How's this for surreal—inside Manhattan's year-round haunted house venue Times Scare, women are literally lining up to fall under Elijah Wood's knife. Well, technically, the ladies are just inserting their heads into the hole cut into one of the tall, stand-up posters (see below right) for the 32-year-old actor's latest film, the brutal and striking horror remake Maniac, and he's not actually pointing a blade in their direction—it's an illustrated representation of his character.
It's a macabre variation of one of those carnival set-ups couples pose behind for pictures, the boyfriend playing the horse and the girlfriend playing the cowboy. Except, in this case, instead of roller coasters and cotton candy, the nearby attractions include a gurney with the straps hanging free, walls with protruding doors etched into their designs a la a mortuary with slide-in coffin beds, and a fully stocked bar decorated with framed butchers' knives and meat hooks hanging from the ceiling.
It's the perfect setting to premiere Wood's debut as a should-be-iconic horror movie villain named, simply, Frank, the deranged Los Angeles serial killer at the center of Maniac (available on VOD and out in limited theatrical release starting today). The venue is fitting because of its positioning—Times Scare is located next to quite apropos establishments. On its left is Show World Center, an adult video store and private peep booth hub that hearkens back to the '80s-era NYC days when the original Maniac premiered in Times Square; next to Show World, there's the theatre where performances of Silence! The Musical take place, which parody, yes, one of fiction's all-time great serial killers, Hannibal Lecter.
Wood, for his part, couldn't be happier about the evening's vibe. A big horror movie fan, he feels right at home, so much so that, when he's announced to introduce Maniac to a crowd of around 100 people seated in Times Scare's attic-like Elektra Theatre, Wood practically glides to the stage, waves to the crowd, and grins. Alongside him are the film's director, Franck Khalfoun, and three of its actresses, all of whom play unfortunate women stalked, killed, and scalped by Maniac's Frank. "This is the first time I've been in the same place with all of my victims at once," says Wood, smiling. With a sinister, though enthusiastic tone, he continues, "It's exciting!"
As it should be. Presented in first-person POV, from Wood's character's eyes (not found-footage, thankfully), Maniac is a violent, ambitious, and excellent work of progressive horror. Wood plays a mannequin restorer by day and murderous madman by night; stricken by memories of his late, cold-hearted, prostitute mother, Frank's incapable of connecting with women. Though it emotionally and physically hurts him to do so, Frank can't help but kill the girls he's attracted to, but not just simple homicide—he scalps their either helpless or lifeless heads, stuffs the hair and flesh into a Ziploc bag, and staples it onto one of the mannequins inside his bedroom. Then, imagining the mannequins are alive, he sleeps with them and carries on one-sided conversations. It's not until he meets the kind and fascinating Anna (Nora Arnezeder) that Frank finds himself able to curb his desires, but not for long.
The original Maniac, released in 1980, ranks as one of the grindhouse period's nastiest exploitation films, an uninviting ode to New York City defilement anchored by a very sweaty Joe Spinell. He's the opposite of Elijah Wood in every way—tall, heavyset, and not unlike a sloppier version of Ron Jeremy if the porn star also happened to be a linebacker.
The new Maniac, thankfully for the late Spinell and O.G. director William Lustig, is the best horror remake since Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead (2004), due in no small part to the brave and inspired casting of Wood, who gives a boundless, imposing, yet delicately vulnerable performance. Credit for the notion to turn Wood (whose FX series Wilfred returns for its third season tonight) into 2013's Maniac goes to the film's co-producer and co-writer, Alexandre Aja, who previously directed the splatter-heavy gems High Tension (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), and Piranha 3D (2010).
As of now, Maniac is the horror film to beat in 2013. Here, Elijah Wood and Franck Khalfoun explain how they pulled off what seemed to the impossible: taking the guy who's widely known for playing the heroic Frodo Baggins and making him one of the new millennium's most traumatizing and memorable on-screen killers.
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Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)