Franck Khalhoun’s (P2) latest film–a French/American co-production made all the more obvious by a technical snafu that saw the movie play with French subtitles for some 15 minutes–does some things very well, but being a remake of William Lustig’s 1980 horror classic, also titled Maniac, isn’t exactly one of them. There are some basic similarities– scalpings, mannequins, etc–but director Khalhoun and co-writer/producer Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, Piranha 3D) have changed so much that it’s hard to even consider it a remake. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since filmmakers should definitely be going out of their way to make a film their own, but what is the point of remaking Maniac when you have changed what made it work in the first place?Hmmm.
Filmed almost entirely in first person, Maniac follows a deranged young man, Frank (Elijah Wood, Sin City, seen in mirror shots and in photographs), who hunts down beautiful women and takes their scalp back to his mannequin studio in a horrifically violent ritual. The filmmakers have repurposed the action from the seedy streets of 1980 New York to modern day Los Angeles and have bathed the film in dreamy, high-resolution digital photography that is all wrong. Aping the stylistic flourishes and 1980s fetishisation of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive more than anything else, Maniac loses the critical ugliness that made the original so effective.
There are some neat touches throughout–using Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses” on the soundtrack, originally immortalised by Silence of the Lambs; a brief cameo by Délé Ogundiran; a nifty shot of Wood replicating the original 1980 movie poster in a shiny, reflective car door–but this newer model never emerges out of the shadow of Lustig’s astonishingly efficient original. The first person style of filming is also problematic as it renders almost all of Frank’s victims as inessential nobodies whose only purpose is to be killed. Maniac is gory as all get out (the festival guide warns “contains strong graphic violence” for a reason), but scares and tension are in short supply. It’s an interesting experiment, but one that never truly gels.
Maniac is screening again at the Melbourne International Film Festival on Friday 17 August
Director: Franck Khalhoun
Cast: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Liane Balaban, America Olivo, Morgane Slemp, Genevieve Alexandra, Sammi Rotibi and Dan Hunter.