I watched this last night, and it’s awesome!
When I heard that they were remaking William Lustig’s so-gritty-I-need-a-shower psycho-slasher Maniac (1980) and that Elijah Wood was going to be taking over the Joe Spinell role, my brain just about imploded. Elijah Wood is a good actor, and his face doesn’t look like it lost a face with a weed-whacker. And isn’t New York clean now? I didn’t think there were porn theaters and street pimps every fifteen feet. Maniac (1980) is such a product of its time I couldn’t imagine how it could be updated to fit our modern world of cell phones and urban renewal.
Well I’m happy to report that not only did Maniac (2012) keep the mean, gritty, dirty spirit of the original, but tried new things and made itself a whole new film to fit in our current time period.
The first thing I’ve got to say is that almost the entire run time of the film is shot in first-person POV. Yep, you are seeing the whole movie through crazy old Frank Zito’s eyes. This is an awesome way to bridge the gap between old-school slashers and new “found-footage” horror movies. In flicks like Friday the Thirteenth we get the killer’s POV for a bit, but then go back to a traditional type narrative. In movies like Cloverfield or Blair Witch some idiot is always lugging a camera around to give that POV angle. With Maniac (2012) you get the best of both worlds.
In addition, this POV angle really gets you in the head of the character (literally). I like that when Frank begins having hallucinations, or little day dream fantasies, you see them through his eyes. Frank’s inability to separate fantasy from reality really shines here. Also, basically being Frank for the duration of the film really gives you sympathy for the character. This is where Elijah Wood’s acting really comes through. Frank is nuts with a capital N, and commits some really horrible murders, but somehow, I was rooting for him the whole time. It’s crazy, but Elijah Wood really sells it.
Another great thing about this movie is that New York looks like garbage. It makes me really not want to live there, and that’s awesome! I’ve kinda been missing that late 70’s and 80’s New York you see in movies like Death Wish or Friday the 13th part 8 (which I know is really Vancouver, but my point still stands, dammit!). While there are some flashy art galleries, and well lit streets and metro stations, the city seems empty and rotted. It sells the mood and gives a wonderful sense of atmosphere to the whole film.
The cinematography by Maxime Alexandre is wonderful. The shots, while POV, are gorgeous, with a great sense of light and shadow. The way the camera moves wonderfully sells the illusion that we are in Frank’s eyes. Also impressive is the placement of mirrors and reflective surfaces every so often. It is a constant reminder that Frank is a person, a physical being moving through and occupying space rather than a disembodied pair of eyes. This also lets us see Elijah Wood’s wonderful facial expressions, which again, really sell the character. You don’t see Elijah Wood very much in this movie, but his acting is really top notch.
As far as the other actors and actresses go, I think they all did a good job. Nora Arnezeder was good as Frank’s love interest Anna. She has an adorable French accent, and her mannerisms and dialogue made my buy her as a chic, urban, fine-art photographer. Aside from her, there aren’t many other characters in this thing … you know, because of murder. The other standout for me was Megan Duffy as Lucie, the tattooed red-headed pixie Frank meets on an online dating site. I thought she played her part well, and it was nice to see a victim with personality traits other than “generically pretty.”
Lastly, lets talk about the plot and script. The plot is pretty straight forward. If you’re familiar with Maniac (1980), this is pretty much the same story, but with enough alterations to make it worth checking out. Basically Frank Zito is a lonely young man who owns a store that restores vintage mannequins. He’s also crazy, in case the title of the movie didn’t fill you in on that. He uses online dating profiles to find, stalk and murder various women, then scalps them and staples the scalps to mannequins in his shop. One day he meets Anna, a photographer who takes pictures of mannequins. They develop a friendship that begins turning into something more. Will these two star crossed lovers work it out and find love? Let me remind you, Frank is scalping random women around town and is completely bonkers.
The story is simple, but everything about it works. You really get to know Frank and Anna, and you can’t help but feel sympathy for Frank. I didn’t feel like a single scene was wasted. It’s really a testament to the script by Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur. You might remember Alexandre Aja from such films as High Tension, and Piranha 3D.
There is probably a lot more I could get into, but … I’ve been rambling enough. I really enjoyed this movie. It’s not a light-hearted family romp, and I wouldn’t recommend it for date-night, but if you want to see a gritty, gory, horror drama that really explores a crazy character, then this might be right for you.