Maniac (2012/13)

William Lustigs 1980 classic Maniac (review here) is arguably the pinnacle of 1980's New York sleaze cinema. While many of it's counterparts strictly upped the blood and the gore and considered it "pushing the envelope," Maniac, while certainly gory (Tom Savinis effects are tremendous) had something completely different going for it. Subtlety. Joe Spinells nuanced performance elevates the original to near classic status. Lustig tried and failed for years to make a sequel. Starting and stopping, even shooting a short film version in 1988. But alas, it was not to be. With star Joe Spinells untimely passing in January of  '89 any hope of a sequel happening was finally put to bed.

Enter Alexander Aja and Gregory Lavesseur the duo behind the tremendous High Tension the very good The Hills Have Eyes and the not so good Mirrors. They scooped up the remake rights and installed Franck Khalfoun (director of the "meh" P2) as director. Elijah Wood (yup, Frodo himself ) of all people, quickly signed on to be Spinells replacement as Frank Zito. Sort of a mixed pedigree for remaking a sleaze classic.

The new Maniac is just that "new." It's very 2012. Exceptionally sleazy 2012, but 2012 none the less. Where as the original is a time capsule for New York before New York was gentrified. The new version is more of a worst case scenario for modern day L.A. The plot is essentially the same, young Frank was traumatized by his hooker mother. He copes by stalking young women, killing them, scalping them and mounting said scalps on mannequins around his home. He forms fleeting attachments to these "women" until he spots someone that may better fit his fancy. In the remake, it's Anna an artist who seeks to use Zitos refurbished mannequins for her latest gallery show. Zito becomes obsessed with Anna and does whatever he can to become closer to her, until, like the original, Franks obsession ends in tragedy.

In many ways the remake of Maniac is superior to the original. The story is tighter. It makes more sense. You can see why Anna would want to spend time with Frank. Compared to the original where it's hard to believe why such an attractive woman would want to spend time with Joseph Spinell. Wood's Zito is more subtle, less aggressive. He's still a cold hearted, well, Maniac, but he's quieter about it. In many ways he's less sympathetic than the original. Wood is more "emo," despite the fact I hate that term because it implies shittiness, but that's really what it is. The character is still effective but not as viscerally. Spinells Zito bordered on pathetic when crying for his mother. Wood comes off as a bit of a spoiled brat. That doesn't mean Wood isn't any good, he's terrific. It's the character that is flawed, not the actor.

The thing that benefits Woods character more than anything is the fact that the film is shot in the first person. We see what he see's. His voice narrates us through his feelings. Save for one brief glimpse, the only time we actually see Wood are in some cleverly placed reflection shots. We see his hands (dirty and beaten up like in the first film) and his feet (brown work boots - just like the original) but his face remains a mystery.

There are enough nods to the original to placate most fans, although there is one key sequence that is missing, and I have to admit it was disappointing that it wasn't there. Although it really doesn't fit the 2012 version of the character, so it is forgivable.

Maniac 2012, much like the original, is a character study set against a brutal horror film. They follow similar paths from A to Z but their execution is completely different. Different but almost equally effective. If you have a chance to see the remake, certainly do so, it will be well worth your time.

**** 1/2 stars out of *****

Thanks For Reading "Enjoy Every Sandwich"


  1. Great review. Loved the film. Thought Mr Wood was tremendous. I'm still not convinced that a living can be made from restoring mannequins, but that's about all I'll hold against it. Cracking stuff.

  2. Thanks for your kind words. Perhaps in some hipster corner of LA you can make a living restoring mannequins? Hipsters are idiots. So maybe it could work....again, thanks for reading!