MRR Review: "Maniac"

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Franck Khalfoun remakes a 1980's horror/slasher film of the same name, with Elijah Wood starring as the main character. Frank (Wood) is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store. What nobody knows, however, is that he's also a serial killer with a fetish for scalping his victims. After a young artist named Anna appears in his store to ask for help with her new art exhibition, the desire to stalk and kill is once again unleashed in Frank. As he grows closer to Anna, he struggles with what he really wants; another scalp as a trophy or real love.
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MRR Review: "Maniac"

-- Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 89 minutes
Release Date: June 21, 2013
Directed by: Franck Khalfoun
Genre: Horror/Thriller

In "Maniac," Frank (Elijah Wood) has just taken over his family's mannequin sales business from his mother, who didn't do a very good job of raising him. As a result of his shady childhood, he suffers from migraines, occasional hallucinations, and an itch to kill. The reason the film is named "Maniac" is that Frank often falls short of keeping his murderous compulsions under wraps. Despite this, he occasionally tries to live a normal life, even signing up for dating websites in the hopes of having a normal relationship with someone.

He never really makes it to a second date with anyone, because he usually ends up killing his dates and taking off their scalps as trophies. He uses the luscious heads of hairs on a few special mannequins that he keeps in the backroom where nobody can see them. These special mannequins are his only friends in life, since he has never been able to really have a relationship of any kind with anyone except his mother. The mannequins are the one set of friends that will never leave him, and the scalps are his psychopathic way of making them seem as human as possible. He is about to resign himself to a life with just the mannequins when a photographer named Anna (Nora Arnezeder) comes into his life.

Anna has a particular interest not just in photographing mannequins but in seeing how they are made. At first, Frank is very suspicious of her, and the audience gets the feeling that she will become Frank's next scalping victim. Fortunately for her, Frank seems very captivated with her charm and easy manner, and the two really hit it off. They begin to bond and form a relationship that Frank thinks may not only be the cure to his palpable loneliness but also to his homicidal tendencies. Of course, someone as far down the murderous rabbit hole as Frank is can't be cured so easily, and he has to struggle with himself in order to not kill and scalp the sweet, unsuspecting Anna.

Many actors get typecast in film and television because of their looks, their accents, or a role so huge that they never get to play anything else. Wood has the look of an innocent youth, even though he is now in his thirties. The fact that he played a hobbit Peter Jackson's epic "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy probably doesn't help, because hobbits are basically cute and innocent. Even though his television show "Wilfred" has plenty of adult content, his character is still very much a nice guy. "Maniac" feels like Wood's attempt to shed his cute image by playing a psychopath who does things that might make a few of his fellow serial killers blush. Wood is taking on a role that was originally played by Joe Spinell, who died at a young age in 1989 and therefore wasn't available to offer Wood any advice. Wood rises to the task of reinterpreting the character, making Frank as creepy as he is captivating. It may be the part that will finally get him to be taken seriously as an adult actor despite his baby face.

The original 1980 film, which was directed by William Lustig, was very controversial when it first came out. It was considered too violent and gory by the standards of that time, but it went on to become a cult classic of sorts. Not only did the director of this new update, Franck Khalfoun, have Lustig's blessing to remake the film, but Lustig also served as a producer. The result of this unlikely collaboration is that the new "Maniac" gets to go further with the terror and blood, because the standards today are very different than they were thirty years ago. Khalfoun takes the film in a slightly new narrative direction as well, since the film is seen through the eyes of Frank this time around. This point-of-view form of storytelling gives the audience as sneak peek of sorts into the psyche of Frank, which makes the film much more thrilling and terrifying than it would have been any other way.

Lustig's influence can be seen in many aspects of the film, especially when it comes to the mood, which mirrors that of the original. It is rare that a director will publically support a remake of one of his films. One takeaway from "Maniac" is that if more directors would contribute to remakes of their films, the results could stay true to the originals while still being updated for modern audiences.

Rating: 3 out of 5