29 July 2013

MANIAC/2013

This is my first post here at Necrotic Cinema in quite some time, since October of 2012 to put a time frame on it all. Lets hope I do not take such a long break again anyway soon and I have plenty of films in the draft folder to explore. The last film I reviewed was 2003’s High Tension, directed by Alexandre Aja, who happens to be the producer of this post’s rather intriguing film called Maniac. I am no stranger to the original Maniac film and reviewed it some time ago over at The Uranium Café. I will have to mention that film a bit more later on and be forced at times to make comparisons between the two films, but let me get on with my introductory babble and get it out of the way. I like to skim over the opening credits of films to see what I can catch and noticed that William Lustig also helped with producing this remake, and C.A. Rosenberg is listed as one of the screen writers on Wikipedia, this being noteworthy as he helped to pen the original script along with film star Joe Spinell. Film director Franck Khalfoun only has two other films under his belt, Wrong Turn at Tahoe, which I have not seen yet,  and the fairly decent thriller P2.  When all is said and done I have to say that while I did not dislike the film I am not going to rant about what a stylistic work of genius it is or that it is the best study of a serial killer ever made. On some levels the film worked well enough for me but not on all by any stretch. In fact I stopped the watching the film initially as the whole extreme POV (Point Of View) gimmick –and I did get the feeling in the end was an artsy-fartsy gimmick- got on my nerves. So lets explore that a bit since that is what most of the ranting –pro or con- is about with this film. (I will not be doing much of a synopsis on this film for two reasons: 1) I will assume most readers of this blog are sick enough that they have the original more than once, as I have, and 2) I am trying to explore some new ways to write about films that do not involve too much story retelling or spoiling scenes for people who have not seen the film yet.)

The original 1980 film Maniac was not the first thriller/horror film to have the story told from the killer’s point of view. It is not a long list of films however and off the top of my head I can only recall Michael Powell’s excellent film Peeping Tom as being focused on the killer as the main character. That is why the original Maniac, as well as the remake, are not really slasher/body count films in the strict sense of the term, where the focus in more on "developing the characters" before the masked, identityless killer begins knocking them off one by one. It can probably get a little weird to see into the world of a demented serial killer like Maniac’s Frank Zito. One does sort of wonder what do slashers and stalkers do when they are not hacking up women or teenagers. Well Frank likes to sit around and cuddle with mannequins adorned with the bloody scalps of his recent victims and cry as he remembers his mommy. In the original we get to see sleazy, oily Joe Spinell doing all of this, but in the remake what happens is the whole film –except, I think, for a couple brief scenes- is that the story is not only told from the POV of the killer –played by possibly miscast Elijah Wood in this case- but from inside his friggin’ eyeballs. This becomes either a stroke of brilliance or a goddamned nuisance, depending on your temperament as a film viewer. I tried to give it all the benefit of the doubt but in the end it just got boring and annoying for me. It certainly could have worked at times, but in the end I just wanted to see the actor playing the killer and earning his paycheck.

I also got a bit creeped out with all the victims staring at me and talking to me directly. I know, I know we can go on about how that was the director’s intent and how it gets you thinking and starts dialogs and all that crap, but in the end it just did not work for me as a story telling method. As one reviewer noted, it seems like one of those weird interactive video games, and in this case I am some sort of totally freaky serial killer scalping girls and impaling them repeatedly with my Rambo knife. It reeks more of gimmickry and film school experimentation than good narrative film making. And in the end why even have a name actor in the lead role? You get glimpses of Wood staring back at himself in mirrors –mirrors that are often cracked, you know, like representing a cracked tortured personality or something- for a few seconds and that is it. In some interviews he remarks how it was maybe the hardest role he has ever done. What? I don’t buy that for a second. The only acting he does for the most part is to stare back at himself with a confused, terrified expression. Okay, that can be hard I guess, looking terrified and confused. It is actually my normal expression so I think I could have done this role. And I certainly look more like a deranged serial killer than wimpy little Elijah Wood.But then I look more like a serial killer than most people I know do but that is nothing to be proud of I guess. Lets move on.

Okay, so what about the good points of the film. And it has some to be sure and I can recommend the film over all unless you're a total wuss. But the film has its good moments, and yet don't all psychotic, misogynistic slasher films? Some of the good points are actually also the same ones that annoy me above. I do like the “from inside the killer’s eyes” approach, but just not for 99% of the film. I also think I may have bought Wood as the killer more if I had actually seen him in some scenes. Wimpy guys want to stalk and terrorize vulnerable women too. I like Wood as an actor but I am not sure about this film being the right vehicle for him to shake off the good boy image he is saddled with. Although he was a serial killer in the Sin City film as well but that was an odd little role at best.  But his actual lack of physical presence made me forget all about him. Oh yea, that was probably one of the director’s intentions as well. Making me explore my own dark fantasies, and trying to blur the line between myself and Frank. Damn, so clever, got me there you damned geniuses.  The cinematography and editing are fine, as are the sets which in this film have moved from New York City to Los Angeles. I prefer a good old school New York twisted, serial killer film myself, but LA works okay here. However I must note that I think the music score is simply fantastic. Composer Rob created a fine 80’s synth type score with all those classic sounds and pulses, and haunting little simple piano runs. There does not appear to be a soundtrack available yet but I will be snatching it up when and if one comes out. I have read that there is one but it is not available in the US or France, the two countries that collaborated on making the damned film.  I also like how some of the story, which is hardly a scene by scene remake of the original film and that is good, moves the situations into modern times with cell phones and online dating services. In one scene Frank hooks up with a pretty, though overly tattooed, young lady who he meets online. Over drinks she says she is so happy he did not turn out to look like what she thought he would. And what would that be? Long hair, fat and with bad skin. An inside joke and reference I would imagine to Joe Spinell’s unkempt appearance in the original film, and to Joe Spinell’s unkempt appearance in real life as well.




And what about the controversial violence that got the film banned in New Zealand? Well, it is pretty good. Sounds strange to say I guess, but this is some groovy gore. Most of the gore, and there is gore galore here, is done with practical effects that seem to paying some homage to Tom Savini, who did the effects for the first film. There is some CGI effects as well, but they are used the way computer effects should be used and that is to enhance the practical make-up effects. The violence is absolutley intense and unsettling. Some reviewers complained that the scalping sequences were not real enough or that the blood color was too crimson and not of the dark, purplish type we see in most horror films these days, and all I can say is those people are in need of some sort of help immediately. It is sort of unsettling enough to be watching a film where every other woman is someone who Frank may chop up and scalp, but to complain that the blood is not real enough really pushes the whole misogyny in horror films to a new level. It is absolutely not a film I would want my sweet little wife to see. I am not adverse to gore and while disturbing in this film and a bit gratuitous I also have to admit, as a horror FX fan, that it is done gut-wrenchingly well.

In the end I have mixed feelings. I felt part of what I liked about the original Maniac was just how grimy and sleazy Joe Spinell was and how in the world a female like Caroline Munro (who made three films with Spinell actually) would have anything to do with his character. There was a sort of campy quality to it all and Spinell took Zito’s character way over the top but seemed to have tongue planted firmly in cheek all the while. With the remake I am a bit lost as to who Frank even is. Watching from inside his eyes, stalking those women, I begin to wonder, “...am I Frank? Is this what I secretly want to…” Hey! Those crafty filmmakers got me again! Stop doing that you geniuses!











2 comments:

  1. Welcome back to the fold! You've interested me in seeing this flick, if only to see how Elijah Wood stacks up as a serial killer. Interesting point about the problems with the "killer-vision" POV.

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  2. Thanks Gene. And like I said it works sometimes, but not all the time for me anyway. Not the worst movie I have seen in a while by any stretch and I recommend you checking it out and get back if yu wish and let me know what you thought.

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