One of the most infamous horrors of the 1980s has been remade and goes on release in Irish cinemas on Friday March 15. RTÉ TEN's Harry Guerin watches it on an empty stomach - and with a heavy heart.
Memorably described by its director William Lustig as "Jaws on land", 1980's Maniac was mired in controversy upon its release (no harm at the box office) and became one of the most infamous video nasties of the era - British DVD editions are still cut to this day. Starring the late character actor Joe Spinell (Gazzo the loan shark in Rocky, Willi Cicci in The Godfather Part II) in the lead role, the original told the story of Frank Zito, a psychotic mannequin fetishist on a killing spree in New York. The onscreen murders were particularly brutal, but what made the film even more unsettling was that Spinell was a very good actor and just as powerful in little-boy-lost as hunter-killer mode.
Now they've decided to remake Maniac with, of all people, Elijah Wood in the lead role (if only Samwise Gamgee could see Mr Frodo now...). And again, anyone who sees the new version won't be forgetting it in a hurry.
And he's actin' like he's never acted before...
While the action moves from gritty New York to stylishly-shot Los Angeles, the plot is pretty much the same. Frank is now a mannequin shop owner but still spends his nights murdering women and bringing their scalps home to put on his mannequins. He is once again befriended by a beautiful photographer called Anna (Nora Arnezeder) who wants him to help her with an exhibition. And so we wait to see if Frank will kill her, or if there is any hope of redemption.
If anything, the murders are even more disturbing than the original's because of director Franck Khalfoun's outstanding achievement: his film is shot from the killer's point of view - think Peep Show-meets-slasher movie. Thus you feel complicit in the stalkings and slayings and the revulsion increases with every victim - the question of whether you should be watching at all is a frequent one. Indeed, outside of this technical feat, and the rarity of an A-list star being off camera for most of the movie, there isn't really a need to bother.
Like the original, this Maniac is in too much of a rush and falls apart because there is no real emotional centre, only a catalogue of killings with hardly any plot between the last one and the next one. While Khalfoun wanted you to feel empathy with the character, it's too much of an ask.
This would have been a far more terrifying experience if it hadn't been so graphic. For similar themes try Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer instead - cut or uncut, it's still a much better movie.