Aug 10, 2013

Maniac (2012)

While it is only speculation on my part, I can only assume that I was not the only one who was baffled to learn that turdish child actor turned Hollywood hobbit Elijah Wood was to star in a remake of the celebrated cult horror slasher flick Maniac (1980) directed by William Lustig and starring/co-written by legendary grizzled guido Joe Spinell. As someone who only enjoys Lustig’s Maniac due to its accidental camp value, sleazy and cheesy celluloid grit, rather retarded and ridiculous exaggerated violence, and the unintentional comedic value of seeing a big swarthy wop like Joe Spinell crying and playing with dolls, I especially had a hard time taking seriously the idea of a decent budget and lavishly stylized remake of the film, especially with an ostensible ‘Frenchman’ in the director’s chair and a world class wiry wuss like Elijah Wood portraying a murderous mad man with an ominous Oedipus complex. Maybe because my first recollection of Wood is his unintentionally hilarious preteen performance as the good son in The Good Son (1993) or that I find Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy to be the most epically aesthetically revolting film trilogy in all of film history, but taking a pedomorphic pretty boy seriously as a schizophrenic serial killer makes as much sense to me as seeing Steven Spielberg directing a minimalistic arthouse film or Werner Schroeter directing big budget children’s fantasy flicks for Disney. When I learned that the Maniac remake was a quasi-Horror-of-personality work filmed from the perspective of the killer via POV shots in similar fashion to the British horror masterpiece Peeping Tom (1960) directed by Michael Powell, it only made me think all the more that director Franck Khalfoun (P2, Wrong Turn at Tahoe) was utilizing the atypical technique to make the seemingly totally harmless Elijah Wood seem like a murderous misogynist with macabre mommy issues and after watching the film, my assumption seems to be correct. Maybe it is because we live in a positively pussified age where men dress like color blind women and women dress like gay men, but no matter how many Suicide Girl-esque chicks and dumb blondes Mr. Wood scalped in Maniac, I was not able to suspend my belief long enough to forget the actor seems about as threatening as a poodle puppy with rabies. Co-written and produced by Hebraic frog horror hack Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes)—a man who loves remaking horror flicks/rehashing beaten-to-death horror conventions and has consistently emphasized undeniably alluring yet innately vapid style over substance and storyline—and featuring aesthetic and atmospheric similarities with contemporary cult classics like Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void (2009) and Drive (2011) directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, Maniac is undoubtedly one of the most aesthetically pleasing and meticulously stylized serial flicks I have seen this year, so it only makes it all the more of a cinematic tragedy that it is also a terribly derivative and poorly cast and written work that had many of the ingredients to be an immaculate phantasmagorical horror fever dream but seems more like the typical horror remake nightmare, as if producer Alexandre Aja was the real man in the director's chair. 

 Momma's boy maniac mannequin dealer Frank Zito (Elijah Wood) comes from a rather idiosyncratic family background. Despite the fact that his mother owned a vogue mannequin sales business, which he inherited after her death, Frank’s mother moonlighted as a sleazy streetwalker who had no problem sharing her extensive carnal knowledge with her prepubescent son, including cocaine-fueled threesomes with glittery Guidos and animalistic public sex. Like many boys with horrendous mothers, Frankie boy grew up to be a deranged dude with sexual problems, especially in regard to ‘rising to the occasion’ in the bedroom and confusing violence with sex. In fact, while recalling a bad memory of his mother boning two bros, he looks at his genitals, only to schizophrenically see that his lower half has been replaced with that of a mannequin and that he has a small stub where his penis and testicles should be. A spiritual eunuch, Frank has some trouble with a sexually aggressive girl he met on an online dating site, so when the lecherous lady attempts to give him a blowjob, he strangles her and rips off her scalp, as he thinks such actions are apparently willed by his dead mommy, or so the lunatic lad seems to think. Unfortunately, every time Frank freaks out, kills a chick, and puts her bloody scalp on one of his mannequins, the mannequin takes on the identity of the girl whose hair it bears, at least in his own mind, which naturally further strengthens the micro mad man's already overwhelming schizophrenia. Of course, things get a bit weird for the aberrant anti-Don Juan when he starts a friendship with a French photographer named Anna (Nora Arnezeder), when he runs into when the beauteous blonde and asks if she can take photographs of his marvelous collection of avant-garde mannequins. Unlike most girls, Anna finds Frank’s peculiarities and idiosyncrasies to be endearing and even absurdly calls him “the last romantic” after he absurdly describes Robert Wiene’s German expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) as having a “happy ending.” It does not take long for fucked Frank to fall in love with Anna, so naturally the impotent serial killer helps her set up art exhibit using his mannequins. Of course, Frank does not take it well when he learns Anna has a black buck of a boyfriend, who insinuates the psycho killer is gay and played with dolls as a child when the two meet at the big art exhibit. At the exhibit, Frank also meets Anna’s middle-aged mentor/art director Rita (Jan Broberg), who embarrasses the virginal man-boy by first attempting to seduce him and then accusing him of being a homo, so he scalps her too. Naturally, Anna is distraught when she learns of Rita’s tragic death and Frank comes by her apartment to console her, but being a warped wack-job, the sloppy serial killer inadvertently admits he was responsible for the art director’s death. After a number of ridiculous mishaps involving absurd car crashes, heroic gay brown boi actors, and whatnot, Anna and probably two other people are left dead, but the psycho killer makes sure to grab his lady love’s beautiful blonde scalp. In the end, Frank, who is severely wounded after his altercation with Anna, goes home and puts his beloved’s blonde weaves on a bridal scalp, but ultimately dies as a result of his wounds, hallucinating that all of his mannequins have come to life and are ripping him apart in a George A. Romero-esque fashion. 

 A largely typical postmodern genre film of its uniquely unoriginal zeitgeist, Maniac features a number of masturbatory fanboy references to various classic horror flicks, including The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Eyes Without a Face (1960), Peeping Tom (1960), Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), thus making it a work of the Quentin Tarantino and Rob Zombie school of filmmaking, albeit with a Franco-torture-porn angle. Were a better suited (or even unknown actor) cast for the leading role of Maniac as opposed to eternally pouty baby boy Elijah Wood, I might have found the film more believable and enthralling, but instead I found it to be one big pretty piece of pomo puffery directed by a seeming cinematic savage with a knack for style but without a soul. Of course, director Franck Khalfoun revealed his seriousness as a cinematic artist when during a screening of Maniac where audience members fainted and vomited, the filmmaker gleefully stated regarding such bodily malfunctions that he took them “as a compliment,” adding, “We had a screening here in Los Angeles and somebody passed out, which I pat myself on the back for. The movie had to creep on you – it's a different kind of fear; it's more of a nauseating fear. You really have the opportunity to maybe feel the [nausea] of committing crime rather than glorifying it just for the aspect of fun and thrill. The audience gets to experience for the first time how sick [it is to commit murder] – we're certainly not condoning it, but making a real statement about serial killers.” Of course, Maniac makes nil new statements about serial killers and simply rehashes the Hitchcockian Psycho/Ed Gein angle of crazy-mommies-make-crazy-sons. Compared to highly original and innovative European arthouse serial killer flicks like Gerald Kargl’s Angst (1983) and Jörg Buttgereit’s Schramm (1993), Maniac seems like a sort of celluloid ‘Serial Killer Film For Dummies’ designed to impress naïve horror novices and make veteran American horror fanatics feel falsely intelligent for being able to count all the various references to classic horror flicks. Undoubtedly, when a director decides to recycle the iconic song "Good-bye Horses" by Q. Lazzarus from The Silence of the Lambs—arguably the most popular serial killer flick ever made—it is quite apparent that the director has run out of fresh material. Assuredly, horror cinema will be officially dead when someone like Khalfoun remakes Buttgereit’s Nekromantik (1987) utilizing the soundtrack from Rosemary's Baby (1968).  At best, Khalfoun's tedious take on Maniac is an azoic big budget gonzo porn for jaded gorehounds and serial killer fetishists.

-Ty E

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