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Original - 1980
Starring Joe Spinell. Directed by William Lustig.

Maniac is one of the all time great slasher movies.

You've got a killer who could be your neighbor (if you lived in Hell's Kitchen circa 1980), special effects by Tom Savini, and a gritty realism that makes your skin crawl. Spinell's Frank repeating, "I told you not to go out tonight" in a cracked, teary, pseudo falsetto will never leave you.

There's nothing new about a serial killer who targets prostitutes and other women with especially low self-esteem but, other movie serial killers don't have such extreme mommy issues that they result in the killer living with a house full of hooker scalp wearing mannequins who he regularly converses with. Cuckoo!  

While some have compared Maniac to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, the story is more similar to Peeping Tom or Man Hunter. Our killer falls in love with a "good woman" and we find it hard to believe she can't "see" he's evil. The main difference between those movie and Maniac is that both Peeping Tom and Man Hunter explain away this "blindness" with actual blindness; the love interest in both films is blind. In Maniac, it's almost a plot hole; a strange improbability that anyone could fall in love with Frank, a greasy, creepy, mommy-obsessed man. He should be setting off warning bells in any woman's head.

All three movies are shot in an accusatory way, turning the audience into the killer's accomplice, but Maniac stands alone in looking like it was shot on a re-used video cassette with a period cam corder by a midget riding a donkey. Yes, both Maniac and a donkey show will make you feel equally as dirty when they are over.

There are a couple of great, memorable scenes in Maniac: The Son of Sam style murder of a couple making out in a parked car, when Frank stabs a woman through the back in a dirty subway bathroom, and the final scene where the mannequins come to life and tear Frank limb from limb.

You should definitely check out the trailer:
And you should buy yourself the anniversary edition (on Blue-ray) because it's amazing and full of extra things you want to nerd out over (if you like that kind of thing).

Remake - 2012
Starring Elijah Wood. Directed by Frank Khalfoun.

This wasn't a terrible remake and (I know you won't believe this) I didn't hate it. If their goal was to maintain but modernize the story, they succeeded. I'll concede here that some elements needed to be updated in order for modern audiences to relate to (and connect with) the movie: location, fashion, occupations, etc.

I'm not convinced, however, that the changes to Frank's character were 100% necessary to make this movie work. That being said, I understand that an actor, stepping into a role that's been played before, wants to find a way to grow the character and really own the role. To waffle just a bit more, I will admit that some of the things about Frank's character wouldn't seem plausible now (let alone scary). I also may have felt differently had they cast an unknown actor instead of Elijah Wood, who carries with him the baggage of every other character he's ever played. I mean, North is no serial killer!

One of the things I disliked (which is completely a reflection of the times) was that Frank's "craziness" is demonstrated through his use of medication; he's a socially accepted and understandable version of "crazy" that can be managed through pills and science which means he's not too dangerous and not at all "evil". He's just not well.

In the 80's, we didn't feel the need to show our serial killers chomping down anti-psychotics to manage their insanity - they just let loose and lived with the voices and the paranoia and the hallucinations and sometimes they had to kill some hookers to find their Zen.

More annoying was the terribly heavy handed usage of Goodbye Horses, more commonly known as, "the song from Silence of the Lambs." I mean, I get that you want me to know the girl in the scene is in imminent danger of being brutally murdered by a serial killer AND SHE DOESN'T KNOW, but really? I've been watching the movie. I know that's what's happening here. If this is supposed to be an homage, you're doing it wrong. If it's an inside joke, it's not nearly subtle enough. If it's supposed to be foreshadowing or subtext, you could just print the script on the screen for me next time - equally as understated.

The trailer, for your viewing pleasure:


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