Saturday, June 22, 2013
A while back when the idea of remaking William Lustig's MANIAC came about the idea was largely met with shuttered feelings and jeers. I was among the naysayers. Then the casting news came out that Elijah Wood was taking on the role of Frank Zito portrayed in the original by Joe Spinell. Many were appalled at this casting choice, how could Frodo from The Shire portray a mentally disturbed psychopath? I was among the critics once again.Then several months ago the trailer was released. The reaction was mixed but still largely negative. This looked very little like the 1980 splatter fest we loved. I again was among the critics voicing my disapproval for the trailer. I didn't like too much about the production, I didn't have high hopes and I certainly didn't think it would be good. Well now that MANIAC has finally been released to limited theaters and On Demand programs how does it stack up?
MANIAC follows Frank Zito, a young man, probably in his mid to late 20s, carrying on the family business of mannequin restoration and sales. Frank cares a great deal for his work in restoring these antiques which he seems to care for more than people. Frank also cares for beautiful women, but his encounters with them usually ends up with their bloody scalp in his hands. Frank comes in contact with a beautiful young woman named Anna, a photographer who wants to use Frank's mannequins as a center piece in her next gallery opening. Frank and Anna have a blossoming relationship both in their work and personally until Frank's secrets come spilling out.
While following the same basic plot of the original some critical changes were made to set it apart and make the film work. The Freudian ideas of the original are left behind while the seedy streets of New York City have been traded in for the glitz and glam of Los Angeles. NYC at the time of the original is a place that can't be recreated, and it would've been a mistake to try. The street and surroundings of L.A. work perfectly for the very clean looking cinematography. This was one of the main points I was worried about, Lustig's MANIAC is very much a film of it's time and place while Frank Khaloun's remake takes the idea and makes it work in what is a very different type of setting. The physical change in our lead lends a bit of credibility to the story that you can argue the original lacked. Joe Spinell certainly had a look to him that would make your skin crawl and make sure you don't find yourself alone in a dark alley with him but it also made his love story with Caroline Munro a bit hard to believe. Elijah Wood not only looks like he would be able to start up a relationship with the beautiful Anna his performance also adds a bit of sympathy to Frank.
The sparkling clean cinematography and artistic flashes in the direction are exactly what I was afraid wouldn't work and they totally spun me on my ass as they work very well. The first person view through much of the film and seeing Frank's hallucinations let us inside his head and allow us to connect with the character a bit more. The violence in MANIAC won't disappoint any fans of the original as there is no shortage of it and it is particularly nasty. The score is largely synth-driven which adds a feeling of the 80s and it works very well within the context of this remake.
Lustig's MANIAC is one of my favorite horror films of the 1980s and I was never excited to see this remake, but damn if I'm not a fan of it now. The changes that were made were all successful in bringing the film to a modern day audience and setting without losing its personality and soul of where it came from. MANIAC sets itself apart just enough that it should pick up fans of the original and new fans alike. It isn't a perfect film but I have to say it is one of the better new horror films I've seen lately.