I distinctly remember seeing the original Maniac (1980) at the drive-in the year it came out.
It was an especially garish example of grindhouse sleazery directed by William Lustig (Maniac Cop, Vigilante), with splashy gore effects by the great Tom Savini, and starring Joe Spinell (The Godfather II, Taxi Driver) as Frank Zito, a lumpy schlub on a murderous rampage.
Whether he was obliterating necking teens with a shotgun, strangling hookers, or scalping his victims in order to dress up his mannequin collection, Zito proved a memorably demented protagonist.
For this slick, slightly less lurid remake, Lustig teamed with Franco fiends Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur (writers) and Franck Khalfoun (director) to recast Frodo Bag… er, Elijah Wood as the prolific psycho with the crippling Mommy issues.
Frank Zito (Wood) is a rodentish owner of a vintage mannequin store obsessed with Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a beautiful photographer, who happens by his shop to admire his magnificent collection of dress forms.
When Frank isn’t awkwardly wooing Anna, he’s out skewering, strangling, slicing, and scalping a string of unlucky ladies who remind him of his horribly skanky mother. Can the love of a good woman redeem a savage killer? No, of course not. What a ridiculous idea.
Director Khalfoun charts the action with a very aggressive POV camera (Wood is seen mostly in reflections), that straps us into the driver’s seat of considerable carnage—a feverish perspective that most viewers should find deeply unsettling.
Wood portrays Zito as a shaky mess of neuroses and unchecked rage, a rather alarming change from the mild-mannered hobbit that we followed through three epic movies on his sojourn to Mount Doom.
Here, Wood’s character is on a different kind of quest; trying to annihilate the memories of the woman responsible for making him the man(iac) he is today.
Needless to say, not for squeamish or sensitive souls.