Tuesday, February 25, 2020

MANIAC Wins Over The Queen

I warned you not to go out tonight.

This horror movie quote was my favorite throughout the ’80s and ’90s; ironically, it summed up the advice I gave most of my friends in college.

These wise words first arrived in the 1980 horror film Maniac, starring Joe Spinnell (Night Shift, The Godfather: Part II) as the famous serial killer Frank Zito. These words were again repeated in 2012, in the Maniac remake starring Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings, Deep Impact). Truthfully, I was unsure about the remake’s casting. Wood’s youthful frame, soft voice, and blue eyes were far from the broad build, croaky tone, and brown gaze of Spinell. But then the raggedy red van came into the first scene, Wood’s blue eyes stared into the rearview mirror at me, and his voice came far short of the innocent woman walking down the sidewalk.

I warned you not to go out tonight.

I was won over.

Maniac didn’t wait long before reeducating me on New York City’s darkest corners. Frank Zito, raised in these alleyways and hotel rooms, had a childhood I sympathized for. His mother (America Olivo), a drug addict and a prostitute, shielded little from young Frank. He carried this into adulthood, becoming a recluse owner of a mannequin store. A little fling here or there usually ended in him removing the scalp of his victim. Then Anna (Nora Arnezeder) appeared, entering his shop first as a photographer, then as a fan of his mannequins, and last as a pursuer of using Frank’s mannequins for her upcoming art show. Their friendship developed. And as it did, Frank began to unveil his compulsions of stalking women, stabbing women, and slicing off women’s scalps to use on his mannequins.

This film was mainly shot from Frank’s point-of-view, and it was clever in its execution. Since the 2000s began, I’ve grown tired of POV films. However, this film reimagined its attraction, especially when it offered hints of Frank’s reactions in reflective surfaces. You constantly wondered how the camera disappeared although you were looking straight at Frank.

Director Franck Khalfoun is known for taking chances like this with stories, thrilling us in films like Amityville: The Awakening and P2. Crafting this unique experience in Maniac, where we witnessed the killer’s activities firsthand, demanded that Khalfoun reunite with his cinematographer from P2. Maxime Alexandre has offered his keen eye to films like Shazam!, The Nun, Annabelle: Creation, The Hills Have Eyes and High Tension. His ability to craft unease in a scene is remarkable, especially when it comes to his handheld work, as seen in Maniac. He ensured that great cinematography did not take a back seat simply because it was a POV film. I clapped so hard when he was able to accomplish the reflection of Frank holding a knife and a scalp of hair, paying homage to the poster for the original Maniac.

Anything this crafty and twisted is worth at least three watches. I recommend you give it at least one if you haven’t seen it already. It is one good horror that you must see before this decade is up. Point blank. Period.

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