MANIAC ***** USA / France 2012 90 mins

Producer / co-writer Alexandre Aja and P2 director Franck Khalfoun faithfully update William Lustig’s nihilistic New York nightmare MANIAC (1980) for this outstanding remake set in contemporary L.A. and again focused on a homicidal loser with a mannequin / mother fixation. In an inspired spin on the found-footage format, the new MANIAC immerses us even more voyeuristically in the seedy world of Frank (Elijah Wood) not because he records his murderous activities on a Handycam but because the entire movie is from his point of view.
This approach takes the familiar slasher movie concept of the camera-as-killer to a claustrophobic extreme. The thin, somewhat effeminate Wood (seen only via reflections) is the physical opposite of the swaggering, obese Joe Spinnell but Khalfoun echoes SIN CITY in finding something dangerous and disturbing in the hitherto harmless Frodo actor. His incarnation of Frank, scrubbing his hands with scouring pads like a modern day Lady Macbeth, is just as unsettling as his 1980 predecessor but the actor’s ability to come off as attractive and sweet-natured makes it easier to accept his character’s developing friendship with the young, pretty heroine (Nora Arnezeder). The new MANIAC plays tighter than the original, hitting an intense note from the very first scene and one-upping Tom Savini’s once peerless FX with the kind of convincing, unflinching savagery you would expect from the team that gave us HAUTE TENSION. Even more pessimistic and humourless than the earlier film, it has an extraordinarily evocative, pulsing Goblin-inspired electro-rock score by Rob that is as much of a must-own as the movie itself.

Review by Steven West

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