For some inexplicable reason, I’d never seen the classic movie, Maniac (1980) until I learned that a remake was forthcoming. Thank goodness for that, because I may have never made a point to do so. I guess that’s one positive result of a remake for me; regardless if it is any good in and of itself, it makes me watch the original. And this original was far better than I’d ever imagined it would be.

Maniac may best be remembered for its violence. When it was first released, it became the example by which critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert led a crusade against slasher films. Even the poster for Maniac was controversial for its bloody depiction of a man waist-down holding a bloody knife in one hand and a scalp in the other. Call me crazy, but watching it recently, I was surprised by how much depth there is to the movie.

The primary reason is because of the performance of character actor Joe Spinell as the tortured serial killer, Frank Zito. This is one creepy guy. Sweaty and overweight, he doesn’t seem concerned with being caught; he wears no mask or hood to hide his identity. He’s relentless in his pursuit of victims and violent in their murders; however, he vomits while committing them and wakes up screaming from nightmares.

He also has “mommy issues”. Voices in his head reveal that when he was a child, Frank’s mother slept around, “They didn’t love you; I did. I never wanted to hurt you but there were so many men.” It seems that when he was a bad boy, Frank was punished by being locked in a closet. I’m not sure if he’s trying to bring her back to life by attaching scalps to the mannequins he collects, or not. But if so, it’s extra disgusting that he puts them in bed and dry humps them.

The violence in Maniac is sudden, brutal and extremely graphic. Prepare yourself for the “car scene”. While not particularly well-made, several scenes are intense and effective. Parts of it may remind you of parts from other movies. When Frank descends into his final madness, a graveyard scene concludes with a familiar surprise. And during the climax, the camerawork and sound seem to mirror his mental state.

I didn’t like the remake, Maniac (2012), much at all. It’s shiny and slick, but I think the down and dirty approach of the original is more effective. The remake doesn’t steer far from the original story, but provides more detail to Frank’s background, including a scene that brings to life the voices in his head regarding his mother. It’s not necessary, though; it disallows visuals that viewers might otherwise imagine on their own.

The gimmick of the remake is that it’s shot primarily from Frank’s point of view. We don’t see his face unless he looks in a mirror and sees himself. This is except for the fact that the gimmick is not entirely consistent; sometimes we do see Frank. I thought when this happened, it was perhaps for artistic reasons, like Frank was seeing himself in some kind of out of body experience. But I don’t think that theory holds up. The gimmick is just inconsistent.

Whether it’s due to this gimmick or not, normally cute and cuddly Elijah Wood is quite effective as Frank. He does an adequate job of playing creepy, but his performance is not as memorable as Spinell’s. The fact that his Frank comes from a family of mannequin-makers explains his obsession with them, but might make him a little less crazy in the remake than he was in the original.

One story element that is actually enhanced in the remake is the character of Frank’s female friend and potential recipient of unrequited love. In the original, it’s never explained how and why he would be hanging out with a woman as beautiful as Caroline Munro. But in the remake, Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a pretty photographer wanders by the mannequin shop and inquires about using some of them in a gallery opening.

Both versions of Maniac are striking examples of the styles of their makers. The original reflects the grit and realism of director William Lustig (Vigilante, Maniac Cop, Relentless), while the remake reflects the gloss and excess of producer Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha). What results with their versions of Maniac is pretty much the same story seen through two different sets of artistic eyes.

Maniac (2012) is directed by Franck Khalfoun (P2), an obvious disciple of Aja’s. It has a dreamlike quality, but it is Maniac (1980) that is the true nightmare. For some reason, perhaps it’s the purple and blue art for one of the remake’s posters, I see the two movies as metaphors for bars. The original is a dark, seedy underground dive while the remake is a bright, drug-fueled disco. The movie you prefer may correspond with the establishment where you’d feel most comfortable.

(1980) = 4/5
(2013) = 2.5/5
Remake Rewind: Maniac
3.5Overall Score
Maniac (1980) = 4/5
Maniac (2013) = 2.5/5
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