in this version is that he's obviously sought help in the past, as he takes medication. (Which is offered in a nasal spray. I know enough about behavioral health to be dangerous and I'm not aware of a nasal spray which keeps you from seeing bleeding ladies who aren't there.) Some of the murders have been changed around (for those who care, the shotgun murder doesn't occur here), but the relationship between Frank and Anna is similar to the original.

Instead of improving on the story, Aja and Khalfoun have made a bold, yet odd technical decision. Despite the fact that the practice had been around for years, critics attacked Halloween for using POV shots and putting the audience in the place of the killer. This practice was adopted by many of the slasher movie rip-offs. Maniac goes several steps further by filming nearly all of the movie in a POV style. Thus, we are seeing everything through Frank's eyes and only see Wood in reflections and in some fantasy sequences which aren't POV. At first, this is an interesting idea, but it grows tiresome very quickly and the movie feels like a found footage film, where the footage was found in someone's brain.

Given that there wasn't much there to work with in the first place, I find the concept of doing a straight remake of Maniac to be an odd decision. But, that's not the only place where this version goes wrong. Again, the way in which the film is shot probably seemed like a good idea at the time, and some of the long takes and effects are interesting, but it doesn't take long for the viewer to wish for a reverse shot. And while it's been well-documented that Elijah Wood has come along way from his child acting day and from The Shire, he seems like an odd choice for this role, as he's not the least bit intimidating. Maybe they wanted someone who didn't look like a killer and he's light years away from the sweaty Joe Spinell from the original, but it's simply hard to buy Wood as a killer. Save for a very creative shot which illustrates how Frank sees himself, Maniac is a failure on all fronts. The story remains pointless, the gore is redundant, and none of the characters are appealing. Perhaps Aja should try and original script with his next project.

Maniac doesn't convince me that Lysol helps with rotting flesh on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of IFC Films. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing very little grain and no defects from the source materials. The film's colors are slightly washed out at times -- a stylistic choice -- but the red blood looks fine. The image gets dark in some scenes, but the action is always visible. The level of detail is good and the exterior scenes show nice depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.9 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done and show good separation. The surround sound effects work well in the party sequences and the stalking scenes. The musical score sounds fine and produces notable bass. The issue which I found here is that the effects aren't very detailed and I didn't note many individual sounds.

The Maniac Blu-ray Disc contains a small assortment of extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Elijah Wood, Director Franck Khalfoun, and Executive Producder Alix Taylor. "The Making of Maniac" (66 minutes) is very in-depth featurette which probes into the film's production. We get interviews with Khalfoun, Aja, and Wood, who describe the origin of the film and the story. There is a discussion of the technical challenges of shooting POV. Of course, the gore effects are examined and we see how they were done. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes. One which shows Frank fainting is semi-interesting. The extras are rounded out by a POSTER GALLERY and a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long