For those unfamiliar with the original, Maniac (1980) was a notorious classic of the slasher genre. Its unprecedented gore and use of first person perspective during the killer’s senseless murders was considered extreme enough at the time to earn it an X-rating. Here, the remake is shot (almost) entirely through the POV of the protagonist, as if to give us, the viewer a unique vicarious fantasy of what it is to be a serial killer.
Elijah Wood plays Frank, the maniac of the title, managing to straddle an open-faced cuteness and an obsessive homicidal bent. Running a mannequin store, he stalks downtown Los Angeles in search of young, attractive women to stab and scalp, in order to use their hair, disturbingly, on his life-sized plastic models.
Whilst there’s a sleazy and grim atmosphere throughout and the murders are uncompromisingly savage and brutal, there seems less than meets the eye. The insistence of first person perspective, long after the novelty has worn off, robs us of a much needed performance from Wood.
The sinister synth score, at once menacing and full of foreboding, is layered with a piano that contrasts the menace of a scene, but somewhat manages to dilute it. The infamous chase scene in Los Angeles Metro Station, fails to work because the direction is so strident and the locations unfeasible with the subsequent murder being improbably played out in a brightly lit car park, reducing its harrowing impact.
The digital cinematography by Maxime Alexandre uses a stylised gloss over a lot of the potential grit and sleaze, leaving a run-down Los Angeles looking industrial and neglected, but not foreboding. The result feels akin to the atmosphere of a video game, which perhaps was the intention. The aesthetic choices also make the murders seem unreal and even pixilated, with a blotchy and heightened crimson colour accompanying every scalping.
Such a pity then, that the opportunity for a truly horrifying cinematic experience has been botched through odd directional choices by Franck Khalfoun and photography that creates style over substance, reducing the impact of a serial killer with so much potential to horrify and disturb us.