Maniac – Film Review
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Cast: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezader, Megan Duffy
by Dan Berlinka
William Lustig’s original Maniac from the beginning of the eighties slasher cycle, is something of a cult film among horror fans. Not because of any obvious quality, but more for its gruesome Tom Savini effects (and not unrelated banning by the BBFC). The unlikely casting paired Godfather alumnus Joe Spinell and genre-favourite Caroline Monroe. Additional controversy came from its ‘I warned you not to go out tonight’ ad campaign.
The central image from that 1980 poster is briefly recreated in Franck Khalhoun’s remake. But despite that respectful nod, this is a different beast altogether. Khalhoun takes the ‘killer’s POV’ trope (familiar from the opening of Halloween and countless others) and pushes it to its logical conclusion. He shoots almost the entire movie with a subjective camera that confines Elijah Wood’s lead to dialogue and glimpses of his reflection. But any fears that this will grow tiresome are soon dispelled by the meticulous composure of the cinematography. While Wood’s nervy performance is strong enough to be effective, even though his presence is largely off-screen.
“Pretty gory but with style and cine-literacy”
The laconic cool of the visuals (and Rob’s electronic soundtrack) recall Drive, another European director’s recent genre exploration. But unlike that non-car-chase car-chase movie, Maniac doesn’t disdain the exploitation elements that are pretty much the whole slasher sub-genre’s raison d’etre. Even if the approach is something of an art school sensibility. In other words, it’s pretty gory; but with style and cine-literacy. At times it seems as if the film is following a thread that leads back to Taxi Driver. In which, of course, first ‘Maniac’ Spinell had a small but memorable role.
From a plot point of view, it doesn’t all quite add up. But given the overall craft and intelligence at work, I’ll put the occasional implausibilities down to the unreliable subjectivity of the fractured psychology through which we view everything. Of course, it’s not going to be for everyone. The bloody violence will be a turn-off for some. The experimental feel might be alienating if you’re in the mood for more straightforward entertainment. But if you’re one of those people whose taste encompasses that odd nexus of horror and art film, then this is the one you’ve been waiting for.