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.



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

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. More Reviews Palm Springs Reviews: 'Fig Tree' [...]

  • Emile Hirsch, Matt SmileyEmile Hirsch hosts

    Emile Hirsch Hosts Smiley Face Art Opening at Mondrian Hotel

    Despite the rain on Wednesday night in West Hollywood, there were plenty of smiles inside the Mondrian hotel thanks to artist Matt Smiley‘s Refresh exhibition. Not only is Smiley his real last name, but several of his paintings and other pieces in the exhibit feature smiley faces. More Reviews Palm Springs Reviews: 'Fig Tree' Film [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. More Reviews Palm Springs Reviews: 'Fig Tree' Film Review: 'Pledge' Jeong said, when [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. More Reviews Palm Springs Reviews: 'Fig Tree' Film Review: 'Pledge' [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. More Reviews Palm Springs Reviews: 'Fig Tree' Film Review: 'Pledge' “When I moved to [...]

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content