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Maniac (2013 remake)

tn_maniac2013It’s been a while since I’ve seen William Lustig’s MANIAC, but its memory lingers as a favorite movie somewhere in the scummy part of my brain. It’s not a slasher movie by my definition because it follows the killer the whole time, but that makes it more upsetting. Played by GODFATHER I-II supporting player Joe Spinell (who also co-wrote the movie), this maniac is a sweaty, disgusting mess living in the shadows of the flea-bitten New York City of 1980, the era of peep shows and grindhouses. He was the weirdo women had to worry about following them on the subway. He was literally the guy you didn’t want to run into in a dark alley, partly because he might be dumping a body in the garbage, and you don’t want any part of that.

To me the most memorably fucked up scene is the one where he’s handcuffed himself to a mannequin that has a real woman’s scalp attached, and he’s crying and he says, “I’m so happy.” And then later there’s one of my all time favorite turnarounds where this sicko leaves the private world of his dingy apartment, he goes into the city in the daylight, and it turns out he knows people. He’s wearing sunglasses and he’s hanging out at a photo shoot. They think he’s cool! Great movie.

So why do a remake, and why hire li’l Elijah Wood as the maniac? I don’t really know, but I had faith in the team of WRONG TURN AT TAHOE’s Franck Khalfoun behind the camera and HIGH TENSIONers Alexandre Aja & Gregory Levasseur on the keyboards. This team did the underrated Christmas-Eve-stalker-in-a-parking-garage movie P2, so I look forward to anything they make. And with MANIAC they don’t disappoint.

mp_maniac2013In this version the scalps and mannequins take center stage. Frank (Wood) lives in the back of a shop restoring antique mannequins. He’s tormented by memories of his mother turning tricks in front of him. He’s obsessed with women’s hair and high heels. He finds women on dating websights, and some of them he stalks, at least one he goes on a date with, but if he wasn’t planning to kill her… well, things turn out different.

We see how his sick mind operates and then all the sudden he meets the girl he’d meet if he wasn’t a maniac and this was a romance: a fun, slightly eccentric French artist named Anna (Nora Arnezeder) who photographs mannequins and has never seen any like his. It was bad enough watching what he did with those other poor women, now he’s sniffing around this one that we’re getting to know a little better, and we want him to stay the hell away! Yeah, her boyfriend’s a dick, but still. Try to make it work, lady. Trust me.

The two things that make this hugely different from the original: location and style. Instead of New York City it’s downtown L.A., and it doesn’t look like the same places you always see in other movies. It’s a world of twenty-somethings, the clubs, restaurants and galleries they go to, the apartments they live in, the sidewalks in between. They’re good looking people but not like standard issue actors or models. They’re modern women who have tattoos, piercings and flaws, which makes them all the more real and all the more upsetting as horror movie victims.

But the style is what really makes it stand out. Of course seedy 1980 NYC and modern L.A. look very different from each other, aside from both having subways. And the dark, grainy Super 16 film is replaced with slick, shiny digital. The one welcome retro touch is a simple, early-’80s-evoking synth score by Rob. (You know, Rob. No last name. What is with these people? What about the SEO?) There’s also some pop songs that remind me of the ones in DRIVE. The soundtrack’s not on CD, only downloadable file licensing. Death Waltz did put it on vinyl, but they aren’t licensed to sell it in the U.S. or France.

Anyway the music and all that’s kinda incidental, the real stylistic kicker is that about 90% of it, I’d guess, is done from Frank’s P.O.V. Yeah, it’s Elijah Wood, but you mostly hear his voice, sometimes see his reflection. I had a feeling it was really his stubby, cut-covered hands we keep seeing, but I wasn’t sure, he could’ve not been there most of the time. Thankfully my trusty Fangoria magazine delved into that. It turns out Wood was initially pitched it as a sweet deal where he wouldn’t have to be there much, but he ended up being there the whole time to be the hands and have the other actors talk to him and everything.

It’s a well-executed gimmick that works great for the movie because forcing you to identify with the Maniac that closely is almost cruel. You feel guilty, like you watching is causing murders. Especially painful is the long sequence where he goes on the date. It’s like one of these Japanese date simulation video games of legend, you’re on a date with this girl and she invites you up to her place and is all over you but you have to figure you know what, I don’t think this is gonna end well. You question it more than a normal horror movie. “Am I wrong to want to watch this? Do I want to watch this?” I really wondered that. “This is really good, but should I turn it off?” He’s strangling this poor girl and I’m like “No, it’s not me! It’s this guy! I swear, I’m just watching from his point-of-view! I’m innocent!”

The counterintuitive casting of Wood really works for the movie. When you see his face he has those big blue hobbity eyes, but they look soul-less. In one scene he’s looking for a photo to use on his dating profile, and there’s a gallery of him throughout his life, at all different ages that we remember seeing because he was in movies his whole childhood. (Reminded me of xXx STATE OF THE UNION when we saw a file photo of Ice Cube’s character and it was jheri curl Cube from the N.W.A. days.) But you don’t see Wood that much, mostly you hear his timid voice, which gives off a boyish innocence vibe that is not exactly truth in advertising. This guy is trouble, in my opinion. I don’t agree with what he’s doing out there.

There are some real nasty gory parts, and a pretty incredible effects-heavy punchline to the whole thing, but it wouldn’t be enough for the CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST type people who are only looking for that. It’s much more deeply unsettling than it is gross.

I think this is a really smart way to do a remake because it’s so different from the original that I didn’t find myself having to measure the two against each other, and yet it’s so disturbing and uncomfortable that it really honor’s the sleazy spirit of the original in its own fucked up way. Truly an impressive achievement.

trivia: Mic Rodgers, director of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN, was the stunt driver and appears as “Old Man.”

I watched this in HD from my cable’s on-demand, but it is playing in a few theaters. If you’re here in Seattle it will be at the Grand Illusion on Friday.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 at 1:33 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “Maniac (2013 remake)”

  1. the soundtrack is available to stream on spotify. I havent seen the film yet but the music is great!

  2. “It’s like one of these Japanese date simulation video games of legend”

    oh, Vern, I can assure you, those games are more than just a legend! they are real!

    anyway it’s funny how after the AVALANCHE of horror remakes in the 2000’s, it’s died down enough to the point where it’s kind of a novelty again

    and say, didn’t that remake trend start with the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake which is now a decade old? I can’t believe it’s been that long…

  3. My favourite part of the original was Tom Savini’s excellently slow-motion exploding head, but I could never believe that big sweaty Joe spinelli would get any attention from Caroline Munro. No way could she have been that hard up for dates.

    The ending of this remake reminded me a lot of the finale of Don’t Go Into The House, which is another old nasty one.

    Speaking of the using-old-photos-of-the-actors-as-character’s-photo trick, they did that in Bullet To the Head recently when they’re going through old mugshots. It’s pretty funny seeing Nighthawks Stallone, Rocky Stallone, etc with mugshot slates superimposed over them.

  4. “. . . he has those big blue hobbity eyes. . .”

    I lol’d.

  5. Oh, motherfucker. I had a feeling this was gonna be good. I had a chance to see a special screening of it a couple weeks ago with an Elijah Wood Q&A but it sold out. Then the next night he showed up at my favorite bar and I missed that, too. Creepy little fucker’s avoiding me.

    In other classic horror reboot news, how in the hell is there a new Chucky movie coming out with my man Brad Dourif once again supplying the vocal tones and I didn’t even hear about it until the trailer drops? (http://youtu.be/Y16TEl6Ek1M) And furthermore, how’s it going DTV? How you gonna disrespect the Chuck like that, Hollywood? He might be a doll but he don’t play.

  6. I got to see this at the Arena Cinema in Hollywood. Nice place and worth supporting if you’re in the area.

    I really liked this remake. That scene in the empty car lot where they homage the original film’s poster was just really well edited and shot. This has honest-to-god beautifully cinematography.

  7. Mr. Majestyk – clearly they have not learned the lesson, DON’T FUCK WITH THE CHUCK!

  8. Really good stuff, agreed. Was trying to figure out the relationship with the girl, and what the movie wanted us to think of her. My memory’s off, but wasn’t her exhibit at the end fetishizing pain and suffering? Was it poor people photos or something? I can’t recall, but I could see how that would immediately turn off the oh-so-charming title character, who thinks his mannequins are important parts of his life, not artsy tchotchkes.

    Also, I’ve been jamming out to that song that plays during the exhibit for awhile now. It’s a dancy pop tune, but if you listen to the lyrics, it sounds exactly like the fucked-up stuff Frank wishes the girl would tell him.

  9. The Original... Paul

    July 9th, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    “But the style is what really makes it stand out. Of course seedy 1980 NYC and modern L.A. look very different from each other, aside from both having subways. And the dark, grainy Super 16 film is replaced with slick, shiny digital. The one welcome retro touch is a simple, early-’80s-evoking synth score by Rob.”

    Vern, please tell me that you don’t regard the cinematography of “P2” as a plus? There were things I liked and things I didn’t like about that movie, but having the whole thing look as though somebody had smeared blue ink over the camera lens just about killed it for me.

    This one, though, sounds really good. I’ll check it out if it comes to an arts cinema near me (I can’t see any chance of it coming anywhere else).

  10. I’ve been hoping you’d review this. I’ve been on the fence about rather I wanted to see it or not. I was really afraid that the POV style would be too gimmicky and distracting, but it sounds like it actually works fairly effectively.

  11. Wood is playing against type, but not as much as you’d think when you remember his role in SIN CITY, though in that he’s playing something more akin to classic Michael Myers and this character has more of an explanation and believability to him.

  12. I think it’s great casting. When I first heard about the remake, I thought it was the stupidest thing I ever heard. How do you replicate that kind of grit and sleaze? Then I heard about Wood and I realized they were going their own way and got really interested. You can’t get two actors who are more different than Joe Spinell and Elijah Wood, so you get a completely different kind of movie.

  13. Really this seems like the only possible thing that Elijah Wood could ever do to wipe away the Hobbit stigma (not that that role was bad for his checking account, but, you know). He’s following up on his SIN CITY weirdo role, I reckon.

    Same thing could be said for my serious intimate monogamously committed [future] [provisional] girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens, who could only break away from the High School Musical persona
    (as so many unoriginal reviews fucking reminded us this past year in response to SPRING BREAKERS, stupidly lumping her in with Selena Gomez)
    by taking the drastic career moves of having her phone’s nudey pics leaked, hatcheting zombie motherfuckers & slinging 7.62mm rounds in a Zack Snyder masterpiece, and penetrating & humping a platinum-grilled Alien in a Harmony Korine masterpiece.

    In conclusion, if anyone ever compares Elijah Wood to Vanessa in any way again, I’ll fucking kill him.

  14. ya know, isn’t Elijah Wood a Christian? (don’t know if that’s true but I seem to remember reading that somewhere), you wouldn’t expect him to play the killer in a hard R horror movie

    but that’s just another reason why he’s awesome

  15. Apparently Wood is a MASSIVE horror nut. I read an interview with him, and he mentioned the movie that turned him into a fan of the genre. Surprisingly, it was some low-fi, obscure shot-on-video deal of which I was entirely unfamiliar with. Sounded legit to me.

  16. yeah, he’s the man

  17. Put off watching this for a couple of weeks. Sitting in my playlist. Finally took the plunge last night and it was a pleasant surprise. Things that stood out were the fact that I felt very unpleasant, think you hit the nail on the head Vern, the POV pushed it over the edge. It would have still been tough to watch in a traditionally shot format. Although the director ‘cheated’ the format on occasion, I’m ok with it. However the electro-pop song that played on the credits was like a palette cleanser, nice touch. Gotta say I didn’t once feel bored, the film was very ‘tight’, and just didn’t drag one bit.

  18. Haven’t seen this yet, but definitely check out the soundtrack on Spotify. It’s like aural crack, cooked in a Moog and ready for your canal.

    Wait, did that come out wrong?

  19. Sounds similar in POV to Peeping Tom, that was fairly uncomfortable to watch as I recall. This new Maniac could be worth catching.

  20. Yeah, that’s a good comparison, I hadn’t thought of that. It definitely serves the same function here as the filming sequences in PEEPING TOM.

  21. A friend of mine was at Amoeba Records in Hollywood earlier this week and Elijah Wood was there DJing. Maybe this is the year he breaks out as one cool motherfucker.

  22. Yeah so this just got straight banned in New Zealand. I’m feeling pretty ashamed right now.

  23. I just read the thing about New Zealand. This is weird. Here in Germany it even got an uncut theatrical release. Something, that for that kind of movie almost never happens.

  24. It took them a few years, but from now on, this movie is officially banned in Germany too.

  25. And now another one of my ever popular “This movie isn’t banned in Germany anymore” updates: The original MANIAC isn’t banned in Germany anymore! The remake still is.

    Also last week the original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT got unbanned, after, according to the label that did it, an extremely dirty legal fight, which seemed like the German censors were deliberately finding reasons to stretch the legal proceedings out as long as possible, in hopes to make the whole thing too expensive too finish it. The remake never had any trouble.

  26. I was a big fan of this one but never saw o.g. MANIAC (1980) until today (it’s free on Tubi here in USA, along with a bunhch of others, including DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE. I am trying to steel myself to watch DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE, and MANIAC (1980) was mentioned in the review of the latter, so, … here I am.

    A theme in Vern’s DGITH review is that MANIAC (1980) is thematically similar but notably “sleazier” than DGITH. I can’t speak to the contrast, but I will say that I don’t really see MANIAC as sleazy per se. There’s a definite scumminess, and a greasiness (titular Maniac Joe Spinell’s face, in particular, is the greasiest thing in the film, but it’s a prominent feature, for sure). But, at core, I see this as an art film and a truly great one at that. Spinell is completely compelling–just brilliant. The film is confident and assured and utterly original. It’s lurid, tawdry, poignant, heartbreaking, psychologically rich, heartbreaking, pulpy. There is some brilliant dialogue and some incredibly powerful scenes with Spinell and a couple of his victims (the stalk-and-kill of his first and last victims, respectively, are gripping, idiosyncratc, and masterfully performed). Not just a a fun grindhouse flick, guilty pleasure, or lovable bit of trash — MANIAC 1980 is as powerful a horror film as I’ve seen, as good as the best things Craven, De Palma, or the A24 critic’s darlings have put out. Very much worth your time. There you have it, I’m just 40 years late to the party! Now I have to go back and see how it compares to MANIAC 2013, which I liked and own but haven’t seen since my first watch several years ago now.

    Also, holy shit, Spinell is Gazzo from ROCKY!! Also-also, double holy shit: IRL Spinell died of blood loss after getting gashed on a sharp object, which is very creepy and oddly very…MANIAC. Spooky shit.

  27. Now this is one of those remakes in the “John Carpenter’s The Thing” sense which gives the things a good name. The original is a nearly plotless character study; the remake is (comparatively) sleek and studio-produced, with more of an arc and much more artistry put in the filmatism of it all. But it doesn’t feel like they’re missing the point of the original, so much as they have a new take on the same pitch and dammit, they’re going to rock the hell out of it. I wish more remakes would take big swings like filming 95% of the movie in first-person POV instead of just shuffling around deck chairs on the same old cruise.

    Should the final frame have been the camera fading to black, then smash-cutting back to the scene to represent Maniac McGee shockingly opening his eyes after seemingly dying?

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