In Review: Maniac

by Andrew Kay on 13/03/2013


Retooling a notorious classic of the slasher genre such as Maniac (1980) is no easy task, and whilst the producers of the remake have stuck somewhat faithfully to the original on the narrative front, their remake feels anemic.

Elijah Wood plays Frank, the titular serial killer of the title, managing to straddle an open-faced cuteness and a sweaty, obsessive and homicidal bent. Running a mannequin store, he stalks downtown Los Angeles in search of young, attractive women to stab and scalp, to use their hair, disturbingly, on his life-sized plastic models.  Keeping with his modus operandi, he’s not likely to be caught, but seems wracked with demons and torments that play out in social situations such as manageable migraines, but are hiding something far more sinister.

Shooting almost entirely from the point of view of Frank, this remake is a different beast, aesthetically, from Bill Lustig’s 1980 feature. Whilst there’s a sleazy and grim atmosphere throughout and the murders are uncompromisingly savage and brutal, there seems less than meets the eye.

The sinister synth score, at once menacing and full of foreboding, is layered with a piano that contrasts the menace of a scene, but somewhat managing to dilute it. The infamous subway chase sequence, now in a Los Angeles Metro Station, fails to work because the direction is so strident, with the subsequent murder being improbably played out in a night-lit car park, reducing its harrowing impact.

The digital cinematography by Maxime Alexandre uses an annoyingly stylized gloss over a lot of the potential scuzziness, leaving run-down downtown Los Angeles as industrial and neglected, but not forbidding, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of a video game. The aesthetic choices also make the murders seem unreal and even pixilated, with a blotchy and heightened crimson colour accompanying every scalping.

Such a pity then, that the opportunity for a truly horrifying cinematic experience has been botched through odd directional choices by Franck Khalfoun and photography that creates style over substance, reducing the impact of a serial killer with so much potential to horrify and disturb us.

Andrew has awarded Maniac two Torches of Truth


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