For the uninitiated, "Maniac" is a bloody cult horror classic from 1980. Personally, I like the movie. Due to the high amounts of violence and the nature of the killer the film often gets lumped into the "slasher" category (something that is not helped by its horribly dated poster) though I do not believe it really fits the genre. The movie plays more like a horror character study, wherein the protagonist IS the depraved murderer and it's clear from the word 'go' (no Shyamalan twist, here). While a lot of people, including the films promotional team, like to play up how sadistic the movie is (and the movie DOES have some really great practical gore effects), like any proper horror movie what's creeping the audience out is not the blood spattering across the screen. The source of the horror in this movie rather comes from us having to spend most of our time with this monster and even sympathize with him. Frank Vito (the "maniac") is a misogynistic, disturbed serial killer who stalks and kills women so that he can scalp them and take his prizes home to nail to the mannequins he keeps by his bedside. Yet, at the same time, he is also a deeply troubled man. He's an overweight, dirty manbaby with intense mommy issues who lives in a ratty apartment and doesn't seem to have any friends. Does this excuse his crimes? Of course not. But at the same time that he's horrifying, he's utterly pathetic, spending most of his time alone in his room surrounded by the trophies of his murders, muttering to himself, his mannequins, impotently shooting a BB gun at a dartboard covered in pictures of women.
That's one of the things I like about "Maniac" and something I think sets it apart from a good chunk of the horror movie pack. One of my most consistent problems with the slasher and torture porn subgenres in particular is that their villains are too "sexy". They are horrifying, yes. But at the same time, a lot of these villains demonstrate admirable qualities which, while "Maniac" intentionally makes the killer the main character, movies like "Halloween" or "Nightmare on Elm Street" can unintentionally make their psychopath into the star of the show. Almost invariably, the killer of franchises like these become the hero more and more as the sequels go on. Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees are unstoppable beasts, Freddy Krueger is a living nightmare, and Jigsaw is a serial killer Batman who has attained more skills in his short life than seems reasonably possible. Overall, all these guys are in control. They know they're evil and they don't care, it's their philosophy. People die because it's all a part of their plan. Even if what they're doing is frightening you, it's ok because at least SOMEONE is still in control.
One of the biggest fears of the human race is a breakdown of control, and Frank Vito plays into that because he's NOT like Jigsaw or Freddy. He doesn't have a bag full of witty quips or plans. When stalking he grunts and squeals like an animal. When he gets hurt he sobs like a little boy. It's not just his victims who are losing control of their lives, it's only happening because Frank has totally lost control of his own life.
The music in the movie is great, the practical effects are great, and Joe Spinell's performance as Frank Vito made the movie. Sure, it's a total grindhouse movie and its pacing is pretty awful, but I still like it. I can certainly see why opinions on the movie are as divided as they are. The movie certainly made me rather uncomfortable, which I feel is a good thing for a horror movie. Granted, this could just be because mannequins creep me out fairly easily, but still.
So anyway, last year a remake was released, starring Elijah Wood as Frank Vito. It may seem odd, considering the original Frank Vito looked like this....[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]
And Elijah Wood is a total cutie, imo. But the choice works, pretty well. Remember that Frank Vito essentially never grew up and devotes most of his thoughts to obsessing over his neglectful mother, and those big, doe-eyes really convey the sense of sick Peter Pan syndrome integral to the character.
The remake tries to take the movie in a more arty direction, which isn't necessarily bad. It leads to some more ham-fisted "SYMBOLISM!" images and dream sequences. But it's not terribly distracting. My tolerance for that stuff is pretty high. I get the nagging suspicion that by making Frank a restorer of antique mannequins and the owner of a mannequin shop in the remake, with Anna (his girlfriend in the original, his friend he becomes romantically obsessed with in the remake) being a French photographer who falls in love with his art and makes him her muse for her next exhibition is also a part of this symbolism (though that could just be me). I like that change, however. I feel like the kind of relationship they have in the remake is more interesting, symbolism or no.
Which brings me to something else I surprisingly liked. The entire film is shot from Frank's POV, which at first I thought sounded like an annoying gimmick. But upon watching it, I actually came to appreciate it. It adds an extra bit of horror by not only forcing you to spend so much time with the guy, but by actually trapping you in his body, in a way. It's done pretty tastefully, imo.
I miss the practical effects though. Like most modern horror movies, the gore effects are a bit too sparkly and it kind of loses the visceral punch of the way things were done back in the day (compare the effects in a movie like "Hellraiser" to, say, "Saw V" and tell me which ones you find creepier). The ending where
doesn't pack as much punch as it did in the original, partially because
looked too pretty and moved too pretty. The remake is certainly less grubby looking than the original, which has turned off the grindhouse purists that love the first "Maniac". But the environment is still fairly grimy. The lighting is very dark throughout (which makes bright daylight scenes pop out all the more, a contrast that I like) and Frank's room in the back of his mannequin shop is still small and dirty, covered in bloody mannequins, with flies buzzing all over the rotting scalps.
Overall, it was a fairly solid remake. Anyone who didn't like the original will probably not like the remake. It does very little to correct the problems with pacing that the original had, too much of the movie is still Frank just stalking and killing random women which gets very dull and repetitive, and it is still very schlocky and violent. But I feel like fans of the original will mostly come away appreciating it for what it is, a rather well-done slight reinterpretation of the original. I'm probably wrong about that, though. From what I've read this one is fairly divisive for "Maniac" fans.
As for everyone else, I invite you to check it out. I feel it's a pretty good modern horror release.