The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Maniac | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Maniac

Directed by: Franck Khalfoun
Starring: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, America Olivo

Remake of the notorious eighties slasher.

Frank (Wood) has some serious Mommy issues, having been subjected, as a child, to the sight of his prostitute mother (Olivo) plying her trade in front of his impressionable young eyes. Now, as an adult, he's taken over the family business, restoring mannequins. In the evenings however, he become L.A's most notorious serial killer, stalking women and murdering them for their scalps. Upon returning home, he attaches these newly acquired hairpieces to the mannequins in his bedroom, which he imagines are real live women who taunt him. When a kooky French photographer (Arnezeder) shows an interest in his mannequin restoring skills, he falls for her but finds his murderous impulses returning.
William Lustig's 1980 original is one of the more respected of the countless eighties slashers. When it was announced that Wood was to play the role so well performed by Joe Spinell in the original, much mocking laughter was heard from the slasher faithful. Casting someone like Wood makes perfect sense however. The biggest issue of the original is that Spinell is so downright sleazy and creepy looking that it's inconceivable that someone like Caroline Munro would have gone within twenty feet of him, let alone befriend the schlub. Because Wood looks non-threatening, the relationship, here with French actress Arnezeder, is a lot easier to swallow. This relationship turns out to be the remake's greatest strength, mainly due to Arnezeder's performance. She's appeared a lot in thankless roles but, on the strength of her turn here, I suspect we'll be seeing big things from her.
Khalfoun makes the choice to shoot his remake almost entirely from the POV of Frank, ala Robert Montgomery's 'Lady in the Lake', pulling back to reveal Wood in key moments, usually murder scenes. This becomes tiresome after a while, chiefly because the camera behaves at times in a manner that the human eye can't (zooms and cuts, for example). The cinematography of Maxime Alexandre and the synth score from 'Rob' capture the feel and mood of eighties low budget horror but there is one key element missing which made the original so creepy: eighties New York. Back in the late seventies and early eighties, the city was the personification of urban hell and movies shot during this period were automatically lent an extra air of menace. Nowadays the Big Apple resembles a kid's theme park so Khalfoun relocates the action to L.A and the same grim feeling just isn't there. In this case, New York's gain is the wannabe sleazy film-maker's loss.