Maniac opens this Friday the 15th of March in Light House Cinema, it’s great! Light House programmer/podcast regular Charlene Lydon loved it so much she felt compelled to write this lovely piece.
There have been a slew of horror remakes over the past few years, some more successful than others. But rarely has a beloved piece of horror cinema been remade with rousing chorus of approvals. William Lustig’s beloved 1980 horror flick Maniac recently got the remake treatment by Franck Khalfoun and Alexandre Aja and, while we don’t want to go down the road of comparing it to the original, it achieves something rarely accomplished; it has become its own beast. And what a fine beast it is.
Khalfoun’s Maniac stars a fantastic Elijah Wood as the titular “maniac”, Frank, an artist who catches the eye of a beautiful photographer with his beautiful mannequins. However, the realistic quality of the mannequins masks a darkness within Frank, a seemingly quiet, likeable young man. He is a vicious stalker and killer of women.
When I say it stars Elijah Wood it must be pointed out that we are rarely actually looking at him, except through mirrors, etc. as the film is almost completely from the killer’s POV. It’s an interesting conceit that works surprisingly well mostly due to an amiable voice-over and a beautifully fluid camera.
So why bother remaking Maniac at all? Wasn’t the original gritty, grimy cityscape striking enough? Khalfoun’s cityscape is very different to Lustig’s. It is cool, clean, mostly deserted and smothered in neon. The thumping soundtrack, detached tone and slick visuals are so contemporary in tone that it is easy to detach yourself from the original completely (apart from a very nice visual reminder that lovingly pays homage to the film and its iconic artwork) and enjoy watching what is a very unique and solid horror film in its own right.
The screenplay by Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur is streamlined if unspectacular and allows the cinematography, soundtrack and general sense of unease to do its job. Khalfoun skilfully crafts a slow-burning horror that begins in top gear from the outset, unrelenting from its first few minutes, but somehow never feels chaotic or “manic”, if you’ll forgive the wordplay. A warning to the faint-hearted however, do not forget that this film is made by French people and as we all know, French horror filmmakers pull no punches in the gore department. Maniac is no different. We feel the pain of every scalped follicle and not only that but we get to know the victims a bit more than I’m comfortable with before we see them meet their bloody demise. This can often be a tough watch, but in the way that a truly visceral horror film should be. Nobody does it like the French!
Maniac is arthouse horror at its best. Unafraid of its uniqueness, it doesn’t easily fit into genre trappings but maintains a high level of integrity throughout. Let’s hope to see much more of this level of filmmaking in genre cinema.
Keep an eye on my Twitter account @BrenUYB to see how you can win a Maniac poster and a dvd bundle courtesy of Metrodome.