Maniac (2012)

Rating: B

Dir: Franck Khalfoun
Star: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder

If you’re going to do a horror remake, please bring something new to the proceedings. The best ones do, and this one certainly deserves to be ranked up there. The basic plot is retained: Frank Zito (Wood) is severely disturbed, and obsessed with mannequins, due to psychological abuse suffered at the hands of his mother. He carries out a murder spree, scalping the victims and using them to dress up the mannequins, in his mind “bringing them to life.” He meets a photographer, Anna (Arnezeder), who knows nothing of this, and the two strike up a friendship; her specialty is mannequins, like the ones he restores in the family store. However, Frank’s psychoses are escalating: the body-count is increasing, and also getting closer to Anna, as his jealousy spirals out of control.

What the film doesn’t do, is probably wise. There’s no effort to repeat the infamous shotgun blast to the head – an early effects job for Tom Savini – which everyone who has seen the original, probably remembers. But make no mistake: this is a million miles from any PG-13 remake, with the killings and scalpings depicted in detail which is entirely appropriate. What really kicks it up, and justifies the existence, is the way virtually the entire film is shot from Frank’s point of view. That really embeds the viewer behind the killer’s eyes, which makes things pretty uncomfortable for much of the running time – and, yes, it also reduces the problems caused by Wood’s somewhat limited range of emotional expression.

Though, actually, since we’re dealing with someone who is severely crippled in that department, it’s not an issue (if you remember Wood in Sin City, you’ll know he can do a good job as a psycho). While definitely more polished than the original, so lacking the grindhouse aesthetic, the general quality of execution makes it more disturbing, and the overall result packs a nastier wallop than the original, with more depth, and doesn’t sacrifice the rawer elements to do so. Well done.