A shocker of a remake, equal parts stylish and scuzzy, "Maniac" only marginally softens the grindhouse sleaze of William Lustig's 1980 original.

With: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Megan Duffy, Jan Broberg, Genevieve Alexandra, Sammi Rotibi, Joshua De La Garza, America Olivo. (English dialogue)

A shocker of a remake, equal parts stylish and scuzzy, “Maniac” only marginally softens the grindhouse sleaze of William Lustig’s 1980 original, still notorious for being the “Taxi Driver” of slashers. With an intense Elijah Wood in the title role of a wigged-out psycho killer who affixes the scalps of his female victims to fly-drawing mannequins, this merciless work of anti-entertainment is arguably admirable for being as disturbingly disgusting as it wants to be. Stateside distribs might well stalk the France-U.S. co-production, but an R rating is inconceivable for anything like the version screened after midnight at Cannes.

Shot largely from the p.o.v. of heavy-breathing Los Angeles slayer Frank Zitto (Wood), director Franck Khalfoun’s faithful remake (co-written by Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur) sets out to victimize the viewer, and succeeds to the extent that unsuspecting horror fans might end up running for the exits before the Grand Guignol finale. The first of the film’s handful of unwatchably ultraviolent scenes follows the maniac’s excruciatingly slow progress in hunting an innocent woman who’s eventually dispatched in gruesome fashion while trying to enter her apartment.

Such is the pic’s devotion to subjectivity that Wood’s performance is almost exclusively vocal for the first half-hour, the audience forced to share Frank’s predatory gaze. Like Lustig’s film, Khalfoun’s surveys the city’s seedier side from the window of the psycho’s car, giving it an easily recognizable relationship to Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” with all the psychotically clammy voyeurism that kinship allows.

“Psycho,” too, exerts itself on “Maniac,” as Frank recalls in hallucinatory flashback the neglect he suffered at the hands of his late prostitute mother (America Olivo), on whom he remains fixated. Other horror pics are acknowledged as well: Frank’s long, upsettingly sexual encounter with tattooed Lucie (Megan Duffy) is set to Q. Lazzarus’s “Goodbye Horses,” recalling “The Silence of the Lambs”; and the psycho’s first date with Anna (a Cybill Shepherd-esque Nora Arnezeder) has them catching a revival screening of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” referenced by Khalfoun as a reminder that savage killer films stretch back nearly a century.

Where Khalfoun’s “Maniac” fails to cut deep is in sketching the unlikely relationship between nutso Frank, who runs a mannequin shop, and sweet Anna, who somehow maintains an interest in the asocial weirdo while borrowing his dummies for her downtown L.A. gallery installation. Frank tries to control his murderous urges, declining to kill Anna when he has the chance, although the beauty-and-beast interplay rarely resembles anything emotionally authentic.

Late-reel victims Jessica (Genevieve Alexandra) and Rita (Jan Broberg) pay dearly (and, alas, memorably) in the pic, whose crisp and colorful widescreen shooting by Maxime Alexandre runs compellingly counter to the utter depravity of the material. The film’s old-school synth score by the mononymous Rob somewhat recalls that of the original “Halloween.” Sound recordist Emmanuel Augeard does a terrifically unsettling job of muffling the protag’s voice, the better for the maniac to seem supernaturally sick.

Popular on Variety



Production: A Thomas Langmann, Alexandre Aja production, in co-production with La Petite Reine, Studio 37, in association with Canal Plus, Cine Plus, Blue Underground. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Langmann, Aja, William Lustig. Executive producers, Daniel Delume, Antoine de Cazotte, Andrew W. Garroni, Pavlina Hatoupis, Alix Taylor. Directed by Franck Khalfoun. Screenplay, Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur, based on the film "Maniac" directed by William Lustig.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Maxime Alexandre; editor, Baxter; music, Rob; music supervisor, Raphael Hamburger; production designer, Steffania Cella; costume designer, Mairi Chisholm; sound, Emmanuel Augeard; associate producer, Emmanuel Montamat. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Midnight Screenings), May 22, 2012. Running time: 89 MIN.

Cast: With: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Megan Duffy, Jan Broberg, Genevieve Alexandra, Sammi Rotibi, Joshua De La Garza, America Olivo. (English dialogue)

More Scene

  • US record producer The-Dream arrives for

    Top Music Publishers Come Together for Songs of Hope Honors

    The 15th annual Songs of Hope honors united songwriters, music industry insiders and more than a few preeminent doctors at producer Alex Da Kid’s Sherman Oaks compound on Thursday night. Jimmy Jam returned to host the event, which served as a fundraiser for the ever-vital City of Hope medical treatment center as well as a [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Keke Palmer BlogHer19 Summit

    Keke Palmer Brought to Tears Accepting Truth Teller Award at #BlogHer19 Creators Summit

    Keke Palmer stood surprised and wide-mouthed on the #BlogHer19 Creators Summit stage as she was presented with the Truth Teller Award for her recent acting work — and her viral “sorry to this man” clip. “This means so much,” the multi-hyphenated star softly whispered as she got teary-eyed upon accepting the award. Last week, the [...]


    Emmys 2019: Inside All the Hottest Pre-Parties

    It’s (Emmys) party time! Before the 71st annual Emmys go live on Sunday, stars and execs are keeping busy by party-hopping in the days leading up to the big show. Here, Variety gives you the inside details on who was where and what they were doing. Keep checking back right here throughout the weekend for [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez Green Dress

    Jennifer Lopez Closes Out Versace Show in Famous Green Grammys Dress

    Jennifer Lopez has found her way back into the Versace dress that broke the internet in 2000. The “Hustlers” star closed out Versace’s Spring 2020 show in a re-worked version of the revealing, bright green silk chiffon dress that she wore to the Grammy Awards 20 years ago. The dress quickly became a pop-culture phenomenon, [...]

  • 10 Storytellers to Watch

    Variety Celebrates Inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch Event

    Storytellers from across the spectrum of entertainment — film, literature, podcasting and play writing — were honored Thursday at Variety’s inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch luncheon at Gramercy Park Hotel, hosted with partner the Independent Filmmaker Project and presented by Audible. Honorees Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of “Friday Black”; “Limetown” podcasters Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie; [...]

  • Demi Moore Corporate Animals

    Demi Moore Teases Upcoming Memoir 'Inside Out,' Talks 'Corporate Animals' Team Bonding

    As Demi Moore gears up for the Sept. 24 release of her autobiography “Inside Out,” the actress says she feels like a weight has been lifted. “Even the stuff that I may have been nervous about is completely lifting…because it’s a process,” Moore told Variety at the premiere of her upcoming film “Corporate Animals” at [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content