So many remakes fall short of justifying their existence, historically most fall flat on their face, failing to capitalize on the elite opportunity afforded them. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th are two such guilty parties. Both are culpable of not correctly utilizing the tool set at their disposal, instead choosing to give us glossy retreads with the bare minimum of substance. Neither were exactly appalling but, by the same token, both had such meticulous designs on making sizable returns that their necessity became questionable to say the very least.
Occasionally, all the pieces fall into place and our desires are catered for. Fede Alvarez’ Evil Dead re-enactment is possibly the finest substantiation of a plan ‘coming together’ and featured in A Dozen Deadly Delights #2 for its troubles. Any other year this achievement would be insurmountable but Franck Khalfoun pulled a pretty fucking large rabbit from his hat when he tackled a film which only now truly gets the credit it richly deserves. William Lustig’s original Maniac was never actually named and shamed on the DPPs list of supposed video nasties. That’s not to say it wasn’t considered immoral and chastised for its apparent glorification of violence, particularly against women. The truth is, it was never actually submitted for classification as folk just weren’t ready for it yet. Time, the great healer, has afforded much greater perspective on Lustig’s true intention and nowadays it is considered a work of scientific art. Critics can be so fickle and blinkered. Not this one however, the Keeper of the Crimson Quill was instantaneously aware of what it took these tyrannical turncoats thirty years to fully comprehend.
Arriving during the epoch when numerous filmmakers were endeavoring to push the boundaries set by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver years previous it may appear as if Maniac became obscured in the crowd. Not the case, it plainly didn’t receive the marketing and widespread circulation of so many of its contemporaries and wasn’t aided by the fact that it was a labour of love just getting the thing shot in the first place. With true Guerrilla-chic Lustig and chums filmed certain infamous takes without the necessary permission. Funds weren’t available, Spinell passed away and consequently Maniac 2: Mr Robbie never made it to film. The late Joe Spinell never actually got to see his dream realized but Lustig audaciously took the baton and dragged his weary legs to the finishing line. It took a long time but success with his Blue Underground venture afforded him the exclusive opportunity to make good on Spinell’s dying wish and make the feature addressees were more equipped to absorb in the current day.
Teaming with Alexandre Aja is an astute outlay, the French maestro has made decent box-office returns on his grisly retellings and his attachment ensures, if nothing else, that heads will turn at the mere prospect of him adding those broad bloody brushstrokes he is accredited with. There are a garland of reasons why the resulting collaboration resonates so strongly with our feral sides.
I shall tackle them all in turn but primarily the POV approach (which I liken to a full-length Smack My Bitch Up minus the blistering breakbeat synonymous to The Prodigy’s brand) takes Lustig’s origins, applying them in a time when audiences appreciate the intention and invention far greater. It fastens us into Frank’s head and forces us to share in his mental decline, feel his inner torment and bask in his slaughter.
The carnage itself is gleefully gruesome, the scalpings standing out for both bold depiction and technical marvel in equal measures. Aside from the dramatic shotgun head blast, it’s all here and realized with such affection and workmanship that it stands alongside its forebear in the grue department. The casting is nothing short of genius. With the greatest of admiration for Spinell, he did have the appearance of a guy who sat on the couch, alongside his mother’s frozen noggin scratching his left nut whilst sharting in his underpants. Not wanting to sound disrespectful as I love him dearly, just stating fact.
Elijah Wood was a fascinating choice to step into those grimy loafers. Since The Ice Storm he has been on my radar and his reaction to the short-lived adulation he received for the Lord of the Rings trilogy was to carry on making motion pictures which challenged him as an auteur, providing opportunity for him to explore different pools of his psyche, showcasing his capacity and broad diversity.
This clean-cut baby-face surprised many as the news filtered through that he was sinking his well polished teeth into Frank but it took no time before I was fully aboard. His face is only shown onscreen sporadically but when we momentarily catch his reflection he’s unfathomably burrowed away inside the protagonist’s mind. His eyes convey with great refinement his inner skirmish as the few enduring fragments of his already perilously crooked psyche begin to landslide. He convinces us of his authenticity, contributing further verification of his acting mettle in the bloody process.
Elijah reminds us that there are few his equal when it comes to losing themselves inside a character and embracing their darkness. He fucks that darkness here with his squalid member, and then leisurely walks off set to recommence being the consummate gentleman he truly is. His glowing response to my Maniac appraisal played an integral part in cementing my belief in myself as a scribe, reinstating some lost faith in the professionalism and dedication for their craft that too few exhibit.
This being Maniac, there is a substantial degree of expectation on the female characters to feed off his dark energy and self-assurance. In truth they all play their part in structuring a consistent end product but my lingering attachment is to a young woman who shares precious little screen time nourishing from his extensive font. Duffy has sealed herself into my savage vaults perpetually since she first ghosted onto the screen here.
There is immediately identifiable verve and natural charisma to Duffy; she effortlessly portrays the ill-fated Lucie’s friskiness and ultimately her ordeal, delivering what is in my mind one of the most momentous exhibitions of artistic aptitude from the past decade. Moreover, she manages this in a fraction of the time most time-honoured Scream Queens are afforded. It is notable that horror isn’t Megan’s true calling and she is more snug within lighter material but I beseech her to explore this darkness more as she excels organically, unfurling like a crimson lily. Methinks a bright future is on the cards for Miss Duffy and if that entails more macabre work like Maniac then bring it!
Frank’s desired muse Anna is both delightfully drawn and played with the utmost assurance by Nora Arnezeder, who tackles her part with kid gloves. Indeed all the female cast members bring their own fruits to the banquet, bringing sincerity and vulnerability to roles made especially demanding by the fact that they’re essentially acting at the camera the whole time. Subsequently we, the addressee, are the benefactors as their contribution enables us to excavate deeper into Frank’s distressed brain coop.
Maxime Alexandre’s luxurious cinematography is first-rate, adding an extra stratum to Lustig’s multifaceted piece of art. There’s an almost ethereal tone to the film and its art-house leanings set it apart from its forerunner. With regards to the splatter, it is readily as brutal and unflinching as is compulsory in order to slam home the sickness when called for. Like the original there isn’t a swollen scalp roster, instead the violence intersperses the narrative, thus making the hammer blow even more critical when Khalfoun chooses to swing it once more.
Maniac is unquestionably one of the decade’s finest horror offerings thus far and is deserving of every bit of adulation that it received from critics almost without exception. It achieves an accolade from me that few could dream of emulating, giving us a landmark film when it could just as straightforwardly have become another in a long line of botched re-enactments. It primarily received 8 out of 10 from me but, as anticipated, further analysis only serves to fortify its immense endowments. What is unforeseen is that Franck Khalfoun’s artistic and animalistic rendering of swiftly declining mental health very nearly nabs the elusive ten. My raison d’être is as plain as the nose on Cyrano de Bergerac’s face, oui oui. It is so meticulously crafted and lacking in any sign of an Achilles’ heel that it couldn’t have been more flourishing a rendition. Thanks Frank, now where do you want that band aid?
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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