FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 7, 2015

Day 7: MANIAC (2012)

It's been 35 years since Maniac was released, but the film's notorious reputation clings to it still. Its explicit, hateful violence continues to shock even the most jaded horror fans; it's a wholly repellent movie that–while undoubtedly deserving of its place in the genre's hallowed halls–is perhaps more appreciated than enjoyed. I can't say I was surprised when the remake was announced, as every movie in the history of ever is up for grabs as far as that goes. But, with a finger on my chin and a faraway look in my eye, I certainly wondered: would it be as hardcore as the original? And what of the casting of this so called "Elijah" "Wood"–could he sweat and mumble enough to make an adequate replacement for Joe Spinell, or would his Frank be something else entirely?

Well, let's get this out of the way: Maniac '12 is French, so yeah, it's pretty hardcore. If you're looking for gore and violence, it's as typically stomach-churning as most other horror films hailing from that country. As for the rest of it...

Frank is a part-time restorer of antique mannequins and a part-time maniac. He stalks women he sees on the street, or women he picks up through an online dating service...just basically any woman who catches his eye. It's not long before Frank's copious mommy issues rise to the surface and he moves from stalking the women to butchering, taking their scalps and clothing as a prize. Back home, he puts the matted, bloodied scalps on clothes on the mannequins and talks to them as if they were real women. Soon he meets Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a pretty photographer who wants to use Frank's mannequins–the ones in the front of the shop, natch–in a gallery project. They strike up a friendship, but how long can Frank keep his serial killer urges in check?

Make no mistake: this isn't some dopey slasher flick where a masked psycho offs teenagers for regressions real or imagined. Maniac is about the violence perpetrated against women on the regular. It's a cautionary tale that plays on the fears nearly every woman accepts as a part of life: don't go home with that nice guy you met on the dating site. Don't walk home alone, especially after dark. It reinforces every "don't" that women are taught ("I warned you not to go out tonight.") if they want to stay safe. There are maniacs out there, and they often seem harmless, like Frank does. Maybe you'll have dinner with him first. Maybe he'll stare at you on the subway and then follow you home. Maybe he's hiding under your car. Maybe he's your friend. Beware, ladies! The danger is real.

As I noted in my review of 1980's Maniac, I don't think that a movie about misogyny is always misogynist in and of itself. It's the approach to the subject matter employed by the remake and not necessarily the subject matter itself that I found severely lacking. In both versions, Frank is a victim of abuse at the hands of his mother, which renders him unable to relate to women on a level of basic humanity. It's a horror tale as old as Psycho, and I don't know, I guess I'm a bit over the "castrating mother" trope...or, again, the way it's used in Maniac '12, which is shot in the first-person view for most of its runtime. We're forced to see the world through Frank's eyes, to somehow identify with him, which...well, why force the audience to do that? Is it just to make us uncomfortable? That's a thing, I guess. Was it simply a "Hey, let's do the opposite of what they did in the original version!"? That's a thing, too. In 1980, first-person perspective was also used, but generally in order to see through the eyes of the victims. We saw tables turn as this unremarkable man suddenly became a maniac, and not only was it was a more terrifying technique from a "horror movie" perspective, but it made us empathize with the women, not the killer.

Although we did empathize with Frank in 1980, too. He sickened himself with his behavior and was tortured by his demons. They hint at this in the remake, going so far as to give us a literal vomit scene after Frank kills his date, but again...the first-person P.O.V. gets in the way. We never see Frank as a normal, average guy the way Anna does because we're relegated to glimpses of him every once in a while in a mirror, only seeing Frank staring blankly at himself. Sure, he hems and haws and gets headaches which make the camera go blurry, but ultimately it doesn't come across as anything more than a gimmick.

While the film didn't work for me overall, I would like to give a shoutout to the hardest working extras in Maniac '12: the green Bath and Body Works-looking hand soap and lotion who showed up in nearly every apartment in Los Angeles.


Evil said...

I warn you with peace and love but I have to disagree with you Stacy. Loved this version so much, Frodo as the Maniac! I found it far less mysogonistic as the original but still fairly disturbing...and being all shot in POV was pretty brilliant I feels! Great blog however and love to read your thoughts! Cheers!

Stacie Ponder said...

No worries–disagreements in the comments here are always fine by me, so long as they're civil! Lots of people like this version for fact, I'm probably in the minority on this one.

AE said...

The original is so weirdly appealing despite being deeply unpleasant (perhaps its sweaty protagonist has the same charm for the ladies he meets!) but I have avoided this one because it seemed so unlikely that it could manage the same balance. And indeed, sounds like it is just kind of gross. I'll find something else to watch -- thanks, Final Girl!

Stacie Ponder said...

It's definitely one of those weird instances where I feel like I don't like something everyone else does, so your mileage may vary for sure. Most people seem to think this is a good remake, so who knows. But I agree with you about "weirdly appealing"...I got the impression in the original that Frank was really trying for some kind of normality, and it just made everything all the more tragic. The remake didn't have any of that for me, so it came across far more ugly.

Unknown said...

Great critique. Like I said earlier, I don't think I like the film, but it has stuck with me. Being thrust into the killer POV really unsettled me; the dead-eyed, unflinching effect of the first-person view on this one icked me out, which is a good thing? I wouldn't say it created a sense of empathy with the character, but I think there's something to the approach in this movie that made me recognize the humanity and empathy that separate someone like me from a lunatic like Frank. In other words, being put behind the eyes of the killer in this case actually made me feel more for the victim than how, say, the Friday the 13th films use first-person POV.
But I think all that is technical - in terms of story and the "point" of it all, I don't know if any of that has any real virtue except as the framework upon which to hang the experiment. I think the 1980 version at least felt like they were trying to tell a better story, whereas this one feels more like a stylistic exercise.

AE said...

Yes, the original Frank is sad when he's not being stabby (part-time maniac, part-time sad sack?). Like the modeling scene where he's just slumped on the sofa with his unwanted present. Sad! (Also, that song is the best.)

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed it, but Aja (the director) is definitely not my fave french horror director. I enjoyed High Tension despite the twist ending and Hills have Eyes was pretty epic. But I dunno.

Also I have never seen the original Maniac so I have no context for comparison. Sorry you didn't enjoy it Stacy.

Ellen Brody Rocks! said...

Didn´t like this one, it´s handsomely made but I felt it crossed the line and became overtly misogynistic and dare I say it, a bit homophobic as well. Hard to say if this is just the filmmakers way of trying to portray Franks view of the world or just their own view on women and gays making it´s way into the film.
All that said, the scene that starts with the second of your images is one of the most sickening scenes of violence I´ve ever seen in a film so I guess the filmmaker´s got something right.