By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
The 1980 “Maniac” is one of those periodic exploitation concepts that pay off handsomely: low budget, killer title, horrified reviews that can be used to drum up interest and good timing (the malaise era was at its death-gasp nadir). The thing made a huge profit.
A remake can’t capture that nervy, subversive vibe — there’s no surprise left.
That’s partly why the recent reboots of “Halloween” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” felt misjudged; the budgets were too high, the acting too competent, the properties already too enshrined in pop culture.
The “Maniac” remake is grungier than those efforts, so I suppose it has that going for it. But without the original barrel-scraping atmosphere, even beachcombers of bucket-of-blood horror might be tested by its single-note idea and approach.
Like the original film, this one relies heavily on shots from the killer’s point of view. So we don’t see much of Elijah Wood, the “Lord of the Rings” star, unless he passes in front of a mirror or has a flashback to his miserable childhood with a mother who exposed him to various unpleasant realities.
He plays Frank, a keeper of mannequins. Frank’s big problem is needing wigs for his models, which he tends to take from real women unfortunate enough to have come under his gaze. We see this habit play out in scenes that spare no anatomical detail.
Wood’s game for the challenge, although his voice is not strong or distinctive enough to carry the long sections of POV footage.
The photographer who tests Frank’s murderous obsession is played by Nora Arnezeder (“Safe House”), who shares some of his fascination with mannequins and almost inspires him to do more than want to slaughter the women in his life.
There is no reason a horror picture couldn’t put these pieces together into something interesting, but director Franck Khalfoun is not sharp enough for the job.
The homages and synth-pulsing music (by the French musician known as Rob) are decorative without drawing any actual blood, and the device of aligning the audience with the viewpoint of a killer just sits there.
What’s left over is a kind of second-hand ugliness, without even the creepy energy of a horror original. That’s a description of an especially dispiriting movie.
“Maniac” (one star)
A remake of the 1980 underground horror picture, with Elijah Wood as a killer obsessed with finding new wigs for his mannequin collection. The original movie at least had a grungy, authentic originality; this one is single note and unpleasant.
Rated: Not rated; probably R for violence, nudity, language.
Showing: Grand Illusion.