Friday, June 21, 2013

MANIAC (2012)

MANIAC (2012), review by Mike Hunchback

I WISH Someone Warned Me Not To Go Out Tonite ...

Tobe Hooper, George Romero, Wes Craven, William Lustig, and so many more, did not at first choose to remain outside of the Hollywood system.  They just wanted to make movies no matter what, and their pre-filmmaking status as nobodies allowed them no choice but to do so independently.  Among their celebrated efforts are TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, DAWN OF THE DEAD, LAST HOUSE ON THE THE LEFT and MANIAC - films that Hollywood would never have made at the time of their original releases, now all remade as big budget, big studio, nation-wide A films.

Sure, there's a feeling of offensiveness to remakes in general for Horror fans.  Though the argument isn't totally solid, Carpenter's remake of THE THING being the glaring example of the potential for remakes.  So why is it these remakes bother us so much?

The remake of MANIAC is an excellent example of why.  When I was in High School, my friends and I were obsessed with William Lustig's original MANIAC.  Obsessed, seriously.  We watched it over and over, showed it to everyone we could, wrote songs about, it quoted it (and its ad campaign) constantly - it was a little more than crazy now that I think about it. 

The discussion of whether or not we thought MANIAC was "so bad it was good" or funny because it was so over-the-top eventually did come up, and I remember distinctly walking with my friend Eliezer and having a discussion that went something like this:

Me:  "Do you like MANIAC because you think it's funny?"

Eliezer:  "Um, no - but I don't take it too seriously either -"

Me:  "Yeah same here.  It's just like ... I think it's good, you know?  There's something about it."

I've always been a little obsessed by that line-drawing most of us seem to do, wherein we deem certain feelings of enjoyment as legitimate and others as embarrassing.  The thing was, we liked the original MANIAC.  We just did; we saw it at the right time, we loved Joe Spinell, we loved how New York City looked in all the grimy glory we could half-remember from seeing it as kids.  And, we were Gorehounds who's appetite had rarely been whetted as it was with Lustig's MANIAC.  The tones injected into MANIAC when it was made were so stylistic (it looks more incredible as the years go on) and earnest (particularly Spinell's acting) that 15 years later kids picked up the VHS and were able to get something out of it.  We didn't want something completely, actually, mindless - we never gravitated to the post-Mondo world of actual atrocity (too boring); no, we needed something with bite, something with character, and most of all something that had a filmmaker's personal stamp on it somehow - a practice which Hollywood films have barely had for decades.

I was open to Franck Kalphoun's 2012 remake of MANIAC, hoping it would somehow do something daring and fresh with Lustig and Spinell's baby.  Unfortunately, the elements taken from the original MANIAC are simply: a weird guy who has issues with mother kills a bunch of women and owns mannequins.  The griminess and raw, celebratory violence of the original film is traded in for super-fancy, super-clean, super-serious typical drek.  On almost every level, MANIAC 2012 was awful, the performances being the only thing that I wasn't offended by.  And I don't want to spend more than one sentence discussing the film's nearly 100% point-of-view directing - let it simply be said that this drastic of a limitation isn't commonly applied to films for painfully obvious reasons.  

When Hooper, Romero, Craven, and Lustig respectively made TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, DAWN OF THE DEAD, LAST HOUSE ON THE THE LEFT and MANIAC, they were all both consciously and subconsciously angry.  As happy-go-lucky as all of these guys can be, the muck and mire of being forced to make films so independently inescapably affects the tones and limitations of their work.  Hence, all of these classic independent films' penchant for mind-numbing gore, dark-as-night tones and completely unrestrained possibility.  And really, that's what pisses off us Gorehounds - the original versions of these films were made with anger, with grit and passion - and sometimes desperation seeped into what was ending up on film.  That's why these films have a dedicated fan base, that's why they've endured.  Most of the films in the genre have not, for the same reasons the remake of MANIAC will be lumped into vague memory as so many other misguided remakes have.

MANIAC (2012)
Directed by: Franck Khalfoun  
Written by: Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur, C.A. Rosenberg
With: Elijah Wood, America Olivo, Liane Balaban,
Nora Arnezeder, and Megan Duffy