Remakes vs Originals – The Remake Rumble: Round 3 – Maniac

Remake Rumble: Round 3
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Maniac (2013)
Not all remakes are created equal, but sometimes the battle lines between the original film and the so-called “re-imagining” aren’t as clear as they may first appear. In this new, regular feature Joey Keogh pitches a chosen horror film against its remade counterpart, to answer that oft-debated question – is there ever any justification for “rebooting” a horror movie? And, dare we even suggest it, can a remake ever surpass the original?

Although it wasn’t considered vile enough to be one of the infamous “video nasties”, Maniac was banned for cinema in the UK in 1981, and again for video in 1998. It was finally released with 58 seconds cut in 2002, a decade before it would be remade with none other than the nerdy-cute Elijah Wood in the starring role, as the titular maniac.

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Maniac 1980

As stalk-and-slash shockers go, Maniac is something of an acquired taste. Revered by those who defend it, dismissed by those who found it too tough back in the day and too old-fashioned now, the film is still a talking point thanks, in large part, to the remarkable SFX work of the legendary Tom Savini. Helmed by William Lustig, this lurid, very strange depiction of a twisted man, haunted by the death of his mother and struggling with his inner demons, still packs a punch today, not least because of a stunning central turn from Joe Spinell, as Frank.

The film has aged significantly, and it’s unlikely to draw in any new converts, but it’s dark, brutal and loaded with great scares. Those who have seen, and fallen madly in love with, David Fincher’s superb Zodiac will note that the titular killer’s attire here resembles that of the real-life murderer at the heart of that remarkable film. This adds another level of weirdness to what is already a profoundly strange movie.

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Maniac 2013

Lustig takes a production credit on the remake, but that’s where the connection ends. When it was first announced, the biggest discussion point was the casting of Elijah Wood in the lead role. Once we heard the film was shot entirely from his POV, with only glimpses of Wood shown here and there, the conversation turned to confusion over why such a well-known actor was cast only to have his face, seemingly, hidden.

Funnily enough, this is arguably Wood’s strongest performance to date. Let’s not forget, he’d only really played a villain once before, in Sin City – another flick in which his face was covered – so he’s really working outside his comfort zone. Here, Wood is incredibly nuanced in his portrayal of a character torn apart by his past yet still trying desperately to grasp his future – even with the heavy breathing aspect of his POV shots, which, in the original, was annoyingly over-the-top, at times even ruining the tension. Modern Frank is heavily-medicated, and trying his best to keep to himself and live a normal life (when he isn’t scalping unsuspecting women, of course). He even tries to start a relationship in order to move on, while his predecessor simply fell into one because he was caught out after being photographed in public.

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Maniac 1980

Spinell, who co-wrote the screenplay of the original, presents Frank as a bloodthirsty, evil and relentless killer, who stalks and slaughters and admonishes himself afterwards for giving in to the voices in his head. Wood’s Frank, penned by Alexandre Aja of Haute Tension fame, is a far more sympathetic character, albeit just as twisted. His first kill is as vicious, if not more so, than his predecessor’s and although he seems slightly less inept around women, he ultimately cannot resist his own vile intentions towards them.

Director Franck Khalfoun shoots his city – the action is moved to LA instead of New York – as though it’s a dark underworld, with every corner throbbing with danger, and the twisted techno of the soundtrack rumbling along underneath everything. In a lot of ways, the city is a character in itself. Lustig’s nightmare NYC was a horrible, resolutely dark place that Frank treated as a playground. The idea in his film was that there was no escape, but in the remake Frank often hangs back, letting his victims fall into danger themselves instead of luring them. It’s a more modern take that somehow makes the idea scarier, because it’s so easy to put oneself in the position of the victim, trusting life as we think we know it.

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Maniac 2013

Considering how many dumb eighties slashers there are, Maniac is in a league of its own in a lot of ways. It’s not the typical, knife-wielding-killer fare that became so popular during this decade – it has just as much brains as blood. Strangely, the infamous Friday The 13th was released around the same time, and considering how popular it turned out to be, it’s slightly disheartening that Maniac’s effect was dulled as a result. The premise of Maniac, too, is tinged with mother-son weirdness – though Frank is more Norman Bates than Jason Voorhees – but with a cruel twist as the killer believes his mother is still alive, and simply hiding from him.

The film orbits around Frank, so his presence is the most important. A disturbed, twisted, truly damaged villain, he cannot cope with his past and chooses to lash out at women to deal with the pain of his mother’s betrayal. He’s an anti-hero of sorts, who elicits a certain amount of empathy in spite of his viciousness. Wood’s Frank has more of a presence, even though he’s seldom shown. His battered and bruised hands betray how careful he is with the “women” in his life. He has a soft heart, a desire to please others, but he can’t express himself like a normal person. Pathetic and nervous, it’s easy to see why he’d be trusted, as opposed to Spinell whose Frank is just plain creepy.

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Maniac 1980

At first, Wood was considered too handsome to play Frank – in spite of his rather odd features – but, even though he is more conventionally attractive than Spinell, he’s no less terrifying. It seems strange, considering how many cute and cuddly characters he’s played, but Wood utterly becomes Frank, communicating so much with his speech, which is mostly delivered off-camera, meaning his lack of stature and brawn don’t make him any less believable as this horrible character.

When he cracks, it isn’t in a fit of rage. His descent is more gradual – he slips up, and immediately tries to backtrack. Further to this, his relationship with kind-hearted Anna (Nora Arnezeder) is more believable than that of the original film because, not only is he slightly less overtly terrifying than Spinell, but he comes across as shy and lonely, as though he couldn’t possibly be capable of hurting anyone. Watching the 1981 film, it’s bizarre that anyone would want to spend time alone with Frank, as even his interaction with his neighbour seems slightly off.

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Maniac 2013

Although it may be difficult for purists to believe, the gore in the Maniac reboot equals, if not outdoes, that of Savini’s notable work on the original. Of course, this is thanks to better equipment, technology, and the fact that there is much more knowledge now about how best to represent the great and grisly onscreen. Even so, it’s a massive achievement because the film’s depiction of the infamous scalping is of massive significance, and in the remake, it is truly horrifying – in particular, when the camera flips around to catch Wood in the act as his still-breathing victim screams in agony.

The ending is similar in both films, but the remake handles it better. The build-up is slower and, in general, the premise is less heavy-handed so Frank’s journey feels more organic. The remake also takes it up a notch by utilising a memorable final image of Frank as a little boy mannequin after he has been torn apart by his “women”. The symbolism is clear, and it’s not the only time the remake chooses to update, and further his story, to its credit.

The subway sequence, which is a truly terrifying, central part of the original film, is relocated here to a car-park, where the poor girl is stalked and attacked by Frank in full view of absolutely nobody. This is emblematic of what makes the remake so strong – the modern Frank is cool, calculating and destructive, hanging back when his predecessor would’ve lashed out. He’s a believable villain because he’s been updated for, instead of just transported to, the modern day, as has his horrible, yet moving, story.

Therefore, in this battle between a twisted, mannequin-loving, happy-scalping lunatic and the hobbit that came after him, the remake is the clear winner. Maniac 2013 does what so many horror reboots have failed to do – it updates the story, the setting and, crucially, the villain himself for a modern audience. There are some nice nods to the source material, but ultimately it’s its own film, and it creates its own, expertly well-realised world in which to exist also. Brutal, disturbing and strangely moving, this is a remake that makes a case for updating a well-known, even classic, film for a new audience.

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And the winner is – Maniac 2013

 

Winner: Maniac (remake)

Maniac (2012) DVD Review

MANIAC-001Maniac (2012)
Dir: Frank Khalfoun

Starring – Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, America Olivo.

Remakes are an emotive subject. It is difficult for anyone to limit their emotional response when somebody suddenly imposes their “re-imagining” of a perfectly good or personally treasured movie. But, as remakes are obviously here to stay, it is important to try and stifle that response in order to gain a true and clear impression of the new film. Remember, for every Halloween (2007) there is a Dawn of the Dead (2004), for every Prom Night (2008) there is a The Thing (2011).

And so we come to Maniac (2012), director Frank Khalhoun’s version of one of the 80s’ most revered – and reviled – horror movies. On first viewing, one initially wonders why they bothered calling it “Maniac”; films of this ilk are generally fairly similar anyway (how different can they really be – not a criticism, more a stating of fact) and the “new approach” here could just as easily be a remake of New York Ripper. Certainly in striving for the filth and sleaze of William Lustig’s original, it only manages the cruelty and sadism of Fulci’s notoriously misogynistic “classic”. Of course, we know the reason, really; money, the root of all evil.

Writers Alexandre Aja (he of the excellent Haute Tension, but sadly sidetracked seemingly to remake hell since his move to Hollywood) and Gregory Levasseur try to bring Joe Spinell’s screenplay into the 21st century by introducing internet dating as a fertile hunting ground for the titular Frank Zito, which makes sense. What makes less sense is the apparent move to Los Angeles, which seems to have no point except to distance this movie from the original, which again just begs the question from the previous paragraph (crikey, this is in danger of becoming a particularly vicious circle).

maniacluke3Aja and Levasseur have also given a lot more attention to Frank’s past and his mother fixation, which Khalfoun enthusiastically brings to the screen in the form of lots of salacious sex scenes and shots of boobs. Again we are brought face to face with the delusion which a lot of people who make films seem to suffer from; that single mother crack whores who live in bedsits all look like super models. If they really wanted to capture the essence of what made Maniac, Frank’s mum should have been a toothless old crone with a beer belly and a flick knife hidden up her fanny.

One issue which the film continually struggles with is the central casting. Whilst you can imagine that getting Elijah Wood might seem like a bit of a coup for a horror remake, the reality is that it just becomes a monstrous elephant in the room; it is not possible to accept the diminutive Wood as somebody capable of overpowering and brutally murdering a lot of women (some of whom here are a foot taller than him). Also, the character now is a pretty boy, well turned out “artiste” and owner of a shop where he now displays his mannequins. This makes the appearance of his hands (which get numerous close ups) seem completely incongruous; they are dirty, rough, calloused and surprisingly big. It’s as though this little guy has had a double hand transplant and ended up with the real Frank Zito’s hands – now THAT would be a good movie, he inherits the hands of a maniac and they compel him to kill, kill!

maniacluke2Big and glitzy compared with its source material, Maniac (2012) misses the point of Spinell and Lustig’s collaboration, which is a genuinely effective portrait of madness (in no small part to Spinell’s performance of a lifetime). In 1982, we feel sorry for Zito, not because he has any redeeming features, but because of what he is, what life has made him, in the same way in which you might feel pity for a toad under a rock. In 2012, we are being coerced (unsuccessfully) into having sympathy for him, by the introduction of a palatable appearance and such hackneyed and unsubtle plot tools like the little boy mannequin, which represents Frank as a child and which the adult Frank cherishes and protects.

Bearing that in mind, the only way to watch Maniac (2012) is to embrace its flaws and view it as a straightforward slasher movie. As such, does it pass muster? Well, it’s watchable, which is a compliment these days. It suffers from the same problem as many big budget remakes, in that the star turns, money and glamour just make it seem all the more cynical when compared with its honestly exploitative inspiration.

maniacluke1Since I wrote the original draft of this article, I have since read Mark Kermode’s new book, Hatchet Job, in which he cites a review of this movie which read simply “by dummies, for dummies, about dummies.” So before you dismiss this review as a simple remake bashing, bear that in mind and cut me some slack.

4/10

As an interesting aside, my little brother once bumped into Elijah Wood in a nightclub in Prague and the little hobbit was wasted on absinthe. He left a personalised answerphone message on my brother’s mobile, pronouncing (in a terrible cockney accent) “hello, my name is Elijah fucking cunt Wood”, which I thought was a bit harsh. A bit.

Top 5 Horror DVDs of 2013 by Dean Sills

Top 5 Horror DVDs of 2013 by Dean Sills

2013 is almost over and it’s gone quicker than a half-naked woman running through a dark forest trying to escape a mad slasher with a butcher’s knife. This year I started working for UK Horror Scene, it’s definitely one of my highlights of 2013 because I love writing and contributing to a fantastic website that keeps growing and growing thanks to Andy Deen.

It’s now time to look back at my Top 5 Horror DVDs of 2013. Let the countdown begin and see if your favorite made the cut!

mama (1) 5: Mama. (2013)

Directed by Andrés Muschietti.

Starring Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse.

This supernatural thriller tells the haunting tale of two little girls named Victoria and Lilly who are abandoned in a cabin in the woods after their father murdered their mother and was attacked by something inside the cabin. When the girls are rescued 5 years later, their Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain) become their new guardians. Annabel soon discovers that Victoria and Lilly were never on their own inside the cabin and the two girls imaginary friend is horrifyingly real and now inside their home.

I do love a jump scare and this 15 cert supernatural movies does deliver a few along with some superb acting especially from the two children and Jessica Chastain.

 

 maniac (1)4: Maniac (2012)

Directed by Franck Khalfoun

Starring Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder and Megan Duffy.

Frank (Elijah Wood) spends his days restoring antique mannequins and his nights stalking, murdering, and scalping beautiful young women. His mental state worsens when a young artist, Anna (Nora Arnezeder) enters his life, and his potent thirst for blood threatens to ruin any chance of a normal friendship. Franck Khalfoun’s remake of William Lustig’s 1980 cult horror is astonishingly graphic,unsettling, creepy, wonderfully shot and exceptionally well performed, with Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings) outstanding as Frank.

 
IMG_9335.dng3: The Conjuring (2013)

Directed by James Wan

Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga and Ron Livingston.

Based on a true story, this movie tells the horrifying tale of how world-renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren ( Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) were called upon to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful demonic entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.

The Conjuring is a very delightful throwback to a particular kind of horror that most of us love, thanks to the director James Wan (Saw), who’s approach to horror is resolutely old-fashioned. I really enjoyed this movie and the acting is well done.

 

American Mary (1)2: American Mary (2012)

Directed by Jen & Sylvia Soska

Starring Katherine Isabelle, Tristan Risk and Antonio Cupo.

Mary (Katherine Isabelle), a talented yet broke,young trainee surgeon, who through a series of bad events is forced to quit med school and finds her vocation in the world of underground surgery and extreme body modification. This gem of a movie by writer/director sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska – aka “The Twisted Twins” is pure magic and one of those movies I can actually watch again and again.

The acting is superb from Katherine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) but the real star of this movie is the lovely Tristan Risk, who is phenomenal as Betty-Boop obsessed Beatress, plus she delivers the best and funniest line of the movie. Nothing about this is scary but it’s really disturbing at times. I feel every true Horror fan should have this movie in their DVD collection.

 

Evil Dead 2013 (1)1: The Evil Dead (2013)

Directed by Fede Alvarez

Starring Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez and Lou Taylor Pucci.

My number one choice is one of those movies people either “love” or “hate”, it’s also another 80s cult horror remake just like ‘Maniac’. Five friends including Mia (Jane Levy) who is a drug addict, head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods. The evil presence possesses them until only one is left to fight for survival.

Sam Raimi, the original director of the Evil Dead trilogy is still here to produce this version, along with former showrunner Bruce Campbell. The tagline for this movie is “The most terrifying film you will ever experience”, sadly it’s not but it was fun watching this at the cinema and seeing young couples jump out of their skin, along with two young women who found it too gory and left the cinema long before the film ended. Fede Alvares gives you plenty of blood, guts, scares, suspense and action, which is a fun roller-coaster ride. I also loved the performance from Jane Levy. All in all a good watch.

My top 5 Horror DVDs Movies of 2013 may not be your top 5 but it’s a nice combination giving you gore, blood, a few jump scares and violence, all done in the best possible taste.

Maniac (2012) Review

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Maniac 2012

Dir. Franck Khalfoun  – 89 Minutes

Starring Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Megan Duffy, America Olivo.

Maniac was released in 1980 starring the late Joe Spinell and directed by William Lustig . It was an intense , violent and filthy film that depicted New York in the late 1970′s perfectly. In a city that had recently suffered the Son of Sam murders and had a violent reputation unsurpassed in America , Maniac caught that latent fear and violence perfectly.

So when I heard of this remake featuring Elijah Wood as the main character I was sceptical to say the least. Joe Spinell who played the original *Maniac* was a big bruising hulk of a man , and now New York is far removed from that period.

Maniac is a visually stunning film , the original was a grim, dirty affair whereas now it is bright with a beautiful neon haze that tranfers the story to a modern LA. The score (simply by Rob) is wonderful , a beautiful dose of electronica that sets the mood perfectly , it is subtle and almost understated yet builds a feeling of unease and dread.

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Maniac uses the POV (point of view) of Frank throughout so you see very little of Frank (unless he passes a mirror or window) , but what it gives the viewer is the sense of being Frank. Wood is superb , he is a twitchy, awkward man full of OCD and suffering from flashbacks of his Mother who appears to be a drug addict prostitute . When he tries to build even the most basic relationship he breaks down with crippling migraines and has to fight to keep the monster at bay.

There are scenes in Maniac that are truly horrific , that will have viewers squirming and feeling very uncomfortable. And Woods has made a very brave choice here, not just to star in a remake of a classic genre film but also to attempt to throw off the shackles of Frodo by playing such a wonderfully psychotic role.

Now I know I haven’t really mentioned much regarding the synopsis or even the vaguest storylines , and I won’t. That is because you need to watch this with a relatively blank canvass and let Maniac paint it’s wonderful bright , vivid, bloody and beautiful picture.

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A triumph that made me sit bolt upright almost throughout just staring in wonder as the story unfolded on the big screen. A very bold remake that for me surpasses the original and makes the story it’s own rather than just a frame by frame copy.

It brings the story into the 21st century and doesn’t hold back on the kills and violence, plus using the POV makes you feel a part of Franks rapid fall into psychotic mania and you may need to scrub your dirty hands afterwards.

One of the finest individual performances I have seen and wrapped in a fantastic film.

Verdict 9/10

Maniac (2012) DVD Review

MANIAC-001

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.
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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”.

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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.

7.5 out of 10