After a long absence, one of our favorite Fanboys John Fountain is back with a review of the new remake of Maniac starring Elijah Wood. And I have to say I agree with everything John says here. The film was terrific and Elijah Wood sells this flick. So enjoy John’s review and welcome him back to our little domain.
A Review for Fangirl Magazine
By John Fountain.
Meet Frank Zito (Elijah Wood). He has mommy issues. Unfortunately for the young, attractive women of the city, he deals with these problems with his own form of therapy: stalking them for their scalps, which he then staples onto mannequins and calls them his girlfriends. Frank seems nice enough, apart from this minor personality defect, and scrapes out a living restoring antique mannequins in his shop, which has serial-killer lair written all over it. Also written large on the shop, and Frank’s psyche, is his mother’s name and her memory. Frank loves his mother, but he also hates her.
As the story progresses, we find out that Frank’s mom was a bit of a slut, taking two men on at once while the little boy version of Frank watched from a cupboard. What makes this even more disturbing is that Frank’s mom knew her little boy was there the whole time. Why this makes Frank hunt scalps is never quite explained, other than a general sense of the poor guy being loony-tunes. Into this already quite crowded relationship Frank has with his fly-blown “girlfriends” comes Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a fine-art photographer with a passion for mannequins that while not exactly like Frank’s sparks the seeds of love in his little serial-killer heart. And so we slip, gracefully, into the awkward love story of boy-stalks-girl, boy-kills-girl-for-her-scalp, boy-meets-another-girl-but-doesn’t-want-to-scalp-her-so-takes-her-to-feed-the-birds-then-a-movie-then-discovers-she-thinks-he’s-gay-so-kills-someone-close-to-her-so-he-can-comfort-her.
It’s a story we’ve all lived in our own lives, surely. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, this latest murder causes a whole raft of problems for poor Frank, whose attempts to explain it to Anna fall on unreasonable ears. Needless to say, this love story probably isn’t going to end well.
Maniac is a remake of the William Lustig/Joe Spinell movie from the 1980s: y’now the one, Tom Savini did the effects then tried to distance himself from the final film. As remakes go, this is pretty faithful to the original, at least in terms of plot. However, most of the film is shot from the Point-Of-View of Frank: if we hadn’t been saturated with a decade of “found-footage” movies, this would have become tedious very quickly, but being filmed in this way means that when the POV shifts, no matter how subtly, we are wrenched away from Frank’s inner narrative and forced to reposition him as a character.
Frank is played by loveable, blue eyed Frodo Baggins, who becomes more and more like Gollum as the film progresses. He even gets Gollum’s patented line in schizophrenic dialogue, albeit with the other side being played by a completely absent mother-figure. But Frodo, sorry, Elijah Wood, manages to come across as shy, manipulative, pathetic, and psychotic to such a degree that not only do you like and pity this character, you don’t really question his actions too much. There is the inevitable “No Frodo, don’t do it, you’ll find love someday!” feeling running through the movie, and yes, you really do want this nutty murderer to come through at the end, cleansed, loved and redeemed.
But deep down, you know that ain’t going to happen. Not after the exchange between Frank and Anna after they watch The Cabinet of Dr Caligari at their local cinema. From then on, things are going to start spiralling downwards for Frank, and you really feel for the pathetic killer. This is a triumph of three things: a minimalist script, Wood’s voice acting, and the acting of Arnezeder, through whom you have to filter most of Wood’s action (because he’s just not there to look at). The other triumph of the film is how it looks: it is both glossy and slightly sleazy (as opposed to the “just sleazy” feel of the original), and apart from a chase through the world’s most deserted major metropolitan subway station, allows the city to act as a shroud for Frank’s deeds. He uses the city as his hunting ground, and at no point do you feel that he is not part of the dirty underbelly itself.
There is also a moment where fans of the original will love, where the DVD sleeve of the Blue Underground release is captured in a reflection. The other selling point here is the gore: it is extremely well done, and you can barely tell the CGI knife blades aren’t real as their pierce nubile flesh. Every gore scene is wonderfully rendered: a mix of practical and CGI that works incredibly well, even down to the laugh-a-minute final scenes where Frank’s psyche decides that Freud was right, and there really is a “return of the repressed”.
All in all, the film is a triumph, and certainly an improvement over the original, if only for production values. As a final verdict, this is great movie, but probably not one for a first date. Unless you have a penchant for scalps…