MANIAC (2012) Dir. Franck Khalfoun 85 mins Metrodome Distribution UK Release: 1st July 2013
Let me get this straight, they got Frodo Baggins to play Frank Zito? Cherubic, youthful, wholesome Elijah Wood? How can someone like that step into the shoes of the legendary Joe Spinell and the sweaty, sleazy, pock-marked, overweight Frank Zito that he himself created. These were my and many others initial thoughts once the remake of the classic 1980 Bill Lustig horror was announced, and isn’t it nice just to be proved wrong once in a while.
The first similarity that strikes you about this version of Maniac is the similar obsession with these detached lingering shots of the city. In the original it was the dirty rundown sleaze-pits of New York, now though we are relocated to what seems like LA, albeit retaining an obsession with the grimy nocturnal activities.
Frank Zito, the lead character is a different proposition in the 21st century. Instead of picking up two bit hookers on 42nd street he’s surfing online dating sites to find his next prey, and that’s exactly where we have an early kill to the sound of that infamous serial killer tune Goodbye Horses by Q-Lazzarus. We don’t initially catch sight of Frank as the majority of the film is shot from his point of view, a pretty ambitious and very successful idea. All we see are glimpses of him in mirrors and the odd photograph, as well as these blistered hands with oozing callouses and filthy fingernails. When we do see Elijah Wood he embodies the role, looking thin, worn, unshaven and somewhat seedy.
Frank’s profession is that he owns a mannequin store, passed through the generations and specialising in restoring antique mannequins. Its outside this shop he meets French photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder). She is impressed with the artistry of his collection and he invites her in, while leaving behind her phone number upon going home hinting at a potential friendship.
The murder set pieces for the remake a largely different, which in my opinion is another positive as how could you possibly recreate Joe Spinell leaping onto a car bonnet and shooting Tom Savini in the head. That is without doubt one of the most memorable scenes in any horror film from that period, and to recreate it would be a huge mistake. Having said that though, the new murders are all memorable in their own way, and with make-up by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, the gore is exemplary.
The film progresses in a similar way to the original in that Frank gradually targets several women of differing backgrounds while at the same time growing closer and closer to Anna about whom he begins to feel quite protective about. There are a few nods to the original film, one of which is a glorious recreation of the infamous Maniac poster during one of the murder sequences – check out the reflection in the car!
A criticism may lie in the development of Frank’s back story, which tells of life with his mother and her lurid ways. I’m not too sure if this needed to be told, and I must admit I prefer a little ambiguity in these circumstances rather than “well, Frank is like this because of this”.
It’s a minor quibble however in a film that impressed me a great deal. Maniac from 1980 is one of my favourite horror films, not least because I think the performance of Joe Spinell is absolutely phenomenal. Ideally, I’d have preferred them not to remake it – after all, how can you remake perfection? They did though, and to be honest I don’t think they could have done a better job. With remakes, that’s as good as it gets.