Frank Zito is a schizophrenic who has taken ownership of his family’s mannequin restoration business after the death of his mother some months earlier. One morning Frank awakens to find a photographer named Anna taking pictures of the statues in the store windows. He invites her in and she explains that she’s an artist doing a show using mannequins as subject matter, and she asks if Frank would be kind enough to let her borrow some for her exhibition. Smitten with the pretty photog, Frank agrees, and the two begin to develop a friendship. But unbeknownst to Anna, seemingly mild-mannered Frank is not as harmless as he appears to be. In reality, Frank is a seriously disturbed serial killer who, ever since his mother died, spends most of his nights stalking and scalping women, taking their hair back to his apartment and nailing it to the various mannequins he keeps in his room. Of course poor Anna knows none of this. She just thinks of him as her kind, eccentric friend. So naturally she doesn’t realize the danger she’s put herself in with the simple act of inviting him over to her apartment.
Reason 1 why you shouldn’t let people you’ve just met over the internet into your home.
Maniac from 2012 is a psychological horror movie, and is a remake of the film of the same name from 1980, that starred Joe Spinell as Frank and Caroline Munro as Anna. As far as remakes go, this one is not only quite strong, but it also goes out of its way to set itself apart from its predecessor while also trying to respect the source material. This is thanks in large part to its much stronger focus on the psychological aspects related to the killer, but also because of the film’s unique approach to filming the story.
Unlike the earlier film, or most psychological horror films in general, the 2012 version of Maniac is filmed almost entirely in first person, from Frank’s point of view. The viewer isn’t simply a voyeur watching what Frank does, they ARE Frank, and as such that means they get a literal front row seat to every sick, twisted and depraved thought that pops into his head or action he commits. It really adds a new level of disturbing to an already very disturbing tale. Because there is no way to watch this movie and in some way escape Frank’s twisted, bloody viewpoint. So keep in mind that if you’re the queasy type who doesn’t like that up close and personal, bloody, gutsy stuff, then this is not the film for you, because you will not be getting any kind of reprieve. This film is just as gruesome as the original, and the new viewpoint makes it all the more disturbing because the violence is even more in your face than it was before. Even on the rare occurrence where the viewpoint pulls away and you catch his reflection, or the camera pans out as Frank commits some of his most disturbing deeds, the film is still solely focused on Frank and his twisted psyche, either highlighting the pleasure he gets out of his actions, or the nonchalance he shows to the suffering of his victims, so there is no escaping him. Just like in the original film, everything is centered solely around Frank, but this time around the focus has turned more inward to showcase not only his horrific outward depravity, but also really highlights the sickness that lies within simmering just below the surface.
I like the creepy, faceless portrait, by the way. That’s a nice touch.
All of the actors do a good job in their roles, but thanks to the film’s primary focus, the movie is essentially a one-man show, meaning your appreciation for it is pretty much going to hinge on the main actor’s performance. In the original film, that task fell to Joe Spinell, who pulled off the creepy depravity on screen as if it were an art-form. This time, that same task falls to Elijah Wood who, I gotta say, puts in a really impressive performance as a menacing little psychopath, especially considering that you rarely ever see him on screen and almost the entirety of his role is done solely through audio. His calm and awkward personality is completely different from the creepy vibe that Spinell gave off, so I initially had a hard time picturing Woods as a heartless serial killer. But as the film goes on you can easily see how his boyish good looks, big blue eyes and milquetoast mannerisms would likely make it shockingly easy for someone like him to slip under somebody’s danger radar just long enough to do some serious damage. His character still has the same deep-seated mommy-related psychological issues that Spinell’s original Frank had, but they’re portrayed in a very different manner, keeping the character similar enough to those who have seen the original film so as to be recognizable, but also unique enough to not feel like a complete rehash.
Oh, and speaking of rehash, for those wondering how closely tied this remake is to the original, know that both are unique enough to be enjoyed on their own. Yeah, the story is essentially the same, and the movie utilizes the same names, professions, obsessions and even faithfully recreates the original film’s ending (which I was NOT expecting.) But it’s far from a scene-by-scene recreation like that ill-advised 90’s version of Psycho was. Most of the scenes are completely new and unique. That said, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t small hints of the original included in the remake. At one point, one of Frank’s victims describes the appearance of Joe Spinell’s version of Frank to a T, there’s a quick flash of reflection after a murder that’s clearly a nod to the original Maniac’s movie poster, and in one scene Frank chases a victim through an empty subway stop (how these ladies in horror movies keep finding such empty locations in cities as large as friggin’ Los Angeles I’ll never know…). But other than the film’s ending, every callback to the first film just feels like an appreciative homage or nudge-nudge, wink-wink at the original.
Seriously, where the hell is everyone? I couldn’t luck into this much solitude on public transport if I tried.
Maniac isn’t a perfect horror film, but it’s a pretty damn good one. It’s a very intimate look at a very disturbed man that’s meant to make you feel very uncomfortable and I think the film does a fine job of conveying that. It takes all the various elements from the first Maniac film and ratchets them up. The blood and violence is more personal and intense (though there’s no exploding heads, so perhaps it’s not quite as gory), and all the psychological points that make up the killer are expounded upon. Not necessarily overtly, but more often in a subtle manner that fleshes out his psychosis to the point that it almost makes you feel a little bit sorry for him. Not enough to make you feel like he doesn’t deserve a pick-axe to the face of course, but perhaps just enough to help you understand how he got to the sorry state he’s in and wonder what could have been. So while it’s quite similar to the version that came out in 1980, it’s also different enough to be considered its own thing. Plus its unique first person perspective alone makes it worth at least one watch if you’re at all interested in, or a fan of, the psychological horror genre. Just know that it’s a very intense and bloody film, so if that’s not your jam then you’re going to find this film a little too much.
Maniac is available on a variety of streaming services.
Maniac is also available on DVD and Bluray.