"The owner of a mannequin shop develops a dangerous obsession with a young artist."
I don't know why so many people revere William Lustig's "Maniac" (1980). For me, it's a below average slasher with one memorable Tom Savini effect and little else. Thus, I watched this remake with absolutely no feelings of nostalgia or any idea what it would be about. The truth is, I barely remember the original and have no desire to watch it ever again anyway. The time when a movie like that could be considered shocking is long since past for everybody.
Giving a remake a fair chance is, obviously, a lot easier in a case like this. There's no way that the original could ever be considered a classic of the horror genre, and there's no army of loyal fans who are going to be polarised. "Maniac" (1980) is still a rather obscure, cult movie especially if you aren't an American of a certain age, and so it wouldn't matter if this version was a scene by scene remake as far as I'm concerned. It isn't, but I'm sure you get my point.
Unfortunately, once you remove all the gimmicky killer's POV shots, and get over the fact that Frodo is now a serial murderer who collects scalps, there's very little to commend Franck Khalfoun's version of "Maniac" for. It's a little bit gory, but the kills are too samey and repetitive, there's no tension, and it's not scary. Despite featuring the Q. Lazzarus song "Good-bye Horses" which everyone knows from "The Silence of the Lambs", that's as far as the homage to any better horror movie goes. Everything else is just an updated rip-off of "Psycho" (1960) and its lesser sequels.
|Wish you hadn't thrown the ring away now, dontcha?|
It's not that Elijah Wood makes a bad serial killer. He did well enough in "Sin City" (2005) albeit as a comicbook villain, but a couple of gormless-looking reflections in the mirror don't provide much room for any depth of characterisation here. Given what he had to work with in this "Psycho"-clone, he's okay but a long way from the subtleties of Norman Bates.
America Olivo as Frank's mother provides some very nice eyecandy yet she's only in the movie long enough to provide us with the unrealistic motivation for Frank's psychosis. If every kid whose mother was some kind of prostitute whom he accidentally saw having sex, there'd be a lot more maniacs running around for sure. Mind you, they'd certainly have to look like America Olivo too for that to happen.
Instead, it's all down to French actress Nora Arnezeder, who plays Anna, to carry the majority of the story insomuch as there's anyone to care about. Even then, her character is flaky and easily dislikeable. Her performance is not outstanding either but simply the best of a bad lot.
The only things that I can really give "Maniac" credit for are the moments which seem intentionally designed to bring out the viewers' prejudices should they have any. The first may only be my own so I'm prepared for the backlash, but I saw Frank's online dating victim as being a huge disappointment to him in the flesh due to her tattoos and piercings. The fact that she's "easy" (plus sexually aggressive) and stupid with it is all part of the stereotype. With typical "horror movie morality", she kind of gets what she deserves.
The interracial couple comprised of blonde Anna and her black boyfriend will definitely annoy racists even though it's also only a trope. The fact that the boyfriend is a total asshole is the real issue rather than the colour of his skin especially as he escapes punishment. Contrarily, the old, drunken socialite and the obligatory gay character are merely cannon fodder despite being slightly more memorable in their roles than anyone else.
As ever, the KNB practical effects are the biggest stars. While mostly effective, they seem to be of the cheaper variety so gorehounds will be divided. I'm really desensitized and didn't think "Maniac" was gory enough, but a more squeamish (and younger) audience might still get a kick out of it.
I'm kind of on the fence about recommending "Maniac" since I don't see it as a horror movie. Psycho serial killers really belong to crime dramas, and "Maniac" is more likely to appeal to the "CSI" crowd rather than the "vampires, zombies, and ghosties" aficionados. Even though the weird ending includes all those supernatural elements for a few seconds, real horror fans (other than die-hard slasher fans) should probably avoid this movie.