A remake of William Lustig's violent original from 1980, MANIAC, directed by Franck Khalfoun (P2), cranks up the intensity and sheer grimness to form a deeply disturbing, psychological horror film starring Elijah Wood as an unhinged and unpredictable killer who is about as far removed from Frodo as you could possibly imagine.
The film follows Frank (Wood), a mannequin restorer who, haunted by his childhood, has fallen off the edge of sanity and become a merciless serial killer, scalping victims and adding their hair to his private collection of fibreglass figures.
MANIAC redux is blisteringly violent and looks utterly fantastic. For the most part, it's shot from the perspective of Frank. His face is seen almost exclusively in reflections and when it is it's often obscured by darkness, grime or a shattered mirror.
The film transitions effortlessly from New York City, the location of the original film, and Los Angeles. At this juncture, it immediately steps forth and out of the shadow of Lustig's film, and, although closely following the same structure, very much becomes its own beast, baring its razor-sharp teeth until the climax and dribbling incredible art direction and sound design.
For all intents and purposes, MANIAC is a neo-giallo. Its inspiration is clear, right down to an astounding, Goblin-esque original score and the first-person perspective of the killer, only without the need for shrouding mystery and dirty, bruised, cut hands instead of a pair of knife-clutching black gloves.
Frank has been warped by childhood experiences and finds himself, deep down, trying to do the right thing, only he is constantly fighting a losing battle against his darker, twisted side. His psychological state is not so much fragile as it is broken and his mental instabilities counteract each other: his paranoid schizophrenia digs him into a bottomless pit of depression and vice-versa; his social awkwardness becomes plagued by mental and physical pain, driving him further and further until his breaking point is reached and the desire to kill becomes overwhelming, yet not a single murder appears to evoke relief or a respite from his own suffering. He's never able to satisfy the urges he wants so hard to control but never can.
MANIAC isn't your typical stalk 'n' slash horror and it often misdirects you, almost subtly so, as Frank's plans change, dragging you into his wholly unpredictable and frenzied frame of mind. In one scene, he chooses a pipe as his means of attack, only to suddenly use a knife instead, with that momentary change in decision occurring off-screen.
Held together by a convincing performance by Wood at his most insane, this is a remake that is most certainly worth seeing, brimming with gory shocks, scares and an almost hypnotic intensity that will leave you shell-shocked.
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