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Maniac (2012)
Movie Review by The Mortician

Maniac (2012) I was just reading an article in the WALL STREET JOURNAL on how most movies being cranked out these days (an astounding 70%!) are remakes, sequels, or part of some sort of FRANCHISE. And us splatter fans know that about every classic has already been remade or is in the process of it. MANIAC. Oh, man. The legendary film. Here we go. The classic Joe Spinell 1980 splatterfest that took gore to an astounding new level of art courtesy of Tom Savini, who was like a god in his prime at the time. What memories I have of that film! Although too young to see it in theaters, I obsessed over the FANGORIA coverage and photos. Read and re-read the articles. Played the vinyl record of Jay Chattaway's astounding serial slasher synth score until there were grooves in the disc. Imagined what the movie would be like. And finally, when it hit Beta video a few years later...oh yeah, it delivered on every level. Scalpings. Stabbings. Blood spattering and caking everywhere. Savini's famous shotgun head explosion early on in the movie. The suspenseful stalking scenes staged by young director William Lustig. Joe Spinell, co-writer, financier, and star...playing the serial killer Frank Zito to the hilt in sweaty, agonized passion. The mannequins in Frank's room, wearing the scalps of his victims...coming back to life at the end to gorily dismember Frank's body, eventually ripping his head right off his spine in graphic, uncut detail. There had never been a movie like this in 1980, and there never will be again. It cannot be matched, what we were exposed to and the way it was told. While the storyline was cliché, with a serial killer abused by his deceased prostitute mother taking revenge on all the whores around him...MANIAC 1980 was and is a tour de force of unapologetic mayhem and gore. It's the grandaddy of modern splatter movies, really, and still cannot be topped. Elijah Wood takes over for Spinell in the remake. He's not in the movie much, though, because the new MANIAC is shot entirely POV (point-of-view) style...from the killer's POV. Frank's. Think the opening scene of Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (Michael murdering Judith) and an entire movie being shot like that. At first it works great, but honestly, as the movie plods along, it gets a bit old. That "one angle" bit made me long for additional coverage to see more of what was happening. There's some nice bits with reflections in mirrors, cars, windows, etc. and it's kind of sick being stuck in the killer's point-of-view for the ENTIRE movie, but again, with all the "reality, first-person video horror movies" out there today, the concept just isn't as fresh as it sounds. The plot is pretty similar to the original MANIAC- Frank is an abused-by-his-harlot-mother guy who exacts revenge on local women, knifing them and adding their big-haired scalps to his mannequin collection. Flies buzz all over his lair, where his mom recently died. He makes a "living" restoring old mannequins somehow, and like in the first film, meets a beautiful photographer chick like Caroline Munroe (played by Nora Arnezeder) that he dates and eventually tries to murder. The scalpings are pretty brutal, but somehow Savini's work still seems more "real" and "immediate" to me. There's a great opening stalk and stab sequence, but I found myself taken out of the murder, wondering HOW the victim remained "standing up" while Frank committed his heinous carving on her. The laws of gravity would have made her fall, and this took me out of the scenario...the lack of realism. Nora doesn't have the charm of Caroline Munroe, as unlikely as that pairing with Spinell was in the original MANIAC. Her character takes pictures of mannequins and puts them on display at art galleries. The new MANIAC is complete mannequin fetishism...a lot of it is just folks talking about mannequins and what they mean. The murders that continue on parade show none of the creativity of the original film...there's a subway chase that leads to a simple, brutal stabbing that we've seen a zillion times as opposed to the classic suspense/creep-out in the original film where the nurse hides in the bathroom stall and is eventually stabbed in front of the mirror, forced to watch herself die. There's NONE of the feeling you had in the original movie like after Tom Savini shotgunned his head off in the lover's tryst-in-a-car setpiece where you were just going bonkers wondering HOW FAR THIS MOVIE WILL GO! What is NEXT?!? HOW WILL THEY TOP THAT?!? HOLY SHIIIIT! That was the rollercoaster ride the original MANIAC took us on until that incredible finale where mother popped out of her grave and grabbed Frank in an emotional graveyard sequence, only to be topped with the mannequin-zombies in Frank's mind attacking and dismembering him at the end. The new MANIAC has bits and pieces of these elements, but gone is the foggy cemetery scene and the POV format makes the zombie mannequin's revenge much less engaging. It is violent, and pretty extreme, and damage does happen to Frank's head and body...but it's nowhere near the outrageous glee we got when Frank's head was torn from his neck by the women in the original film. That was so shocking, so brutal, and such an unexpected funhouse moment that proves impossible to top! And there lies the problem with the new MANIAC- we've seen ALL this before. A million times, on CSI, DEXTER, in HANNIBAL, and the endless PSYCHO reboots. There really is nothing new in this incarnation of MANIAC. I did like the score, by ROB, it has a great Euro-sleaze vibe to it, and I commend them for that. Elijah is okay as a younger Frank Zito, but again...filling the shoes of Mr. Spinell proves impossible, even if it's just in reflective shots. There was and is only one Joe Spinell and he owned the role of Frank Zito. Seeing someone else in it is like casting a new actor as Dirty Harry. Or Rambo. If it ain't Clint or Sly...it just doesn't work. The gore is nice and slick and sick in the new MANIAC, I'm not complaining...but again, Savini's work seems so much more organic and fresh because...well, it was new in 1980. The nostalgia and passion of the original are what continue to give it its soul and charm. The new MANIAC is not a BAD film by any means, and I probably will watch it again. There's plenty of gore, nudity, and exploitation. It was an admirable attempt to take the material of the original film and update it for new audiences...and pretty much ca$h in on it. It works in many ways and is very entertaining. There's some bothersome things, though, like the movie being set in L.A. but hardly ANYONE being anywhere. This is the most sparse L.A. I've ever seen! I particularly like the scene where Frank runs into a couple just fucking casually outside in an alley, and the way the lady becomes his mother and tells him to look away, and he becomes the little boy that was so savagely seared by his whore-ish mom. There are moments of greatness in this film. But...the end result remains totally eclipsed by the original movie, which just cannot ever be topped. So check it out if you want, but if you grew up with the classic original or were initiated into the world of gore by it in any way...doubtful this will do much for you except make you break out the original and watch it one more time for that RUSH of adrenaline you get from it with each and every view, all these decades later! All hail the original MANIAC, it'll never die! And Joe Spinell, R.I.P.

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