31 Days of Spooky Stuff continues with MANIAC. In today’s Journal, I look at William Lustig’s 1980 cult classic as well as Franck Khalfoun’s recent controversial remake.
And yes, I did miss another day. Thank you so much for noticing. Trying to keep up with these but sometimes time gets the better of me. Sorry about that.
The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.
What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals?
In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?
FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 79
(31 DAYS OF SPOOKY STUFF – DAY 18 – OCT. 18, 2013)
MANIAC (1980) – Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) holes up in his apartment, moaning continuously as he hopes to put the demons in his head to rest. He speaks to his mother, obviously a figure who only lives in Frank’s warped mind. Around his tiny apartment are several mannequins, many of whom have the scalps of Frank’s latest victims stapled to their heads.
His mother was a prostitute who used to abuse him constantly. Nevertheless, Frank has not been able to move on from her death. In every one of Frank’s victims, he sees the face of his mother. Every time he kills her, he moans that she drove him to it, by “going out.”
Bill Lustig’s film was inspired by a lifetime growing up on the grindhouses of 42nd Street, where he gained an appreciation for all the films that ran on 24 hour loops. His previous filmmaking credits were a pair of pretty rough porn films. In other words, MANIAC benefits by feeling like it was shot in the very gutter that Frank and his ilk belong. But just like Lustig appreciated the denizens of mid-1970s NYC, this film paints Frank as a tortured, sympathetic character, even if it doesn’t excuse his actions. It also serves as one of the best cinematic historical monument from that long gone time and place. Having sat through many trailers and then discovering the films didn’t deliver on the promise of those previews, Lustig tried to make a film that would deliver on the outrageous claims of its trailer. Indeed, MANIAC is a nasty piece of business, full of grotesque effects provided by Tom Savini. Women’s groups and religious organizations were pissed.
Often lumped in wish slasher films, MANIAC is much different. The urban setting is a change from the isolated atmosphere of films like FRIDAY THE 13TH. In MANIAC, all the isolation is psychological. Also, the victims are appropriately anonymous and it is Frank we follow throughout, a reversal of the films where people are stalked by a faceless entity. Spinell’s performance is anything but faceless. A character actor from legendary films like THE GODFATHER, TAXI DRIVER and ROCKY, Spinell attacks the part of Frank Zito head on. It is a fearless and unforgettable performance.
Sadly, it can’t quite make it to classic territory for me, because of an ill-conceived subplot of Frank meeting a woman who could possibly quell his demons. The idea of seeing Frank try to maintain a healthy relationship is a good one. But as has been printed elsewhere, one cannot buy that the hairy, overweight Frank Zito would be of interest to the ravishing photographer portrayed by the gorgeous Caroline Munro. It’s a disastrous bit of miscasting, done probably because Munro was a real “get” for the production, but one that drags the film down. Recommended.
MANIAC (2013) – In this remake of the William Lustig cult classic, Frank is now played by Elijah Wood. He restores mannequins and lives in the large backroom of his store. When he meets a young artist (Nora Arnezeder), he agrees to help her with her work and the two seem to develop a rapport. But he is haunted by the same demons as Joe Spinell was in the 1980 film, thus leading us to believe that things might end very badly.
The main difference in Franck Khalfoun’s (P2, WRONG TURN AT TAHOE) remake is in the unique approach taken to the material. The entire film is told in first person, with the camera following Wood’s point of view as we go through his activities. You do see Wood’s face in reflections, as there are a lot of reflections in Frank’s world. The only time the camera pulls out from this are the moments he feels at peace – a few moments with his new lady friend, or more often the moment of sexual release Frank feels after killing someone. It’s an interesting experiment and one that works for the most part, though it gets severely tiresome around the midway point.
I have to hand it to Wood, who has cashed in his HOBBIT fame and chosen a lot of really amazing indie roles. Wood knows horror and gives a much-needed vulnerability to the Frank character. The film isn’t a complete miss, but it just doesn’t fire on all cylinders like it needs to.
Nevertheless, this was my second time watching this film, and I can see my appreciation growing more with repeat viewings. Barely Recommended.
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 325
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