Just Another Pointless Remake Or A Cut Above Other Horror Remakes?

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Remakes don't half get a bum deal when it comes to the horror genre. Its understandable seeing as so many of them hurl headfirst into the grand chasm of mediocrity; be it Platinum Dunes and their relentless cash-grab knock-offs of classics such as NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, or the nightmarish teen-centric likes of the PG13 PROM NIGHT.


Its easy to forget that many are far superior to their originals, and some of them even transcend the genre to become cinematic classics in their own right, ( THE THING, THE FLY).

After a long hiatus in the land of the living, I decided to return my most beloved genre with a risky prospect...A film of which I knew little and for which I cared even less. The Elijah Wood starring, MANIAC.

Boy, am I glad I did. This film knocked it out of the park in every way imaginable, and will most certainly find its place among the hallowed few I mentioned previously. It's not only far superior to the source material, (while sticking close to it), but its something of a modern horror masterpiece in its own right. Easily the finest genre film of the year and right up there with the best of the decade, but I digress.

It's not a tale for the faint of heart. The original is notorious for its unflinching depiction of violence to women, and it's as gory as all hell.

For those unaware, or who have yet to be subjected to the original, MANIAC tells the heartwarming tale of a mans descent into bloody lunacy, via a penchant for re-imagining the women in his life, (or at least whom he imagines to be in his life to some degree), as perfect representations of feminine grace, beauty and companionship. A noble sentiment, sure, but our hero Frankie has taken objectifying women to some rather extreme conclusions. Namely, he scalps them, dresses up mannequins in their likeness and lives with them, as lovers, even as the rot sets in.

It's not a tale for the faint of heart. The original is notorious for its unflinching depiction of violence to women, and it's as gory as all hell. While a remake starring such a big name as Mr Frodo himself seems like a recipe for certain disaster, MANIAC 2013 goes right for the throat with merciless abandon from the offset. Its as unforgiving and unapologetic as any horror film I can think of. A bleak and tortured journey into a very particular madness that feels utterly authentic and jarringly painful. This is extreme horror in the vein of the French New Wave of terror cinema, (INSIDE, MARTYRS), and is sure to ruffle just as many, if not more, feathers, among those who experience it.

Its no secret that Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum's THE WOMAN was a crowd-killer of the highest order, mainly due its perceived exploitation of females. Of course, any thinking viewer could easily see that it was quite the opposite...a damning portrayal of masculine insecurity and the burning need to control the goddess' among us. MANIAC follows a similarly dark path, though this time the musings are focused on one mans psyche, past trauma's, and inability to reconcile his need for love and companionship with his urge to feel secure within his relationships. If THE WOMAN was a mirror on my fellow males own bullshit machismo, MANIAC is a daunting look into the very centre of what makes us tick. The need for understanding. The desire to hold onto those we love or believe ourselves to love, and the inherent neediness that drags modern man to his knees in a world of strong, driven women. Its a hard watch, but a worthwhile one for both guys and gals alike. Of course, not all of us go to the extremes that poor Frankie does, but that's besides the point. If cinemas great virtue is to elevate and/or exaggerate the human condition to bring us closer to some sort of understanding of ourselves, then MANIAC can only be perceived as a resounding success. It may share certain themes and ideologies with other classics, TAXI DRIVER and PEEPING TOM appear to be huge influences), but it blazes its own hellish trail with artful, thoughtful relish. Every single moment of the film is shot, edited, acted and sound-tracked to perfection to create a world that's hauntingly real.

The first thing that becomes apparent is that MANIAC is, brilliantly, shot almost entirely through the eyes of Frankie himself. All we see is through Frankie's eyes, both physical and psychological. It serves to completely immerse us in his twisted world. We share his anxiety, his delusions, his nightmares, self-repulsion and yes, his violent means to quiet his demons.

Seeing the world through Frankie's eyes is a damn painful experience, in more ways than one.

Thanks in huge part to Elijah Woods incredible turn as the traumatised, tortured killer, we not only bare witness to all his vicious externalisations of his rage and fear, we come to feel like we're waling in his shoes. We see his dark fantasies in real time as they unfold. We come to understand how they control him and cut any chance at a normal life off at the knees. Frankie is far from a cut-and-paste villain; he's a monster created solely of circumstance, and one who fights constantly to lay his demons down. We come to care about him, evenĀ  as we share in his sickening actions. Its as unpleasant as any cinematic journey I can remember, but is never less than mesmerising.

We only see Elijah, the actor, under two circumstances, and both are very smart choices. When Frankie looks in a mirror, those huge open-heart-surgery eyes of Elijah's convey intense despair and horror, while underpinning the desperate isolation that dwells within him. Secondly, and even more telling, we occasionally see the world outwith his perception, and when we do, its during his most cathartic moments....while he kills. As the camera fluidly leaves Frankie's eyes, we come to see him outside his own body as he commits his grisly crimes. The impression is that of Frankie leaving his body, and his mind/prison, in those moments of release. Its the only times he's free, and by association, is the only time we are also set free.

The whole concept works brilliantly, bypassing gimmickry and heading straight into the hallowed halls bona-fide arthouse. It's no co-incidence that this film is directed by a Frenchman.

Also of note, and equelly important is the soundtrack. Its aboslutly stunning, recalling era of the video nasty with its driven synth mantras, while sounding completely modern. Its a beautiful, haunting score that actually makes the film bearable, while complimenting is inherent tragedy. The last soundtrack to kiss visuals so passionatly and deeply, for me at least, was LOST IN TRANSLATION.

By contrasting such brutal imagery with such lush soundscapes, the film paints a very vivid, very engrossing picture of life inside a severly damaged brain, but it doesnt stop there. Whereas the original is known for its filth and grime, MANIAC 2013 juxtaposes the sleaze, dirt and decay with clean, smooth and fresh visuals. We come to see the city as an extension of Frankie, both scum-ridded and capable of beauty. Again, very clever. I'm not sure what city the tale is supposed to take place in, but perhaps its every city. Every fucked up concrete behemoth that's equal parts gutters and glamour. (For more city-ridden horror cinema, both good and bad, check out Horror Films In Las Vegas, folks)

MANIAC caught me completly off my game. Its sickeningly violent in a way few films can ever hope to reach, its almost pronographic in its detail to not only the ugliness of the world but its beauty too. Art that pushes boundaries is always welcome in my dojo, and MANIAC takes us all the way into the dank, creeping corridors of ruined childhoods, lost souls and seriously, seriously fucked up mental illness. It aint called MANIAC for nothing. This is the real deal. Its a hypnotic, techically dazzling film that scrapes away at your soul and leaves you drained, sore and satisfied. This one will stay with you for a very long time.

Reviewed by Jonathan Stryker