“Maniac,”starring Elijah Wood as the maniac killer, is a remake of a 1980 slasher of the same name, and while the recent trend of pointless and half-assed remakes has turned many horror fans off of remakes altogether, I think this is the kind of movie that shows exactly the type of potential that remakes have by showcasing a level of care and craftsmanship that is rare for a horror film, let alone a horror film remake.
“Maniac” tells the story of Frank, a serial killer who was traumatized by seeing his mother work as a prostitute while he was a child. Despite the fact that his mother is now dead, he is driven to kill by his attachment to his mother, who he believes doesn’t want him to have any sort of relationship with other women, and also by his emasculation by the women in his life.
The film explores Frank’s perceived emasculation at length, and his new relationship with Anna, a beautiful young artist with which he becomes enamored with, is a sort of microcosm of how Frank feels emasculated by all women. Frank works as someone who restores old mannequins, and at one point Frank sees himself with no genitals, as a human torso on top of a mannequin’s waist and legs. After a few “dates” with Anna he finds out that Anna already had a boyfriend. When Frank finally meets the boyfriend it is an African American man, which I thought was a pretty bold choice considering how politically incorrect it is, despite the fact that it hammers home how sexually inadequate Frank feels about himself as a small, delicately featured, white man. Frank finds out from Anna’s boyfriend that Anna thought he was gay the entire time she’d been seeing him, which of course, emasculates Frank even further.
At one point in the movie Frank is shown as a child watching his mother having sex with two customers. Although I’m sure this would traumatize anyone, while watching the movie I was really confused by how this would later motivate Frank to kill women. However I think is also meant to be another scene in the movie where Frank is emasculated. In Freudian psychology young boys have what is called an “Oedipus complex” where they wish to replace their father and have sex with their mother. I believe seeing his mother have sex with these men is meant to show that he is again sexually inadequate for women, only this time the woman is his mother (This is kind of extra creepy idea in this context, because in this scene he is essentially being “cuckolded” in front of his mother). I think this is a little bizarre to see in movie in 2013 when Freudian psychology and Oedipus complexes are fairly outdated ideas and Freud is almost never referenced in popular culture the way he once was. I realize that when the original movie was written Freud was much more popular, but I think it might have helped this movie a little bit to make it a little more clear why this moment specifically emasculates Frank, when I think the modern audience will pretty baffled by a reference to something that is so outdated most people probably won’t even know what it is.
The majority of film is shot from a first-person POV perspective from Frank’s viewpoint which allows all the anxiety of found-footage film, but in this case, without all the annoying shaky-cam, low-quality visuals, or annoying scenes that try to justify why everything you are seeing is being video recorded. I found the POV style of the movie was especially effective in that it makes the viewer incredibly uncomfortable by putting them in the perspective of a stalker and violent murderer.
The opening minutes of the movie show him following a frightened young woman, which is incredibly uncomfortable to watch, because the viewer feels like they are both seeing and doing something that they shouldn’t be. It does become a little distracting after a while however, because whenever the director wants you to know what Wood’s character is feeling he has to find a creative way to sneak a mirror or a video monitor into the scene. Once the movie gets going the director does relax a little on the POV shots, and show some third-person perspective, which I felt was really helpful in keeping the film from being bogged down by the constraints of first-person perspective.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film is that while Frank stalks and murders his victims the settings are immaculately clean, tidy, and at points even luxurious, while his home and inner world are cluttered and disgusting. I imagine this was to show the difference between how Frank viewed his relationship with women in such a perfect and idealized way, while the reality of his life was completely the opposite.
The POV style also is also effective as portraying Frank as a “sympathetic monster” by showing him when he is vulnerable and wrestling with his inner demons. At one point Anna calls Frank “Dr. Frankenstein,” and the killer's name is Frank which also hammers home the idea of the sympathetic monster. While this theme is interesting, I have to wonder if audiences will connect with it considering the extreme and exploitative nature of the violence in the movie. This movie is so realistic and so incredibly violent that I think the idea of seeing the humanity in a serial killer is probably lost while wallowing in extended murder scenes that feature some of the most disturbing gore I can remember seeing in a horror movie.
The most impressive thing about “Maniac” is how great it looks visually. The entire film looks amazing, and while I don’t think every single special effect is practical, the majority of the gore looks so real it is almost sickening. The amount of care that went into making this movie look amazing is something that makes me really hope studios and horror film-makers take notice and start putting a priority on fantastic practical effects.
This movie is so violent that I absolutely can’t recommend it to the normal viewer, but if you’re a big horror fan I think this is something you will definitely want to check out. “Maniac” really raises the bar for what our expectations of a horror remake should be, and I believe this is a movie that people are going to be talking about for a long time to come.