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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

This is Halloween: Maniac (2012)

Maniac (2012) - Perspective

PERSPECTIVE
In modern horror, the thought of re-making fringe horror films is always confusing to me. What audience is this re-make for?  Who is going to see it?  Is it viable for a studio to release a film that maybe a handful of people will see, let alone be nostalgic for?  I raise my hand proudly!  I love cult horror films, they always hold a special please in my sick little heart.  Some of my fondest memories, like I've mentioned before, was watching USA's Up All Night, and MonsterVision on TNT with Joe Bob Briggs.

While horror in recent years has been stripped of its soul and replaced with found footage and other nonsense, it's nice to know that someone is still out there respecting the cult horror of yesteryear.  That person is Alexandre Aja.  This Frenchman knows his horror, even if its over-the-top, gut-wrenching, blood-soaked horror, its the horror that I love.  He knows just how far to push the exploitation envelop, and while he might not have directed the film I'm about to get into reviewing, he was the brainchild behind developing  the 2012 remake of "Maniac" based on the 1980 original.

"Maniac" stars Elijah Wood as Frank, a loner who runs a mannequin shop in an unnamed urban sprawl.  Devoted to his work, needless to say he has a hard time connecting with the opposite sex, so he does what any normal person would do;  he trolls dating sites (a plot point that quickly loses steam), murders, and scalps women.  That is until the day he meets Anna, a young artist interested in his mannequins.  While Frank tries to pursue a normal relationship with Anna, his thirst for blood is unquenchable and he continues to kill.

Sure, I'm simplifying the plot for sake of spoilers, but there is a lot to like about "Maniac."  While there are are deviations from the original, namely the infamous "Disco Boy Scene" the remake focuses on Frank's relationship with his mannequins, women, and his rather complicated mommy issues.  While the "Disco Boy Scene" would have been cool to see with modern SFX, it would have added nothing to the remake overall.  But fret not gorehounds, there are plenty of moments where you'll forget all about "Disco Boy."

Comparing the original "Maniac" to it's remake is tough to do.  The original relies on tension, with a grimier and grittier look, very reminiscent to Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver."  Joe Spinell, who was already a pretty rough looking dude, plays Frank to a tee and there is never any doubt he's a maniac.  The on-screen murders are brutal and you feel the terror of his victims as well as the pain of Spinell who is acting against his will and can't stop killing.

This time around Elijah Wood plays Frank, and while you might think Wood as a murderous creep is a tough sell, see what he did in "Sin City" as Kevin, or just see what he's doing now as Ryan Newman on "Wilfred."  Wood gives a convincing performance as the twisted serial killer who collects scalps, which he adorns to the top of his mannequins' heads.

The choice to shoot most of the film from Frank's perspective is an interesting choice.  It's found footage without being found footage.  I would almost consider "Maniac" the serial killer version of "Enter the Void," from Gaspar Noe.  You might even call this film a "first-person killer."  There are a few scenes where the camera swings around to reveal Frank making a kill, but for the most part, I like the idea of "actually" see ing through the eyes of the killer.

Is 2012's "Maniac" and improvement over the original?  It all depends on your perspective.  The original was playing up the fears of the still-fresh-in-their-minds "Son of Sam" murders in New York from the late 1970s, so it was reasonably timely and terrifying at the same time.  The remake is pretty much a shot in the dark, cashing in on the found footage craze and the dying out torture-porn aesthetic.  It's also rips off some of the retro-style of "Drive," however, I respect the fact that directors and writers who are fans of cult genre fare, like "Maniac," decided to take the proverbial stab at making a genre film that only hardcore horror fans would be familiar with.  I salute Aja and director Franck Khalfoun for creating something with teeth to compete against dribble like "Paranormal Activity 45: Stop Moving Into This House!" and doing a little-known classic justice some 30 years later.

Fun Fact:  "Goodbye Horses" by Q. Lazzarus, is featured in another prominent film; 1991's "Silence of the Lambs" which also featured a serial killer who murdered women.

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