As I mentioned before, Film4 FrightFest is a great place to meet people, including those that a few of us may admire. So I was really chuffed this year to have the pleasure of meeting special effects legend Greg Nicotero, who I’ve been a fan of for a very long time. Nicotero needs no introduction but for those of you who may need reminding, he is one of the founding members of the KNB EFX Group and has over 150 credits to his name (including The Walking Dead, Kill Bill, Evil Dead II, Misery). Nicotero was at the festival to receive the inaugural Variety Award, presented to him by actor Simon Pegg, for excellence in the special effects field. I was very lucky to meet him before the presentation and to say his is absolutely lovely is an understatement. A very warm character who gave a great Q&A (with some brilliant tips such as mixing in soap into your fake blood mix so it washes off more easily!), he was also there to do an introduction before a screening of Nightmare Factory, a documentary charting his career and the work that KNB do.
The true highlight of the day, and in all honesty for me the whole festival, was the late night uncut screening of the Maniac remake, starring Elijah Wood in the lead role as Frank Zito. As a huge fan of the original 1980 release, directed by William Lustig, I will admit that I was very nervous about seeing the feature, especially as some recent remakes or ‘reimagings’ haven’t done any justice to their original counterparts. I was all ready to hate it but any doubts I had in Maniac were swiftly disposed of within the first five minutes. I literally had to pick my jaw up from the floor once the credits had rolled. To say the film absolutely floored me is an understatement. Without a doubt, Maniac is my favourite film of the year.
Firstly I was surprised at how involved Lustig was, being producer on a remake that I thought he hadn’t even been approached for for his original idea. Don’t get me wrong, this remake is just as violent and nasty as the original and anyone who finds the depiction of violence against women in film uncomfortable are best to stay well away. Maniac doesn’t hide what it is and keeps itself exactly in tune with the 1980 feature. It has some terrifically gory and gut wrenching moments (all that scalping shot very up close and an extremely well done Achilles tendon slash), which combined with the POV narrative and camera work feels very real and places the audience right in the centre of the action with no room to hide. This makes the first person direction of the story a complex and interesting one, the audience being made to not only try to somewhat understand Zito’s psychosis but made to feel like one of his victims too.
And the camera work truly is dizzying, only occasionally breaking away to show Zito as a ‘third person’, mostly in a mirrored reflection, giving the audience its only break. Not only is it shot in uncompromising fashion, it is beautifully shot. If the POV narrative didn’t give you enough insight into Zito’s world, the composition and lighting of the camera framework certainly will. When it’s time to stalk and slash, the victim is always at the centre of the frame, even when we are being made to watch them behind cars and metal fences. During the day however the composition of the framework takes on a far more artistic attitude (soft lighting, projected angles, wonderful focus work) which not only externalises Zito’s world as an obsessive mannequin restorer but that of potential love interest Anna, herself a photographer.
Casting is truly inspired and Elijah Wood is on top form as the titular lead. Completely immersed in character, it’s hard to think of him as anything other than the compulsive, disturbed, obsessive and troubled Zito, who has Oedipal and psychosexual issues that would make Norman Bates look positively normal. Also wonderfully cast is Nora Arnezeder as Anna, who bone structure and figure so perfectly mimics that of a standard mannequin that it’s no wonder Zito starts to fall for her.
Bound to cause some controversy because of its content mixed with its artistic aesthetic, Maniac is a film not to miss. A thumping success of a remake with a truly killer 1980s inspired soundtrack to match (think Drive), the feature manages to nail the characteristics of the grisly original and perfectly translate them to a modern landscape. Superb and highly recommended.