Double Feature Showdown – Maniac (1980) vs. Maniac (2012)
I am a big fan of director William Lustig’s movies Maniac Cop and Vigilante, and have been looking forward to watching Maniac (1980), his first feature, for a while now. I don’t think everything he directed is gold (I quite dislike Maniac Cop 2 and Uncle Sam is something I enjoy against my better judgment) but when he’s good, he’s REALLY good. In 2012 Franck Khalfoun remade Maniac (2012), and since I’ve never seen either movie, I thought this would be a good time to do it. I’m not really on the endless horror remake train, but Maniac (2012) stars Elijah Wood, the subject of my last Double Feature Showdown, so I thought I would give it a try. Who did it better? Read and find out! Welcome to Double Feature Showdown – Maniac (1980) vs. Maniac (2012). May the best psychologically disturbed killer win!
Maniac (1980): Joe Spinell (who also co-wrote the screenplay) stars as Frank Zito, a man who likes to kill women, scalp them, and then nail those scalps to the store mannequins that inhabit his home. He’s driven to kill by memories of his abusive prostitute mother, and while he is kind of sympathetic, in the end he’s a creepy killer. He does have a certain amount of charm, which he exhibits when he meets beautiful photographer Anna (Caroline Munro) who seems attracted to him. Frank keeps it together with her for short periods of time, but he is what he is, and no amount of wishful thinking is going to make him able to control his unsavory impulses.
I have mixed feelings about this film. Frank spends the first hour or so mostly stalking women, muttering to himself, and breathing a lot. (Creepy breathing, not regular stuff.) Some of this is dead boring, and the occasional voiceover doesn’t really work. But then there are other moments, such as when he stalks a nurse on a deserted subway platform and when Tom Savini’s character gets his head blown apart, that the film really succeeds. It’s a mixed bag until the third act – when the film totally goes off the rails and starts to get awesome. Frank takes Anna to the cemetery to pay respects to his mother, and all of a sudden they are in a Hammer film with fog rolling on the ground and atmosphere aplently. Things really get crazy after that (I don’t want to ruin it for you), and I felt we were moving into the batshit territory Lustig would later explore with writer/director Larry Cohen in the Maniac Cop movies. If the whole movie had been that nuts, it would have been great! As it is, it’s an early film in Lustig’s career and it shows. It’s worth seeing, but it’s pretty dark, and if I’m being perfectly honest with you, I like my slasher/stalker movies with a little more cheese in them. This movie is both loved and reviled, and I can see why people might consider it both a seminal work and a misogynistic nightmare. (From watching Lustig’s other films, I have never gotten the sense he hates women. Frank’s feelings, however, are a little more complicated.)
Maniac (2012): Elijah Wood stars as Frank, a third generation mannequin restorer who is compelled to kill women and staple their scalps to the mannequins he keeps in his living area. (He has, of course, been driven maniacal by an abusive prostitute mother. Neither of these movies should be looked to for accurate mental health information, fyi.) He also has crippling migraines, which may be contributing to his problems, and he is creepy as hell. He meets Anna, who is putting together a show of photographs of mannequins, and offers to help her – falling for her in the process. Unfortunately for him, he discovers she has an unmentioned boyfriend, and any control he has managed to gain over his impulses quickly dissipates.
This movie didn’t work much for me either. One of the main reasons being that it is shot from Frank’s point of view. The only time we see him is when he is looking in the mirror. I didn’t like this conceit in 1947’s Lady in the Lake, and I don’t like it any better here. Occasionally however, the camera will flip around to show Frank doing something, and there didn’t seem to be much sense in when that would happen. Because the kills are pretty graphic, I found that constantly sharing the killer’s POV was unpleasant. It brought me closer to him, and honestly, I didn’t want to share his perspective; I wanted to empathize with the women. For me, horror is most enjoyable when I can vicariously experience fear, not be all stabby scalpy. (It’s slightly more complicated than that. I want to watch a great kill, but I don’t want to be up close and personal to the one who is doing it. In a film where people are being stalked and brutalized, I prefer watching from a distance. That sounds weird, but the enjoyment of horror films is a kind of complex thing. I don’t like home invasion stuff or killer POV. But I love a good slasher with lots of gore. Go figure.)
The Winner: You wouldn’t think so, but there was a clear winner for me here: Maniac (1980). The remake was more stylish and brutal, but it didn’t have the same tension. There is no moment in Maniac (2012) that rivals the subway scene or head blowing up of the original. In its favor, Maniac (2012) is visually interesting, and there is a very creepy bathtub scene that worked well. But it has none of the craziness that Lustig’s version has, and in the end, I found myself easily distracted while watching it. Neither film really wowed me, but I could see the seeds of something interesting in Maniac (1980) that just isn’t present in the second version.