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.