Psycho meets Drive in Maniac, Franck Khalfoun‘s remake of William Lustig’s 1980 horror film of the same name.
In this art-house slasher flick, Frank Zito (Elijah Wood) is a lonely schizophrenic who spends his nights prowling the streets of Los Angeles, stalking and murdering young women.
When he isn’t painstakingly restoring vintage mannequins, Frank is a professional serial killer. He scalps women and takes their scalps and clothing back to his dimly-lit abode, where he decorates his life-sized dolls as fucked-up trophies.
Once a mannequin has been gussied up to his satisfaction, Frank sleeps with his new girlfriend for several nights, using her to carry on one-sided conversations with his deceased mother, Angela (America Olivo), a rather negligent prostitute who subjected him to years of psychosexual abuse.
In the spirit of films like Peeping Tom, Psycho, Halloween, and Friday the 13th, Maniac forces you to assume the perspective of the killer. Most of Khalfoun’s film is shot in first-person; Wood is glimpsed only briefly in reflections. You are trapped behind the killer’s eyes, watching Frank as he brutally murders his would-be girlfriends.
Frank becomes conflicted, however, when he befriends a beautiful young woman named Anna (Nora Arnezeder), an artist who has taken a liking to Frank’s “art” – the fascinating world of mannequin restoration. As a relationship forms between the two, Frank struggles to suppress his homicidal urges.
“You know, hair is the only part of the human body that lasts forever.”
By changing the film’s setting from New York City to Los Angeles, Khalfoun is able to remain true to C. A. Rosenberg and Joe Spinell’s original story while adding his own unique visual stamp. ’80s New York City was a gritty, dangerous place filled with pimps, prostitutes, and serial killers. Today, Times Square is a safe, sterilized, family-friendly attraction and not the ideal setting for a slasher flick.
The neon-sleaze of contemporary Los Angeles, however, is the perfect hunting ground for Frank, who sees his mannequins as more life-like than the fake, shallow human beings around him. Throw in composer Rob’s synth-heavy score, reminiscent of Cliff Martinez’s Drive soundtrack and the electronic music composed by Wendy Carlos for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and you’ve got a horror film where the setting is just as much of a character as the scalp-slicing schizo.
Elijah Wood provides a chilling, downright eerie performance as Frank – even though he’s seldom on-screen. Wood communicates Frank’s mental illness by muttering to himself and carrying on conversations with his mannequins – grunting like a rabid animal as he stalks his prey – while Arnezeder makes for a compelling, sympathetic “final girl” who challenges Wood’s maniac in unconventional ways.
Overall, Maniac is a well-made, artistic take on Lustig’s guerrilla-gore flick that manages to give the viewer the requisite blood and brutality while adding some much-needed psychological underpinning to the characters and their motivations. There’s a lot to appreciate in Khalfoun’s film – a stylish, modern-day slasher that is deeply disturbing and compelling.
Maniac is currently slated for a June 21, 2013 release. I saw an advanced screening of Khalfoun’s remake this past weekend at The Mad Monster Party, a horror and sci-fi convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. The screening was presented by the Back Alley Film Series and IFC Midnight, who is also distributing the film. Check out the red-band trailer below!