At a time when Hollywood remakes and superfluous sequels are being ridiculed amongst cinema-goers, comes yet another attempt in the form of Franck Khalfoun's refashioning of William Lustig's 1980's cult horror sensation Maniac. Yet with Lustig installed as a producer, it helps gives this title a sense of authenticity, as this controversial piece stays true to the original - proving that, if done well, sometimes remakes aren't all that bad.
Elijah Wood revises the role that once belong to Joe Spinell, playing Frank – the demented owner of a mannequin store who spends his evenings stalking women on their way home, before violently attacking them. Bearing an unhealthy obsession with the mannequins, Frank cuts off his victims’ scalps to attach to the dolls, bringing them to life somewhat, as he develops relationships with them. However when he meets photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder) he actually finds himself developing feelings towards another human being for the first time, as while his obsession with her continues to escalate, as does his deep and dark tendency to attack women...
Given the subject matter being explored, Maniac is naturally an uncomfortable and shocking piece of cinema, which is difficult to watch at the best of times. It's not just how gory and obscene this picture is, but it's within the naturalistic build up to the murders, as we know exactly what is to come and it's simply unbearable. The discomfort of the piece is enhanced as Khalfoun ensures this be an extremely visceral picture, particularly with the haunting use of sound – you hear every cut of the blade. Although it is difficult to watch you do find yourself laughing at points, yet this is simply because you're so nervous you need to laugh to avoid curling up into a ball and crying yourself to sleep.
Although gory, Maniac doesn't use the shock value flippantly, as the title is presented solely from the first person perspective of Frank (think Peep Show), so instead of feeling like a mere cop out, instead the gore is imperative as we follow Frank's line of vision and gaze, and he is hardly going to look away when fulfilling his sick fantasies. Seeing everything through Frank's eyes is a fascinating technique, not only adding realism to the film, but also helping us get into the head of a serial killer. Maniac is ultimately a depiction of a disturbed, twisted murderer, and by seeing the world from his point of view, the audience almost embody Frank, which helps as we attempt to understand him.
Although the majority of his appearances in the film are merely his own reflections in the mirror, Wood does a fine job portraying this intricate character, with a haunting stare and a permanently gaunt expression smacked across his face. I'll never be able to watch The Lord of the Rings in the same way again.
In a sense it's quite difficult to pinpoint the negatives and positives to this feature as you are so overcome with shock having been exposed to such imagery - the scalping particular harrowing. This certainly isn't a title you would want to take your parents to. Or anyone else for that matter. This may be a well made and hugely perturbing film, but seriously, it's not one to recommend lightly.