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2012 | 89 min | BBFC: 18 | 2.39:1



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Theatrical release date

 21 June, 2013
 15 March, 2013

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Screenshots from Maniac Blu-ray

Maniac Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 20, 2013

1980’s “Maniac” caused a great disturbance when it was initially released, with the late film critic Gene Siskel making it his personal mission to destroy the effort in the press, rejecting the work as grisly and hateful toward women. He wasn’t exactly wrong, but director William Lustig fashioned an exploitation picture, and one that knew exactly what it was doing. In 2013, we have a remake, though the low-budget grime has been scrapped off the material, replaced with impressive usage of POV cinematography, putting the audience into the skin of a killer. The redo also benefits from hindsight, creating a sleeker, more effective movie that remains as violent and irresponsible as ever.

Frank Zito (Elijah Wood) has taken over the family business of mannequin sales, spending endless hours perfecting his collection, while thoughts of his careless but loving mother poison his mind. Attempting to soothe himself from aching migraines and nasty memories, Frank embarks on a killing spree, targeting beautiful women through chance connections and online dating sites (Megan Duffy is especially vivid as one of the doomed), eventually killing and scalping his victims, fitting their hair on personalized mannequins that represent lovers and friends. By chance, Frank meets Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a photographer with an interest in the art of mannequin craftsmanship, with the two hitting it off as friends, offering the murderer a shot at a normal, stable relationship of understanding. However, Anna comes to question Frank’s behavior, leaving the unstable man to turn on the last woman he could connect with through the madness.

Make no mistake, “Maniac” is no treat. Director Franck Khalfoun (the abysmal “P2”) retains much of the ick that defined the original Lusting picture, including its iffy attention to the torment and slaughter of women. Frank’s not an equal opportunity killer, he’s looking to build a harem in a dank apartment, figuring natural hair sliced off the heads of his victims will somehow bring his personal mannequins to life, creating a family of sorts for the delusional monster, albeit one filled out with sexually forward ladies who represent degrees of shame Frank retains for his prostitute mother. It’s not a particularly friendly feature, though it’s interesting to watch Khalfoun match the jagged edges of the 1980 effort with his own orchestrations of extreme violence, sold with subtle CGI and semi-convincing make-up work (Frank peels off the scalps with cartoonish ease), sending “Maniac” into the gore zone with brutal shots of stabbings and slicings. Nobody said madness was pretty.

That sound you hear is Siskel turning over in his grave.

To ease the nasty business along, Khalfoun has designed an intricate POV approach to detail the poison of Frank’s mind. For much of the movie, we see what he sees, catching glimpses of the pint-sized brute in the reflections of mirrors, studying the torment of a man who can’t control himself. It’s a fascinating approach that’s flawlessly executed, keeping the picture tense and fluid as the camera chases the victims through empty subway stations or joins an unknowing lady for drinks, hearing Frank’s internal pressure rise with his headaches and compulsions to kill. Surprisingly, Wood is quite effective in the lead role (his best work in ages), creating a wounded man out of Frank, using a veneer of defenselessness to plausibly inch closer to his prey, with Anna his most elusive conquest. While he’s not onscreen for very long, Wood makes his presence felt, working with cinematographer Maxime Alexandre to generate exact movement and spooky reveals of instability. It’s a striking film that creatively utilizes its star.

I wouldn’t recommend “Maniac” to a general audience. It’s specialized filmmaking for horror fans who can appreciate interesting technical achievements and the dark tone of despair as Frank’s hallucinations finally get the best of him. It’s graphic and unpleasant, but the feature works within genre expectations, capturing a twisted sense of dementia that’s been simmering for far too long. Khalfoun (along with screenwriters Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur, and C.A. Rosenberg) build on the mistakes of the original work, sharpening “Maniac” into something slightly different, yet remains as obsessed as ever with unsavory business.

Starring: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder
Director: Franck Khalfoun

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