Sunday, March 24, 2013

MANIAC (2012)

No screenshots, obviously.  They announced beforehand that even people who whipped out cell phones would be ejected.  It was rather disconcerting to have our thus-far empty and comfy screening room (because all the moms and aunts were across the street getting Norman Reedus hugs) suddenly fill to capacity.  But this thing has lots of hype.  And lives up to it.

Elijah Wood inherits Joe Spinell's role as the titular maniac Frank, stripping the scalps from women and stapling them to assorted mannequins because his mom was a whore.  Although somewhat updated (Frank finds prey via online dating in this iteration), 2012 MANIAC sticks pretty closely to the plot and feel of the 1980 original.  Frank falls for a photographer named Anna and pursues her in his stunted, maniac way, while simultaneously dealing out death to cyberdates and assorted unfortunate ladies.  This isn't really a plot-heavy film—much like the original, its sustenance is jarring violence and an atmosphere of sleaze—but I'd argue that it's a far more thoughtful and well-executed film than the original "classic".

This MANIAC is perhaps more successful than any post-eighties film at capturing the seediness of the old grindhouse flicks.  It doesn't look cheap, but the night world of MANIAC is admirably filthy and filled with hobo tent cities and clearly deranged homeless (one in particular makes a nice contrast to Frank's more controlled psychosis).  The whole film flirts with a night and day dichotomy, slamming brightly-lit duck pond scenes into party girls stumbling down midnight streets and into Frank's clutches.  Scenarios and dialogue recur—the aforementioned cuckoo bum reincarnating as the deranged Frank, two separate attempts to coerce someone into a bar, and so on.  

One of the original's strongest strengths was Tom Savini's groundbreaking effects work and nu-MANIAC is definitely no slouch in that department.  The juice is loose in plenty of scenes and, if most of this is CGI (not sure!), it's the most seamless and well-integrated CGI I have ever seen in a horror movie.  Some of the kills were so well done that they got gasps followed by waves of applause.  

Wood's probably hoping that his performance will push him away from Hobbiton and maybe it will, but I wouldn't say it's a career-changing performance on the level of Christian Bale in AMERICAN PSYCHO or Sid Haig in THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (which mostly sucks, but did give Haig a new lease on life).  Wood and Frenchwoman Nora Arnezeder are fine here, but MANIAC just isn't much of a character movie.  While you could argue that the movie has subtext about identity, human contact vs. solitariness, etc., it's mostly about slashing and such, and it's probably best to award the MVP to director Franck Khalfoun, who drives what could have been a cookie-cutter story into a compelling and disturbing clinic in how modern horror should be done.  MANIAC is shot well, uses a Goblin-style electronic soundtrack to maximum effect, and sets a gore standard that it's going to be difficult to top.  

The best horror film I've seen in 2013 and now I'm even more excited to see if/how EVIL DEAD will measure up.  


Darcy said...

I must admit, I was dubious when I first heard about the casting, but I do want to see this. I was at Horrorhounds in March, but we ending up having to leave before this screening.

CWL said...

I don't think you'll be displeased. It retains the strengths of the original while ditching most of its many failings. And Wood is fine and scuzzy, it's a very slasher-appropriate performance!

There should really be a horror con exclusively for library people. If we could somehow merge the drab superstructure of ALA Midwinter with the Somalian anarchy of HorrorHound Cincinnati, it would probably be the greatest con ever.