The episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? covering Maniac (2012) was Written by Emilie Black, Narrated by Travis Hopson, Edited by Jaime Vasquez, Produced by Andrew Hatfield and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
More and more remakes. So many remakes. Not all are good, some would even say that most remakes are trash. However, some are good, some are great even. This leads us to this movie, the remake of Maniac (watch it HERE) released to the general public in 2013. While some hated it and with reason, others loved it, also with reason. The film is one of those that made changes that worked for the story and helped bring it to the new audience, who then turned around and saw the original. Well, some of them did. However, this remake didn’t exactly hit it big at the box office and it still seems to be finding its audience.
The original is a cult film and has been for years, it was even banned in some countries for a while. The BBFC banned it for its graphic special effects, especially for the scalping scene. Let’s just say the work of Tom Savini in the original Maniac film made an impression on viewers and censors alike. So, when it came time to remake the film, fans of the original were not enthused to say the least, but some were more open to it. Then came news that Elijah Wood would be taking on the Joe Spinell part, so others were skeptical about it. But, knowing what we know now, Wood was a great choice, something that is not just based on his performance in the remake, but also on his other performances and role choices he’s had since Lord of the Rings. He seems hellbent on varying his career choices, having fun, and surprising audiences. So, somewhere between the original’s reputation for being brutal, the casting of Elijah Wood, the involvement of Alexandre Aja who had done other remakes with uneven results, the remake announced had something there, but most were cautious about it.
Let’s go over the story and some of the changes. In the remake, Elijah Wood plays Frank, the titular Maniac. He is the owner of a mannequin shop with some odd preferences. One day, he meets an artist in search of mannequins for an art piece she’s working on. His eye is caught, his heart on fire, he wants this woman. Of course, things go a bit complicated, people die, and the kills are bloody to say the least. Here, the film takes a different approach from most films about serial killers, maniacs, or slashers and is shown from the point of view of the killer. Meaning, we get to see Frank, or Elijah Wood a whole lot less than you’d expect, except in well-planned sequences. This is one of the more solid aspects of this remake for most reviewers and viewers of the film. A comparison piece about the original and the remake was done on JoBlo back in August of 2014 and it makes some really good points, including the point of view change, the lead comparison between Joe Spinell and Elijah Wood, the fact that the point of view change makes a difference on the intensity, leading some the tension and scares to drop by a lot. The change is interesting, but it does make the film less scary in a way. The difference between the original director William Lustig and the new director Franck Khalfoun is huge in that most horror fans would be able to tell you who Lustig is, but while Khalfoun had some potential with Maniac and he has done more horror, most of his films don’t have a signature style or something that screams his name from P2 in 2007 to Maniac in 2012 to Prey in 2019, he has made some decent horror, he just doesn’t seem to be a horror type.
Now, the horror creds behind the scenes of the Maniac remake come courtesy of the writers whose names most folks know. The film’s writing is credited to Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur, and Joe Spinell. Aja and Levasseur are names horror fans are used to seeing for a while now. They do have a few remakes under their belts, but also, they started off with High Tension and that is one heck of a resume starter in the horror genre. It basically brought back attention on the French horror industry. While technically not the first film of the New French Extreme or New French Extremity, it was early on and it really brought attention to that group of film and the two dudes behind it. It’s also one that has been both beloved and maligned at the same time. These dudes know horror. Proof being their next films as writers and director. In Aja’s case, his movies are pretty much exclusively horror, both remakes and original properties with titles like The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors, The Esseker File, Piranha 3D, Horns, and Crawl. They have a good track record with just some issues here and there. Overall, they are solid writers and Aja is a solid director. Of course, opinions and mileage will vary, but they are generally well-respected horror peeps.
The lead cast here, besides Elijah Wood, is mainly women who are there to be victims. The standout of the bunch is Megan Duffy as Lucy who horror fans will recognize right away from Criminal Minds, Holidays, Monsterland, All the Creatures Were Stirring, and a few short films. Also memorable in Maniac are Nora Arnezeder as Anna the lead victim-to-be. She’s good here and for horror fans, she’s a rarely seen face. Looking at her credits, she is a French actress with lots of good titles, just not a whole lot of horror. Bringing a more known face to the viewers is America Olivo as Frank’s mother, who doesn’t get a name, but her face is familiar as she is also in The Thirst: Blood Wars, the Friday the 13th remake, Circle, No One Lives, and The Strain to name some of her horror credits. The rest of the cast has some horror credits, but most of them won’t be as easily recognizable.
Another big thing in the original film was how the special effects were handled by Tom Savini and the work he did to showcase the brutality of Frank’s attacks. In the remake, the practical effects are on point, adding to the gore factor of the original and leading the film to be released as an unrated film as with its kills and how gruesome some of them are. Had it been released with a rating, the film would have undoubtedly received an NC-17 rating which is a death sentence for a film in the US. Of course, that is for theatrical where unrated also is very rarely seen. In terms of the film’s special effects, the team for these is listed as being under the supervision of Matt Kutcher and they got to do an active scalping, show victims of scalping, a few stabbings, and a severe facial destruction including skinning a man alive. The film is violent, it has a total of 8 victims, and the last kill is the tour-de-force of the film. It’s clear while watching these kills why they thought they’d get an NC-17 rating.
The rating is what led to the film playing mostly at film festivals with its premiere at Cannes of all places, then a run of other fests where horror fans and press ate it up. Then it hit the home market without a proper theatrical release to speak of. It does have a theatrical release date of May 3rd, 2013 but that wasn’t wide. It didn’t chart at all on that week’s box office numbers, but that is most likely due to the film being released without a rating and thus not getting a place in mega-chain theaters, relegating it to smaller theaters, art houses, and a few specialty spots. Overall, given those limitations, the film still made $2.631 million without a typical wide release, at springtime, without much marketing. So, all in all, that’s a decent amount. However, the film cost $6 million to make and thus, from a financial standpoint, it looks like a flop. Then again, let’s not forget that a lot of great horror films are released directly to home video or VOD these days with lots of them making a bunch of money that way, so all was not lost with that sort of box office. And honestly, the screenings at film festivals did their job with good attendance at most of them from what could be seen at the time and decent reactions from those who had seen the film at the fest screenings. This led to word of mouth and lots of curiosity from the horror-watching public.
Now, here’s the thing. While the film has some good reviews and some folks absolutely love it, the general consensus is not positive. Looking at numbers on Rotten Tomatoes for it, it’s clear to see that the love is not across the board. The reviewer average as of this writing is 53% for it’s considered a splat, a rotten tomato. The percentage from the general public is even worse at 44%. However, reading the reviews, it’s clear to see that it’s a love it or hate it film and people seem to be divided right down the middle with very few middle of the road opinions. The reviews say it’s shocking, it’s gory, it’s bloody, it’s smart, it’s better than the average, but at the same time that it’s too gory. Well, gore hounds seem to love the gore here and it’s well-done, so there is that. It’s also really fun to see, or rather hear, Elijah Wood in a part that felt out of place for him. There is something here and horror fans seem to have seen it and, like the critics, either loved it or hated it. One thing that seems to come back over and over when reading viewer comments on the film is how the film is shot. The POV of the killer is something that just irks some and makes others happy, which goes with everything else people praise or hate about this movie, it seems that anything that is loved is also hated. It’s a polarizing movie, it does a good job in shocking audiences when they finally get to see it.
These days, the film is available on a bunch of streaming services in rotation. Some seem to have it on permanently while others seem to have it on and off. It’s easy to find and seems to be uncut in most places. It’s one of those horror films that could be a test of how far a viewer is willing to go for their gore fix or how much someone can watch while not going full blown disturbing. It is disturbing, but it’s not all that scary, so it’s almost an easy watch if one is not troubled by special effects, gore, and blood. Yes, it can be a rough watch, but that is exactly why many love it.
Overall, remaking Maniac was a big gamble and changes needed to be made to make the story a little bit different and to give it something new while giving audiences something more to work with. The fact that it is shot in the point of view of Frank, showing the killings as if done by the viewer disturbed some into hating it and let to some loving how disturbing it is. The fact that the film has just one more victim than the original shows that it is not all that bloodier, gorier, or much more violent. Yes, it pushed the envelope, but this pushing of the envelop comes courtesy of the men who wrote High Tension. There is something there in the writing, there is something there in how Elijah Wood plays Frank, and there is something there in how it’s shot. There is also something seriously disturbing by that ending that leads to there being no chance of a sequel, at least with Frank as the lead, in a goretastic way that makes gore hounds happy and just seems to anger others. That ending stays with you, it gets burnt into your mind long after the film is over, and it’s one of the main reasons this film works, remake or not.
A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!