I should start this article by first of all pointing out that I still adore the 1980 original version of Maniac, and that I’m not writing this to point out how it’s a bad film. Not at all. I absolutely love the original with its intensely creepy filming style and gnarly kills. Joe Spinell’s portrayal of Frank Zito was truly unnerving, and watching it today still leaves me feeling uncomfortable and sure that I can hear his heavy breathing and grunting in the room with me after the movie ends. This article is here purely and simply to point out how the 2012 remake starring Elijah Wood as the new take on killer Frank is somehow even better than its predecessor. It’s an odd sensation, to be writing about a remake of a film I love in a positive light.
So many times remakes leave you feeling disappointed, almost cheated. Especially when it’s a remake of a film you absolutely love to start with. But Elijah’s version of Frank, despite my initial doubts when I first heard who had been cast, is just brilliant. I think I love this film so much BECAUSE of how doubtful I was in the beginning. But I had genuinely fallen for this new Frank before the opening scene had even finished playing. And as the film progresses, it gets stronger and stronger. I am still blown away by how great this remake was. So join me as I take a look back at the elements of the 2012 Maniac that surpassed the original, making it one of the best horror remakes I’ve ever seen.
First of all, I’ll elaborate on Elijah Wood’s portrayal of Frank, as he is one of the key elements of this movie working so well. I wasn’t a fan of Wood before this film, perhaps unfairly, I just didn’t like him as Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. It still annoys me to think of his face with that curly hair, I just didn’t like it. So hearing he was going to be in this, I can’t lie, I was seriously dubious. But as I mentioned earlier, before the opening scene was through, Wood had already won me over. His portrayal of Frank Zito is genuinely unnerving, and he adds a certain level of believability to the character, the same way Joe Spinell did in the original. But Wood takes it further. The more we learn about the character, the more he seems like an actual serial killer.
For anyone unfamiliar with the film, the majority is shot through Frank’s eyes, like a first-person computer game. So we don’t even get to see that much of Wood. We see what he sees. This is further testament to how great his performance is, as most of it is just using his voice. When we do see him, he just LOOKS like a maniac. And when we see him unraveling as the film progresses, the performance is so genuine you almost feel for him. He’s a violent killer sure, but each time he looks in the mirror, we see a broken man, his mind shattering before our eyes. Elijah Wood was a revelation in this film and looking back now, I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part as well as he did.
Another thing Wood is better at in the remake is serving us some stomach-churning gore. The kills in this movie are excruciating, in a good way! This is only made more intense by the fact we see them through the killer’s eyes. Frank likes to collect scalps, it’s his favourite hobby. And seeing this repeatedly throughout the film is genuinely stomach-turning. It reminds me of that scene in Saw 4 where the victim has her hair slowly ripped out. It makes you cringe, it makes you gag, and it makes you think secretly to yourself, ‘This is just a movie, right?’. I think if this film was shown to audiences in the 1970s, it would be banned as a snuff film. That’s how genuine the kills are.
My favorite kill from the movie, and there are a LOT to choose from, is when Frank follows older woman Rita home after an art show. He follows her into her home, watches her undress and then sits by her side as she takes a bath with a flannel across her eyes. The whole scene is tense; will she see him? Will she hear him? Why is he moving her wine glass closer to her hand?! It’s heart-stopping stuff, and when she does find him sitting there, he holds her under the water until she passes out. We then see her hogtied naked on the bed, and Frank speaks to her as though she is his mother. He asks why she was such a whore and tells her that none of her men loved her the way he did.
The scene really hammers home how messed up Frank really is. He sits on her back as she sobs into her gag, tracing lines into her skin with his knife as he talks. When her gag falls away she begs him not to kill her, urging him to softly explain that he isn’t going to kill her. He’s going to keep her. He rests his head on her back, calling her mommy, and closing his eyes. Then something switches, he sits up and screams ‘You will not go out tonight, is that clear? You will stay home with me!’. He drags his knife across her hairline and tears her scalp from her head in such graphic detail that it’s hard to believe it’s not real. The scene left me open-mouthed the first time I saw it and still shakes me re-watching it now. It really is shocking, and somehow even darker than any of the kills in the original movie.
Now whilst the original Frank did have ‘Mommy issues’, the 2012 Frank is suffering a considerable amount more with his own deep-rooted problems. The relationship he had (And still has in his head) with his boozy, sex worker mother is portrayed brilliantly via migraine induced flashbacks and Frank’s delusional confrontations with her. The flashbacks give a real insight into some of the things he was subjected to as a child. It doesn’t excuse his maniacal behaviour of course, but it does explain it to some degree. The flashbacks show us that she really wasn’t the kind of caring mother a young boy needs. She had many gentlemen callers and often screamed at him to get out when she was getting down to business with them.
What I love most about the mother storyline is that it shows a new side to Frank’s obsession with mannequins. At the start of the film, we assume it’s purely a sexual thing. Frank is afraid of women so hangs out with mannequins. Simple. But as the mother story is unveiled, we see there’s a darker side to it. He’s not taking women’s scalps for his mannequins purely to make a girlfriend, he’s making himself a mother. A mother he has confused sexual feelings for after seeing what he saw as a child. This just got darker. The original Maniac almost felt like a run of the mill slasher film with a hint of why the killer is crazy. The 2012 version pushes your face against the facts, forcing you to literally see it from Frank’s point of view.
The next element this remake scores highly in is the soundtrack. I don’t think the original movie had a particularly memorable soundtrack. But the 2012 version has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. After I saw the film for the first time I bought the MP3 download within minutes of the end credits rolling. The score was created and recorded by Rob (Robin Coudert) and the whole album is hauntingly beautiful. Every track is perfect for the movie and stirs up images and sounds from the scenes each time I listen to it. It has an ’80s electro feel to it, similar to that song ‘Nightcall’ by Kazinky featured in the 2011 movie Drive. It’s the kind of music that leaves you feeling entranced, almost hypnotized, which feels so right for this movie.
Frank’s migraines get steadily worse as the story progresses and he slips further into madness, and the music reflects this. The tone switches and becomes darker and less dreamlike. The music becomes more like a nightmare but still holds that hypnotic undercurrent throughout. The original movie’s soundtrack certainly didn’t feel as well thought out as this, and it didn’t hold as much depth. I think having Rob work on the soundtrack was a stellar choice, as the sound of this movie is so on point. It helps elevate the story and is still frequently playing into my headphones when I need a musical interlude. One early scene also uses the Silence of the Lambs classic “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus, and who doesn’t love that track?
Now to go back to those mannequins, the 2012 remake uses them in a much creepier way than its predecessor. In the original, the mannequins are of course featured. Some scenes, like the finale, are even very similar. But the 2012 version just looks and feels creepier than the ’80s version. The subtle shots where we see a mannequin one second, then the real girl it’s modelled on for an instant before becoming a mannequin again is just fantastic. It makes you question yourself, was that just a mannequin or…? It’s a great element to the 2012 version that just exceeds the original. Of course, the best mannequin scene is saved for the end, when poor old Frank meets a sticky end at the porcelain hands of his beloved friends.
The original ending was great, I’m not denying that. Seeing Frank’s insanity finally break him as his mannequins tear him to shreds (in his head) was fun to watch in the original. But in the remake, the scene is genuinely disturbing. Elijah Wood again amazes me, taking the tension and sheer panic in the scene to whole new levels. He looks insane, and he looks terrified as his victims surround him like illnesses moving in for the kill. The special effects are obviously better here too, as his flesh is torn away to reveal a mannequin inside. It’s stomach-churning, and disturbing. And it is the perfect end to this perfect remake.
So there it is, my evidence in the case of Maniac v. Maniac. I do still hold a special place in my horror heart for the original. Who could ever turn their back on Tom Savini’s explosive death scene? But the 2012 remake is just perfection. The style in which it is filmed, the music, the cast–every box is ticked for me and I do struggle to think of a negative. Plus it converted me into an Elijah Wood fan. I may not like his Frodo Baggins, but I simply adore his Frank Zito. The 2012 remake of Maniac will always be in my top 10 favorite slasher films, and that’s largely because of Elijah Wood.