2012 / Director. Franck Khalfoun.
Earlier this week Franck Khalfoun's MANIAC was banned in New Zealand. Ah-huh, BANNED! I'm still getting my head around that one. The film itself is no more violent or graphic than countless others that have passed the grade, and the one reason the classification board cites is the killer's point of view. Ridiculous - but I'll get to that in a minute. Anyone who follows my blogs will know that I am strongly opinionated when it comes to remaking films. I am not opposed to the idea of remakes but I do believe in rules and guidelines, which I've self-imposed upon myself (and anyone who gives enough shit to read them). The original 1980 MANIAC is a seminal film. It defined the slasher and pushed the genre to new boundaries. Even now, over 30 years later, it still tests audience's limits and remains as potent as ever. With today's extreme torture-porn movie culture, it's not the violence of MANIAC that upsets us but rather the seedy, grimy vulgarity of it. It drips with filth. - So the idea of remaking it didn't sit well with me at first. I couldn't imagine how they could possibly evoke the same kind of response from me. Then when I read that Alexandre Aja was producing it my confidence was restored. I recently saw the new MANIAC and it's flawless. This IS HOW you pull off a worthy remake. Wow - mind blown! Aja and director Franck Khalfoun have resisted retelling the story the same way as William Lustig's original. The grimy and sleazy atmosphere of the Lustig's film has been ignored in favour of a polished and almost materialistic aesthetic. Elijah Wood plays Frank, a reclusive owner of a mannequin store. Having lived an abusive and traumatic childhood, he has become psychotic and obsessive and hits the streets at night time - scalping women. He uses the scalps to complete the restoration of his mannequins (his family). One day a woman walks into his store, amazed at his creative talent and he becomes besotted with her. The storyline is more or less a retelling of the original but it's conventions are new, daring and fresh. The entire film is told from Franks POV. We see his victims through his eyes. We ARE Frank. This POV is the reason New Zealand have banned the film and yet their decision is baseless. They fear that we, the viewer, will be influenced by this killer point of view. Their tiny little minds think that we are going to see killing in a new and wonderful light and will be compelled to take up murder. Ridiculous. What this unique POV actually does is to replace the original film's seedy impact. Where the dank and repulsive atmosphere of the original film disturbed us, the point of view in this remake does the same thing. There's no glorification. It's not glamorous. It is horrific, ugly and disturbing. We catch glimpses of Frank's face throughout the film from reflections and he always appears disconnected. His big wide eyes are those of a child who's innocence was robbed. The film doesn't ask us to be sympathetic to his situation, nor does it provoke us to champion him. If anything it should speak to abusive and neglectful parents. Love your children. Nurture them and don't allow them to disconnect from reality. Of course it is still a slasher film and horror-buffs are going to rejoice with each kill - but don't mistake our jubilation. We're not cheering Frank's exploits... we're celebrating the genre. We're vindicating the creative input from those who made it. We're elated that film-makers are being bold enough to deliver something so gnarly and shocking as MANIAC. It's flawless.