With the first day of 2012’s Mayhem Film Festival upon me I was truly excited, like a kid on Christmas morning. The song Maniac had become a permanent earworm for the couple of days leading up to Halloween and I was hoping that seeing the film would shake it out of there for good - a little factoid for the geeks out there, the song Maniac was originally written for this film but they ditched it only for it to have some of the lyrics toned down so that it could be used for Flashdance.
The original film stirred up quite a bit of controversy back in the day, initially for it’s misogynistic poster campaign with the tagline “I told you not to go out tonight” that was set against the picture of the protagonist Frank holding a scalp with hair and fresh blood dripping from it. With the master of horror special effects, Tom Savini, on board it was a gruesome, head popping, scalp-ripping slasher flick that took the genre to a new level but it never quite received the attention of other slasher films of the day.
So how does the re-make measure up to the now quite dated original? Elijah Wood plays Frank, a mannequin shop owner with some serious mother issues – like all good slasher killers - that seem to have manifested themselves into a love of killing and scalping women. His blood soaked trophies are then taken back to his shop to be lovingly stapled to the heads of mannequins for him to love and cherish forever. And why not? After all, hair is the only part of the human body that never decays…
Maniac is crisply shot from a first person vantage point that gives a claustrophobic and immersive feel to the film. As you take on the view point of Frank, the audience is almost forced to step into his shoes. As he stalks his victims you rarely see Elijah Wood, except in mirrors and the odd scene where it steps away from the POV perspective. Beautifully cast, Wood is a mouse of a man and you can see why his victims might not initially be wary of him, unlike with the swarthy and sinister Frank of the original. The detached world that Maniac is set in allows women to run screaming through the streets with no-one to hear their cries.
When he meets a young French photographer, Anna, they quickly strike up a friendship, albeit an awkward one, when she admires his collection of antique, restored mannequins. But will their shared love of mannequins’ beauty be enough to stop his scalping ways, or will he take hers too?
There is no doubting that the re-make is far better than the original in its look, its effects and its acting. Where the original lacked any character progression, Elijah Wood elicits a strange sympathy from the audience and you feel that you aren’t just watching a man hacking away at women’s scalps. The eerie soundtrack is reminiscent of Drive, and there are a couple of nods to classic horror films such as Silence of the Lambs in there. A worthy update, the claustrophobic feel of the film and the visuals make for an uncomfortable watch.
Maniac screened at Broadway as part of Mayhem Film Festival on Wednesday 31 October.
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