(The gist: Maniac was a sleeper. More than once, I did not think I would enjoy it. Yet I was slowly seduced by the graphic gore and utter psychological immersion in the killer. Now that I know there is an original, I need to go back and see if scalping was good in the 80s as well.)
When you see a recognizable actor billed in an obscure horror movie, it can be either a good or a bad sign. It could be a glimmer of hope that the movie will not be a total loss, or it could be the death mark signifying the movie is a total loss. When I saw Elijah Wood in Maniac, a movie I had never seen a trailer for, I was cautious.
Maniac lives through the eyes of Frank, a woman-stalking serial killer with severe issues from his prostitute mother. Everything unravels even faster when he finds a beautiful woman with which to connect. His killings and mannequin fetish give the film a very Norman Bates, American Psycho, Buffalo Bill feel. Something creepy and familiar at the same time.
In the first scene, I was worried. I heard the crappy synthesizer music; I saw the first person perspective of an awkward Elijah Wood. Yet with a close up knife plunge into a girl’s jaw followed by a graphic scalping, I was willing to at least give it a full attempt.
The music was atrocious. I had to actual check the synopsis on Netflix to verify it was a recent movie; it sounded so 80s synthesizer. However, I did appreciate (and laugh out loud) when a song recognized as being included in The Silence of the Lambs began to play. It was humorous for the horror lover and an appropriate homage given the psychological damage and nature of the killer.
I also learned the movie is actually a remake from the 1980s film of the same title. Don’t blame me for being ignorant; I was not alive in 1980. However, that origin does make the 80s sound of the music more understandable and appropriate. Now I just need to see the original to compare.
Beyond the soundtrack, Maniac was forgivable, enticing even. Elijah Wood played the maniacal killer convincingly and poignantly. There is a healthy helping of gore and sex, like any good horror movie. The gore is actually surprising; it almost seems out of tone with the feeling of the rest of the movie. Yet that discrepancy makes it more poignant; it allowed it to startle me, which is no easy feat after so many horror movies. Scalping just gives me the willies anyway.
I would not necessarily say Maniac was a good horror movie for me, though it had many earmarks as such; I would more say that it was interesting.
I was captivated by the psychology of it, the way it so completely immersed me in the killer’s head. It appealed to me that way the same way Grace: The Possession did. I was forced to empathize with the main character because I had no other eyes from which to view the story.
Murder scenes are just completely different when made to seem like it is your own hands. The scenes are all just so much rawer and up close. Frank’s insanity is just so much more close and enveloping.
I had my doubts at multiple points in the movie, but ultimately, I enjoyed Maniac far more than expected. It is worth the watch if you are looking for a more subdued horror movie that is about being the killer rather than the thrill of the kill.