Review by: Topo Sanchez
Maniac (1980) ★ ★ ★ ☆☆ / Maniac (2012) ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Ok I have to admit; I have never been a big fan of horror remakes, especially when the movie in question is a total classic like Maniac. Call me old-fashioned, but I have always found the rawness of films from the 70s and 80s to be utterly charming. From the straight-laced acting, over-the-top special effects, garish (but memorable) soundtracks, right down to the colour of the film grain, everything always seems to click together nicely in a strange, endearing kind of way. And this is especially so for the horror genre, where these imperfections take on a certain snuff-like quality and adds to the ‘believability’ of the film.
Needless to say, I was quite skeptical about this remake.
Director Frank Khalfoun keeps his version close to the original story by William Lustig – Frank is a psychotic middle aged man with mommy issues who goes around murdering random women to collect their scalps, which he then attaches to his collection of female mannequins. Seeing mommy being taken by different men every night has traumatized Frankie when he was a small boy, so the scalping addiction helps to exorcise the demons of his abused childhood, and also a way to remember his deceased mother.
So, let’s begin the blow-by-blow comparsion:
Frank the Maniac
In the 1980 version, Frank (Joe Spinell) was an overweight, heavy-breathing Ron Jeremy lookalike that was physically much stronger than his female victims. He is not afraid of confrontations, and very decisive when going for the kill. The 2012 Frank (Elijah Wood) is the exact opposite – small framed, frail and unsure. I am pretty sure this interesting contrast was an intentional stroke of genius on the part of Frank Khalfoun. We don’t really know what Frank 1980 does for a living, but Frank 2012 owns a mannequin rental shop and restores vintage mannequins at the side. Surprisingly, both Franks worked equally well for the story, and the audience is convinced of the pain and loneliness that Frank goes through daily.
Verdict: Draw. Score: 0-0
Meeting Anna the Photographer
In the original, Anna (Caroline Munro) takes a candid photograph of Frank on the street. Frank notices her and goes over to take a peek at her bag tag, which happens to have her name and address. A few days later, Frank turns up at Anna’s studio and identifies himself as the man in her photo. She lets him in, they start to discuss about art philosophy and she takes a fancy to him.
Ok this is THE biggest problem I have with the 1980 Maniac. HOW DOES A SOCIALLY RETARDED LONER SUDDENLY TRANSFORM INTO A SMOOTH TALKING PLAYBOY SPOUTING ART PHILOSOPHY OVERNIGHT?? Its like saying Voldermot enjoys gardening as a hobby, or Darth Vader singing karaoke to raise funds for a charity. Its totally out of character and simply too absurd. Epic FAIL!
So I am eternally grateful that the 2012 remake fixed this ridiculous discrepancy. Frank spots Anna (Nora Arnezeder) taking pictures of his shop window display mannequins through half opened shutters. He pulls up the shutters and invites her inside to take a closer look at his vintage mannequins. Impressed by his passion and skills, she tells Frank about her art exhibition and requests for his mannequin to be part of her installation. Slowly, friendship blossoms and Frank falls for Anna. Now this I can believe!
Verdict: 2012 wins. Score: 0–1
Camera + Special Effects
Frank Khalfoun upped the ante by adopting a POV style for the 2012 version (although in some scenes we get to look at the killer from a third person perspective, but it’s still done as if the killer was having an out of body experience and looking at himself). Yet again, another stroke of brilliance that gave it a fighting chance with the fans of the original Maniac. It made them sit up and go “Hang on, this could be interesting…” So the lesson for all film-makers; if you are attempting to remake a classic, you better get ready to grow some balls and bring something new to the table.
Special effects for the new film will undoubtedly be more superior and refined. This is especially obvious in the ending sequence where Frank is torn apart by his beloved mannequins. You could see the ‘elasticity’ of his skin when its pulled apart and ‘feel’ the fresh blood flowing down his face. I am not saying the effects for the original Maniac was crap, in fact it was very very good; especially the scene where Frank blows up this dude (played by makeup artist Tom Savini himself) with a shotgun, but there is no way it can beat 32 years of progress in technology and makeup techniques.
Verdict: 2012 wins. Score: 0–2
The sound design for both films are supremely awesome. Creepy synthesizer sounds are definitely the perfect soundtrack for a scalping hobby! The music stayed in my head for days, so kudos to both musicians (Larry Marinelli for 1980, Rob for 2012). But on this note I have to point out that in the original version, Frank makes this sickening low growling hum whenever he is on the hunt and its disturbingly effective in adding tension to the whole atmosphere. So just for this alone, I give the 1980 version an edge over the remake.
Verdict: 1980 wins. 1-2
The 1980 chase in the subway really had me sitting on the edge of my seat. Framed by the gritty New York subway in the background, Frank’s incessant humming above a piercing synthesizer soundtrack and the look of sheer terror on the nurse’s sweaty face as she struggles to hide…I could feel my palms get sweaty with nervous excitement. You could almost taste the fear. Simple and effective camera work that lets your imagination fill in the rest of the terror. Sheer brilliance!
The subway chase scene in the remake was more elaborate and ended up in an open carpark, but no sweaty palms this time round. I think the simpler approach in the 1980 version was more effective because you could relate to the environment and imagine it happening to yourself. The most interesting sequence in the 2012 version however, is when you get to ‘see’ how it looks when an oncoming car drives straight at you and knock you down. Its quite a harrowing experience and I am sure adrenalin junkies will be replaying that scene a few more times after the show. Old skool takes this round though.
Verdict: 1980 wins. 2-2
Seems like we need a tie-breaker to determine the winner. For that, let’s take a step back and relook at both films from a bigger perspective.
The 1980 version is undoubtedly a cult classic that shocked and terrified a whole generation with its originality and disturbing atmosphere. But Frank’s sudden transformation into the smooth talking playboy has always been the deal breaker for me. The 2012 version though, is better thought out and the story seems more plausible and coherent. I also like the fact that the director took risks and tried something different. So for that, I would give the final point to the 2012 Maniac and declare it the winner!
Call me crazy, but it is possible to do a good cult remake after all…