The slasher flick was in its prime during the 1970’s and 1980’s and could be seen in nearly any variation, to the point where audiences’ tastes have become a bit more refined. With so many genres and sub-genres competing for attention these days in the horror world, it now takes a bit more than tits and stab-wounds to startle seasoned fans. In his 2012 film “Maniac”, director Franck Khalfoun tries to abate this by putting a new spin on how the classic tale of a maniacal killer is told. Now, if he had only focused on revising the tale itself…
Based upon the 1980’s American pseudo-cult slasher film of the same name, “Maniac” tells the sordid tale of a New York mannequin restorer named Frank Zito (Elijah Wood). Lonely and traumatized by the childhood memories of his mother’s illicit red-light antics, Frank fills his time with stalking and scalping attractive young women, then arranging said scalps as wigs for his dummies. It’s all fun and games until he one day meets Anna (Nora Arnezeder), an attractive French photographer who offers to strike up a meaningful friendship. As the story unfolds entirely through Frank’s perspective, save for glimpses of himself through flashbacks and reflections, it becomes clear that he is simply too far gone to have any kind of relationship with a woman on a non-homicidal basis.
I love that Elijah Wood and his famous wading-pool eyes were cast for the role of Frank. Their distinct ability to project sweetness and innocence is wonderfully juxtaposed by an equally strong projection of deep-seeded viciousness and anger. Disappointingly, these polarizing states are the only two places Wood takes his disturbed character. It’s not everyday that an obscure low-budget 80’s horror movie gets remade into an art-house piece with some decent talent involved, and I couldn’t help but hope for a more complex study of Frank’s character in this supposedly updated version.
However, the central focus and main marketing point of the film has more to do with the way his deeds are presented in first-person perspective rather than examining his experiences and who he really is. Although the decision to shoot the film solely from his point of view is a technical challenge that is met with grace, there are no insights made beyond his maddening desire and contempt for women who remind him of his mother. Consequently, 2012’s “Maniac” is a close copy of its predecessor, only shown from a different angle.
Extreme gore fans are sure to get their fix, yet a number of scenes are so profoundly cliched and over-the-top that they veer dangerously close to the realm of parody. Some interesting moments occur when Frank experiences harsh migraines often associated with severe schizophrenia, but as soon as these are quelled with a bottle of mystery pills he skips off to his next victim as if nothing ever happened. The budding relationship with Anna is annoyingly improbable as it essentially consists of roughly four ten-minute meetings, making it very hard to either relate to or care about. On the whole, Khalfoun’s version dips its toes into the possibility of an alluring idea (the inner-workings of a deranged serial killer), but never actually dives in and sinks to the bottom.
It’s true that the device of a first-person narrative is a clever one, and has been used cleverly in many horror movies to date. But a film is meant to be more than just one single device; it’s meant to be a journey to some kind of destination. Despite all appearances, “Maniac” does not go anywhere with its characters or story, instead merely grazing the surface of Frank’s slasher psyche by substituting character development for camera techniques and titillating views of the female victims before their scalps are lopped off. This is just another story of a mentally unstable man who murders sexy women. Its execution may be a bit different, but upon closer inspection this isn’t anything audiences have never seen before.
Overall Rating: 5/10