My Haiku Revu of Maniac.
Thumping soundtrack binds,
Large eyed merciless stalker,
To a neon nightmare.
Frank (played by Elijah Wood) finds himself cut adrift in the world, a single mote in the eye of a large city. Flashbacks show us a pattern of abandonment which coupled with a fantastical view of the repercussions of his behaviour lead him to adopt a unique way to stave off feelings of intense loneliness. Early on we realise that he has fixated on hair as the sole part of a human that will outlast death by many cold aeons, and is scalping local women to adorn mannequins he owns. The dummies become totems enabling him to bring the victims back to life in his imagination, thus surrounding himself with the immortal lovers he desires. As the story unfolds, a beautiful female artist stumbles upon his shop and starts a relationship which promises to give him the chance of a normal life. As their tryst develops Frank must deal with the artist’s unexpected boyfriend, aggressive migraines and powerful urges to continue to improve his collection.
This film is a remake of the original William Lustig movie, Maniac, a 1980s video nasty which lost nearly a minutes worth of material to the censor when it was finally released. The reboot has been shot in the first person, with the audience sharing the killer’s point of reference. The disembodied view painted us somewhat complicit in what was happening on the screen, which made for uncomfortable watching as we shared moments of unreality liberally sprinkled in amongst Frank going about his bloody business. A large amount of care and attention was lavished on the camera work to root us in his world, which showed us momentary glimpses of Frank in nearby reflective surfaces or through shots of his mangled hands grasping for the constants in his life.
Casting Elijah Wood as the lead seems an inspired choice, and brought a note of reality to the shock that his victims felt as he morphed from Frodo to Hannibal Lector in the blink of an eye. By not exposing the moment of change, his actions appeared more insidious than they perhaps would if we’d seen the actor carrying out his crimes in the third-person. By stripping Frank of any humour or glamour we’re left with a conflicted killer stalking through grim scenes that although certainly visceral and gory, don’t feel as exploitative as a Wrong Turn or a host of other slasher movies.
The audio tone was set by a pumping synth soundtrack harking back to the original Lustig cut, which delivered moments of electronic analogue warmth and provided a clean counterpoint to the lumpen rending inflicted over the course of the film. Scored by Robin Coudert the audio treatment whilst not as immediately grabbing as early Carpenter certainly functioned more than adequately to round out the film.
This movie was unexpectedly one of my highlights of Frightfest 2012 sharing my No-Prize for Film of the Festival with the sublime Sleep Tight. The beautiful camera work, powerful performance from Woods and well pitched soundtrack lift the experience from the mundane to the fantastic. This is definitely not one for the squeamish, I can however thoroughly recommend it for horror fans and am awarding this a don’t-look-him-in-the-eyes-or-he-might-mistake-your-weave-for-his-precious, two thumbs up.