Most people who have know me for a while, know that I hate remakes. In fact i think I have started a few movie reviews with that same line. I have even said that there is never a reason to remake a movie. I have really been rethinking that belief a lot lately, especially after watching the remake of Maniac with Elijah Wood. Of course if you remake every film ever made over and over, eventually you are going to stumble and make a good film. The old hundred monkeys typing Shakespeare thing. I still think there are far too many original projects out there that never see the light for Hollywood to be remaking so many films. Maybe if Hollywood were to concentrate on taking bad or so-so movies and making them better, better acting, better filming quality, better directing instead of just cashing in on the popularity of good films, I would feel better about remakes. I think the Maniac remake fits into the former category.
OK at the risk of angering fans everywhere, I was never all that crazy about the original Maniac. I didn't hate the original, come on how can you hate a movie with Caroline Munro in it and featuring special effects from the master Tom Savini? I just was never a huge fan. So, at least in my eyes, this would be a film that could be redone. Which it was. With Elijah Wood as a serial killer.
The film got a lot of buzz for casting Elijah against type, and a lot of people wondered if he could pull it off. A lot of those people apparently forgot about his chilling turn in Sin City as the cannibal Kevin. Frank from Maniac is an entirely different monster than Kevin, and this plays more to Elijah's strengths. While Kevin was a silent vicious killing machine, Frank is a deeply disturbed and almost timid character most of the time. Much more akin to Frodo Baggins than a psycho killer. But Frank can be vicious and when the switch flips, Elijah doesn't disappoint.
Visually the film is a real treat for someone who grew up in the late 70s and 80s. The movie is dark, not just in theme, but visually and atmospherically. Watching the opening took me back to those late nights watching sleazy crime dramas on HBO with the lights out. Back to the first time I watched the original. Once again I got that feeling of watching something I shouldn't be watching.The sound too was reminiscent of those forbidden films that seemed so taboo in my early teen years.
Maniac is filmed mostly in a first person/ POV style. I wasn't sure how I would like this as it first seemed way to close the the shaky cam, found footage film that is the flavor of the month. However watching the film (mostly) through the eyes of a killer is a new and disturbing prospective. Although the film does abandon the POV in a few key scenes, mostly we only see Elijah Woods character when he is reflected off a mirror, or other reflective surface. While changing perspectives may seem corny or even sloppy, in Maniac it is done skillfully, and adds a dizzying intensity to those scenes. I know there will be some complaints that the POV style with feed the voyeuristic urges of some. That it might be too close to the real thing. While that might be a danger, art is dangerous, and this is horror. Horror should be disturbing, it should be horror.
While the overall gore factor of Maniac isn't that high, it doesn't skimp from the bloodiness of the murders. The killers motive here isn't to disembowel people but to kill them, or at least mutilate them in a certain way. Some die fast, some die slow, but the camera doesn't turn away to spare us. I don't want to give away any spoilers for those who haven't seen it, or the original, but the killing is secondary to his trophy taking. Part of Frank's twisted psyche doesn't even realize he is killing them.
The film manages to pay homage to at least two horror films that I noticed. I'm not going to spoil this, but one is guaranteed to make you laugh, the other may send a chill down your spine. As for laughing, even though this is a dark film, there are a few laughs. It never, in my view crosses over into a comedy, but there are moments of humor, some darker than others.
The ending of Maniac, like the original leaves you unsure of what is happening and possibly doubting everything you have seen. It's a brilliant but confusing ending that will leave some in awe, and some confused. I'm kind of in the middle of that scale.
The only real complaint I have is the lack of cameos from the original Maniac. Come on you couldn't find a spot for a quick scene with Caroline Munro. And what about the man himself, the man who should be the governor, Tom Savini? Would the original film have the cult following that it does today if not for the involvement of Savini? I really doubt it.
For the ratings, there is very little strong profanity that I remember. Not saying it's all clean talk but there wasn't enough over the top profanity (IE Devil's Rejects or Boondock Saints) to register. There
is a couple of scenes of nudity, but nothing extreme , and some light sex scenes. The ratings kicker here will be the violence, most, but not all, directed at women. Most of these scenes are fairly realistic, and disturbing and I can see Maniac having a hard time getting an "R" rating for theatrical release.
So my verdict? This film is awesome with no reservations. Eljah Wood gives another performance of a lifetime. Find a way to see Maniac, if it's showing at a convention or festival near you, GO. Pass up on karaoke or the VIP party and see Maniac instead. Hopefully it will get a release soon on DVD at least, if so it's a buy. It's the film that has softened me on remakes more than any other. Whether you are a fan of the original Maniac or not, if you love horror, you need to see this film.