Cast: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, America Olivo
Running time: 85mins
The lowdown: Another notorious video nasty gets the big-star treatment, but Franck Khalfoun and Switchblade Romance’s Alexandre Aja’s redo of William Lustig’s 1980 shocker is no pale cash-in. Shot largely as a point of view movie (Elijah Wood’s point of view no less) tracing the killing spree of a particularly disturbed individual with serious mother-issues, this sets a new bar in what the BBFC will pass uncut. Imagine the Smack My Bitch Up video with scalpings courtesy of FX maestros Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, or an ultra-violent episode of Peep Show and you’ll know what to expect.
The full verdict: Despite being the hero of one of cinema’s greatest family adventures, Elijah Wood has quite the dark side. A football hooligan in the lamentable Green Street and a lethal, mute cannibal in the sin-sational Sin City, he’s hung those boyish looks on dark characters.
Nothing though prepares you for watching him scalp, mutilate and self-mutilate his way through Maniac. If his casting was designed to wrong foot the audience, mission accomplished.
Although shot (almost) entirely from the killer’s point of view, Wood is reflected in windows and mirrors and was present for the majority of the shoot, so was presumably aware of the stunt casting.
Despite relocating the central sicko Frank from NYC to LA, the original’s plot is faithfully adhered to. Frank, tortured by memories of childhood trauma at the hands of his mother (Olivo), murders women for their scalps he uses on a parade of mannequins in his dank apartment, looking for his ideal soul mate.
But, as a chance encounter with Arnezeder’s fashion photographer Anna (-quin, geddit?) blossoms into friendship; will Frank be able to conquer his sick impulses?
After enduring multiple lame remakes of grunge classics (including co-writer Aja’s own The Hills Have Eyes), horror fans this year have been presented with two effective makeovers – Evil Dead and this.
The decision to present the film as a point-of-view shot will be mind meat to film students writing on cinema’s destructive “male gaze”, clamouring to compare this to Peeping Tom, and demonstrates how far the BBFC’s attitudes have shifted.
There was a time when the POV shot was leapt upon by the Board, who feared it risked the audience sharing the killer’s excitement, when it was more likely to promote more sympathy for the victim.
And, as there is no sexual gratification to the slaughter, the frequent scalpings have also emerged uncut (and is the reason why the original, cut by 58 seconds in 2001, is still unlikely to be passed intact).
Retaining the grim tone of the 1980 version, what scant humour there is comes from referencing that movie, the boyish Wood being compared to slobby Joe Spinnell from the original movie and a reflection in a car door mimicking the notorious poster.
Elsewhere, director Khalfoun flatters himself by referencing The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, another film about a young man compelled to commit appalling crimes that was pilloried in its day.
Interesting rather than enjoyable, the chief pleasures come from the POV experiment, the murkily retro-synth score, and in watching a Hollywood A-lister appear in a film guaranteed to turn-off pretty much everyone.
Disappointments come from an absence of both the original’s explosive shotgun murder and a cameo from leading lady Caroline Munro.
Now, who’s going to take a stab at The Burning?