One of the most highly anticipated indie film releases of the last few years has been the modern remake of William Lustig’s controversial 1980 MANIAC… for me. Though personally the original film sporting distinguished character actor Joe Spinell (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and is seen to by special effects master Tom Savini is a masterwork of independent horror, the new film caught me from the moment the casting was released. In place of a Spinell-esque character, the lead is played by the one and only, Elijah Wood. Ever since his minor role as the cannibal Kevin in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s SIN CITY, it only seemed right that Wood would continue along the horror track because he gave one hell of a creepy performance. But he is not only thrust into the spotlight of the film (receiving the top billing), but also responsible for creating a whole new dynamic for the character. The possibilities of adapting the original material for current day audiences were seemingly boundless, thus something quite enthralling.
And as for the actual film, it captures complete attention from the moment the title card appears on screen (after a very sudden and disturbing scene shot involving the first scalping in the film). And this first sequence, along with the entirety of the film, is shot from the murderer’s perspective, with Wood’s face being shown only in reflections. This is a starkly different approach to the material that was not present in the original film. The original was filmed relatively traditionally with some great innovation by frequent Lustig collaborator Robert Lindsay (who shot and co-wrote the very underrated 2008 short ALIUS PRIMORIS), this one was shot by the very talented Maxime Alexandre who is the architect behind the composition of horror staples such as HIGH TENSION and the remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Though there are certain shots and partial scenes in which the original does adopt a 1st person POV, this was the beginning of what sets this film apart from its origin and contemporary films of the genre. Many found-footage based films (such as REC and DIARY OF THE DEAD) are presented with this viewpoint for the majority of the work. However, it is only due to the fact that the camera is an active participant in the story, and very few of these films keep the same perspective for the entirety of the film.
With Wood’s haunting voice and the eclectic score by Rob (just Rob), who recently received a César Award nomination for his score on Régis Roinsard’s POPULAIRE, layer on top of each other to create a seamless enhancement of the terrifying attitude from the original film while still adding its own creative flair. The genuine disturbing fair of the film is evident in almost every scene, with our gaze always dictated by the main character Frank. The only time the film jumps into a third person aspect of a scene is usually during flashback sequences or specifically pinnacle moments in the plot. This is very similar to Gaspar Noé’s ENTER THE VOID where it has almost exactly the same visual style (though regulating any third person shots as over-the-shoulder of the protagonist). This stylization has a hairline difference (pun intented) between very irritating to very innovative, and thankfully this film is the latter. It stands as a venerable hallmark of the Slasher genre that helps regain belief the genre has not gone as nearly stale as the critical community constantly boasts.
The performances, the cinematography, the music, the direction, all of these elements are extraordinarily potent and well crafted. The standalone aspect that brings all of the work together is the editing and the pacing that results from it. The editor Baxter (whom had also served as editor on HIGH TENSION and Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury’s INSIDE) takes a very difficult film and makes it accessible without sacrificing the intensity of the material in the film. This is a hallmark of a true master editor of horror, which is a real rarity and only shared by a few, specifically such as Ray Lovejoy (THE SHINING), Todd Ramsay (THE THING) and Elliot Greenberg (THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES). And with director Franck Khalfoun co-editing, there was a very sharp and taught evidence to the whole of the film. There were no spots where the film dragged, nor were there any unnecessary padding. This film takes material from some of the more notable and notorious minds in horror and matches the threshold that was set by the original 1980 MANIAC.
With the film being produced by the original’s director/producer William Lustig as well as the Academy Award-winning producer Thomas Langmann (THE ARTIST) and French horror icon Alexandre Aja (who is set to release the film adaption of Joe Hill’s HORNS this year) at the helm of the production, this film received all of the most appropriate and experienced handling that could have been expected with a film of this type. Never it panders to the audience, nor does it pull any punches with the gore and disturbing aspects, always elevated even higher by the performance of Wood (whose lines were primarily ADR, inserted during post-production).
MANIAC ushers in a new hope for indie Slasher filmmakers trying to create something new in a genre that has been relatively flaccid or have lost many of the more talented directors/writers/producers to the Torture Porn subgenre and modernized Splatter films.