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John’s Horror Corner: Maniac (2012), a brutal remake of a slasher classic, and starring Elijah Wood.

September 25, 2019

MY CALL: Clearly this was an ambitious and stylized approach to this remake. And whereas it impressed me in many ways it lacks the lasting impact of the 1980 original. Still a solid film and a great watch for fans of brutal cinema. MORE MOVIES LIKE Maniac: The original Maniac (1980) and, for its stylish nature, The Neon Demon (2016).

Our killer Frank (Elijah Wood; The Good Son, The Faculty, Cooties) lives in a mannequin shop (sort of) and connects with photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder; Zoo, Origin, Berserk, Safe House), to whom he takes an instant interest.

As someone who loved the 1980 original so much, I have procrastinated watching this remake for nearly a decade. But despite my hesitation, I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt because of Elijah Wood’s passionate involvement. So now, finally succumbing, director Franck Khalfoun’s (Amityville: The Awakening, Prey, P2) remake brings some welcome upgrades. Most notably was the opening sequence, which culminated in the iconic scalping of the first victim. And while it felt a bit romanticized in execution, it was slick and gruesome and everything I didn’t realize that I wanted.

This remake feels veeeeery stylized, much more sexualized and almost psychedelic at times. With a flavor and approach that are certainly different, I wouldn’t dare call it better than the original in execution. But nice that it doesn’t simply try to rehash or recreate it, one iconic scene after the next. Some aspects work well, others just okay. For example, the imagery and accompanying sound effects of the scalpings are truly visceral. But I find Frank’s POV-shots to often feel out of place…. well, some of the time. On a date fooling around with his online site match it feels disruptive to the pace (for me), but when he’s applying his sloppy scalp trophies to his mannequins while talking to them it feels perfectly disconcertingly appropriate. And the nudity in this remake felt far more outright gratuitous rather than contributing to vulnerability (as it often did well in the original). There was certainly nothing “vulnerable” about the raunchy flashbacks of Frank’s mother (America Olivo; Bitch Slap, Neighbor, Friday the 13th).

Great efforts were made to keep this remake shocking. And shocking us was its greatest strength. The Achilles tendon slice was mean and abrupt! I yelled at my TV when it happened. One of the scalpings brutally tears the scalp from a still living victim—vicious! However, I feel that when it came to Frank’s deeper connection with Anna and our psychological understanding of our killer, 1980 simply did it better… way better. In 1980 Anna was a very strong character, and Frank was palpably tortured in the confines of his own head atop a body littered in burns and scars connecting the dots of his past abuse. 2012 missed those marks, but definitely brought its A-game for Frank’s comeuppance in the brutal, skin-peeling finale.

The real highlight here is the heart Elijah Wood poured into this beloved cinematic killer. His facial expressions seize mental disturbance and do honor to Joe Spinell’s (Starcrash, The Last Horror Film, Maniac) on-screen mania. And yes, this film is brutal and mean and shocking—and I enjoy that. I enjoyed the movie. But my overall reaction and satisfaction were greater with the original.

REMAKE/REIMAGINING SIDEBAR: For more horror remakes, I strongly favor the following: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Thing (1982), The Fly (1986), The Mummy (1999), The Ring (2002), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Friday the 13th (2009), Let Me In (2010), Evil Dead (2013), Carrie (2013), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014), It (2017) and Suspiria (2018). Those to avoid include The Thing (2011; a prequel/remake), Poltergeist (2015), Cabin Fever (2016), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Night of the Demons (2009), Body Snatchers (1993; the second remake), The Invasion (2007; the third remake), War of the Worlds (2005) and The Mummy (2017). I’m on the fence about An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Halloween (2007), It’s Alive (2009), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Fright Night (2011) and Pet Sematary (2019), which range from bad to so-so (as remakes in my opinion) but still are entertaining movies on their own.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2019 9:03 am

    Agreed. Elijah Wood does enjoy his almost art-house style of films. For me, this film had less visceral impact than the original. I thought about the original long after it was over. This one? Not so much. The acting was great, the visuals well done, it just didn’t have that indefinable ‘it.’

    • John Leavengood permalink
      September 25, 2019 7:27 pm

      I feel very much the same. For all its brutality, the remake sticks with me hardly at all whereas 1980 still glimmers in my mind–Spinnell’s face as he strangled that first victim. Yikes.

  2. September 26, 2019 8:58 am

    Yeah. That actor reminded of the Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, for some reason.


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