Alexandre Aja has been very good to the horror genre. Despite the hiccup that was Mirrors, everything he’s been involved with (yes, even P2) has been well worth seeing. He appreciates horror, specifically 80’s slasher films. As is evident with High Tension. He loves horror so much that film used no CGI and he spent the money to get Italian FX master Gianetto De Rossi. Well known for working with Lucio Fulci and he created some very gory set pieces.
Then he decided to branch out into remakes. He first did The Hills Have Eyes, and I have to say to me at least, his remake is superior to Craven’s original. He took the basic plot of the original, including character names, and then wove his own take on the film. The best remakes usually do that. They will take a few things from the original, then weave their own tale. His next remake, Piranha was fun romp that was as funny as it was gory.
Now we get to the just released on VOD platforms remake that he did not direct, but did write and produce. The remake of the 1980 William Lustig film Maniac. Maniac was and still is a highly controversial film. The film dared to focus entirely on a sick serial killer who was abused as a child by his prostitute Mother, and now prowls the streets by night scalping women and killing them as well as the occasional man as well. The film is highlighted by some extremely realistic and gruesome effects by none other than Tom Savini. It is also one of my favorite horror films so when I found out it was being remade I wasn’t upset. It was going to be remade by Aja. I knew it was in the right hands.
The Maniac remake takes the original concept of being entirely told from the killer’s perspective and spins a new take on it by literally having us in his first person point of view for the majority of the run time. The new Maniac played by Elijah Wood is just about as good as the legendary Joe Spinell was in the original. He does his own thing with the role, and he does well in it. Remember Wood in Sin City? He’s like that. Except he talks. He’s that creepy in the role. He doesn’t play it with eyes popping and constantly sweating like Joe Spinell and he doesn’t have to. What he does in the film is enough to make him believable.
I did mention that for the most part we are seeing what Frank Zito sees. Every so often we catch a reflection of him off of a car or glass. Mirrors are used quite a bit as well. A few times the camera pans out and we actually see him. I give much praise to Aja and his director Franck Kalfoun (a frequent Aja collaborator. He directed P2 and was the store clerk in High Tension.) They took this route of first person point of view, and it could have been gimmicky or even silly, and they make it terrifying. We see what Frank Zito sees, and even more so, he’s constantly narrating. Which makes it even more disturbing. Lines such as “I know where you live Judy. I’ll see you later.” and “Don’t run. You’re so beautiful.” are made all the more disturbing as he chases these women down.
The cast is rounded out with some good actors. Wood of course is brilliant in the lead as Frank Zito, and the second lead of “Anna” played by a lovely French actress named Nora Arnezeder.
The film also feels like something that would have been made around 1989. If it wasn’t for the modern cars, cellphones, and at one point we see current game systems and a flatscreen tv, the film could have easily passed for a film set in the late 1980’s. The score also helps that by being completely done with synthesizers.
The remake sets itself apart from the original in many ways. In the original Frank Zito uses a variety of weapons. A switchblade, garrotte wire, bayonet, and even a shotgun that he carries in a violin case. In the remake he just uses a buck knife that he keeps in a shoulder holster along with a straight razor. In the original he appears to be the manager of an apartment complex, and in the remake to give a reason for him having the mannequins, he owns a shop that restores old mannequins. He drives around in a decrepit old van that sports his Mother’s name on it. He still has a relationship with a photographer, but it actually makes sense in the remake, rather than just being a spur of the moment thing (I’ve always loved how he simply asks her out in the original. It’s a good laugh.)
Those expecting the film to be insanely gory will be a bit disappointed. It is VERY gory and VERY brutal, but until the end of the film, it doesn’t go out of its way to have eyes being taken out and people being ripped open. That just lends to it being realistic and wince inducing. Just as in the original Frank Zito scalps women. This is not a film for the squeamish and if you’ve seen the red band trailer, then you’ve seen how the film is. The effects are more wince inducing rather than over the top Grand Guginol.
Aja does pay homage to the original with several set pieces that I of course won’t go into details here. He does avoid some things that I wished would have been in the remake such as the shotgun scene with the disco boy and girl, and the bathroom stalking sequence which are both highlights of the original. Aja actually did pay homage to the original Maniac in High Tension where he did a variation of the bathroom stalking sequence that was almost exactly the same as in the original. He even has a scene that is an exact recreation of the poster art for the original film.
I rented Maniac from Amazon Instant Video’s Video On Demand service for $6.99 and I have to say it was well worth that price. After seeing it, it is easily one of my favorite films of this year, and I’m glad I liked it because I recently saw another remake in the dollar cinema which I wish would have been better and that the Maniac remake had had the wide release that film had instead. I definitely recommend anyone who calls themselves a horror fan to see this film. This is how a remake is done right.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars