The fact that I feel lucky to have seen a film so truly disturbing, is not something I had ever envisioned myself saying. But, here I am, grateful to have had the opportunity to be an audience member at a preview screening of the feature film, Maniac. I am fortunate because the film is, thus far, only set for a limited United States release in June 2013.

I previewed the film recently at a HorrorHound convention in Cincinnati, Ohio in a venue packed to the brim with other eager viewers. And, I cannot imagine that a single person walked away disappointed. In fact, a number of my fellow audience members shared that, they too, felt  that Maniac stays with you long after you leave the theater (or, in our case, leave the hotel ballroom).

Manic is a remake of the 1980 horror cult classic of the same name originally directed by William Lustig and written by Joe Spinell and C. A. Rosenberg. Spinell also starred as the lead character Frank Zito, a disturbed and traumatized serial killer who scalps his victims.

The remake is directed by Franck Khalfoun and written by Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur, and C.A. Rosenburg. The film stars Nora Arnezeder, Jan Broberg, America Olivo and features Elijah Wood as psychopath Frank Zito. The story closely resembles the original despite minor changes and now includes a heightened exploration of the characters’ psychological motivations. The remake is also a much more artistic take on what was originally a guerrilla-style filmed gore flick.

The new version of Maniac is entirely shot from Zito’s point of view, with his face being shown only in reflections.  Because of this point of view technique, Elijah Wood had to be present nearly every day of filming, which is unusual. Wood told an interviewer, “It’s the most intriguing element of the film. It meant I could create this character in a completely different way. It became about hearing him and feeling him rather than seeing him. And you only see him in flashes, so they become very intense character revealing moments. I’ve never played someone so dark before. It was interesting to go there.” (The Scotsman, March 14, 2013)

The filming was interesting and also artful and magnificent in the delicate blend of horror, gore, humanity and cinematic beauty. The POV camera work (that could have easily gone terribly wrong) is both stunning and disturbing. The skillful use of POV with a sometimes saturated and blurred color palate and intensity of sound, together with glimpses of an unglued Elijah Wood, was a brilliant sensory manipulation that took us uncomfortably inside serial killer Frank’s head. And, the casting of Wood as Frank was genius. All Frodo jokes aside (yes, I’ve seen the YouTube comments), Wood brings an intensity that is completely disturbing yet sympathetic. You find yourself repulsed by Frank yet surprised that you understand him and root for him in some strange way.

The story is Frank’s story. He is a depressed and genuinely deranged serial killer who by day works at a mannequin shop, mostly reassembling old mannequins and by night, he prowls the streets of Los Angeles, slaughtering woman for their scalps to use on his private collection of mannequins back at his home. This is never a “Who Done It.” We meet Frank and learn of his nocturnal brutality almost immediately in a murderous sequence that has the viewer somehow cringing and laughing at the same time. Frank continues his maniac ways, however, his existence takes an unusual and positive turn when a beautiful young photographer, fascinated by his mannequins, asks to use them for an upcoming photo shoot and gallery exhibit. The brief friendship between the two seems to be Frank’s tenuous, desperate tie to normalcy. But, of course, all does not end well in Frank’s deranged corner of the world.

While the film is truly disturbing, it is also a compelling, artistic and inventive take on what could have easily been yet another gore-fest slasher movie. I haven’t seen something so original and well-crafted since Silence of the Lambs. And, should the film finally get the expanded release it deserves, I’d venture a guess that Elijah Wood’s Frank Zito will become an iconic movie monster who gives us a shiver and makes us forget all about silly little Frodo.



About the Author

Linda Gabriele
Linda Gabriele
Editor, legal advocate, photographer, playwright, actor, director, freelance writer, adjunct professor, blah, blah, blah . . .