Welcome to Double Feature, a weekly column where Scott Pierce pairs a recent release that is the butter to an older flick's popcorn. Beware of spoilers.
Much like 's excellent Spring Breakers, 's Maniac remake is partially grounded in reality and neon-soaked nightmare. While Spring Breakers' MTV mantra ("Spring break forever, bitches!") pushed Florida teens' #YOLO boundaries into the heart of 's thug life, 's serial killer Frank desperately wishes he could scale his experiences back.
Frank lives in a trauma hangover ever since he witnessed his mother snorting cocaine and having sex with multiple men as a young boy. His boundaries and sanity were steamrolled over a long time ago. As such, he's plagued with migraines. Much to the dismay of unsuspecting 20 to 30-year-old women, this also means he has the urge to staple their scalps on mannequins in his bedroom. It's a purge that never cleanses. The narcotic, poppy structure is about as subtle as a Ke$ha music video, especially since its entirely told from the killer's perspective. Still, it's an earworm, for better or worse.
That's in large part due to Khalfoun and his French producers (modern horror icons and ) nostalgia for something other than director 's 1980 original, exploitative film. That movie was truly horrific - a perfectly seedy look into New York City's bygone era when Times Square was ruled by crime, pornography, and newspapers talking about the Son of Sam murders. The remake, on the other hand, takes place in Los Angeles and feels no connection whatsoever to its city or source material. The dialogue is purposefully contrived, forced, and exaggerated. It manages to turn a recognizable plot and place into something alien and voyeuristic. The feel of the original film is as trapped in 1980 as Spring Breakers' EDM womp, womp beats and ultimate DTF message are in 2013. The bizarre synth-pop score by Rob of the band Phoenix and Frank's broken mind in Maniac are harder to peg.
The audio-visual, dreamlike quality and Frank's irresistible impulses act as a parallel to one of director 's best films, Tenebre. Both films begin by putting us a the killers' shoes. Whereas Maniac's Frank follows a woman home and shoves a knife through her jaw, Tenebre takes a less direct approach: We see gloved hands holding a book. A narrator talks about uncontrollable, murderous desires that leave him feeling free. By contrast, Frank's hands are exposed, bruised, and bloody. Still, Tenebre is not a subtle movie. Like Maniac, Argento's camera leers and orchestrates over-the-top murders that has the killer stuffing the pages from this book into his victims' mouths. Frank may take the scalps of his victims, but Tenebre's killer is equally as subversive when he takes photos of victims that are deemed deviant.
The fallout shelter feel of Maniac's stark white tunnels and modern LA apartments combined with Rob's score are on par with Argento's use of deadly architecture and the band Goblin. Rome has rarely felt so dangerous during the daytime. One of the film's standout scenes has Argento's camera zooming and swirling a modern home where every corner looks like it could pierce skin.
Khalfoun orchestrates a chase and murder that goes from a subway to a parking lot in a strikingly similar way. It may leave you wanting to scream at these characters for being so stupid, but at the same time you realize that they'll always be within the killer's misogynist reach whether he's hiding under a car or in a closet. That's especially true in Tenebre when one character unwittingly enters a home and discovers the killer's darkroom littered with bloody photographs and in Maniac when the film's main female character befriends Frank in his creepy mannequin store.
The overall effect of Tenebre and Maniac is the same. Even though Tenebre asks us to find out who the killer is and Maniac answers the question right off the bat, both films are rooted in psychosexual trauma and humiliation. Frank's HD, Instagram filter flashbacks correlate perfectly with Tenebre's beautiful, whiteout effect close up of the killer's eye that transports us to the root of it all. The main difference is that Tenebre is much more ambitious by accident, whereas Maniac is a completely calculated exercise that ultimately leaves the viewer feeling hollow.
Maniac will be released in theaters on June 21. You can buy Tenebre here.