As a man who had absolutely no faith in the remake of William Lustig’s grindhouse classic, it’s quite telling that the opening of the film inspired a gasp out of me, followed by a “Holy crap.” Director Franck Khalfoun also wisely sidesteps the grit of New York (New York now no longer the wasteland is was in the eighties) entirely in favor of the more menacing and vast Los Angeles, all the while injecting an artistic gloss that makes the madness seem more surreal. “Maniac” is a gruesome and disturbing re-working of the classic horror film, that pays respect to the original, while also challenging its gore and violence, in the process. Elijah Wood’s performance is surprisingly unsettling and occasionally horrifying, since his character Frank Zito is a victim of his own madness.
So filled with psychoses is he that he can barely control his urges to victimize young women around the city. Through his desire to somehow resist the sexual feelings he had for his mother, he inflicts brutal punishment on any of his unfortunate young female targets, and it’s an almost endless series of brutal and grotesque murders, followed by Zito fighting his need to punish women and himself for the inherent lust. Every women he murders and scalps is a form of catharses for him, and he can’t seem to find the peace he desires. Zito spends his nights hunting women across the city, and director Khalfoun never shies away from the horrific deaths he inflicts on them. Most of the film is told through the eyes of Wood’s character Zito, thus Wood’s persona and face take a back seat.
All the while he has to personify this madman mainly through his voice and bodily gestures. Director William Lustig’s original film wasn’t just a slasher film about a mad man, but a picture of what New York was. New York was the wilderness, it was a war zone, thus this maniac was allowed to roam around and murder without much repercussions. Times have changed, thus the writers zero in more on Zito’s psychological damage, and how he views the world. His innocent demeanor followed by his ability to hide in plain sight make him a modern Norman Bates who inflicts unspeakable torture on his female victims, and it’s often very difficult to watch. Zito scalps his victims without flinching, gashes at an Achilles Tendon, and even inflicts indescribable torture on an older woman who subtly mocks his love for his mannequins.
Zito is a tortured individual whose life was spent in sexual perversion and a love that was only given due to obligation, thus he’s left feeling a sense of anger and spite toward his own mother, who he also desired. Mainly due to the fact that she seemed to convey affection toward sexual flings and rarely toward him. Director Khalfoun paints a wonderful and engrossing horror thriller that lets Wood shine as a bonafide monster whose own battle with his personal demons spells doom for everyone that comes in contact with him. Franck Khalfoun’s “Maniac” works beautifully as a companion to William Lustig’s shocker while also carving out its own signature as a horror picture destined to be a classic.