Certain movies speak to a specific time or place and the 1980 horror slasher "Maniac" is one of those films. William Lustig's bleak portrait of a serial killer capitalized on the birth of the home video market to offer an underground movie experience to audiences who didn't typically have access to non-mainstream cult movies. For its time, it became a bona fide sensation. I'd maintain that it isn't a particularly good movie (and I've probably seen it a half dozen times and own it), but it was startlingly effective as a new breed of shocker. The early eighties were a thrilling time for independent films! The VHS explosion opened up a whole new world and made monster hits out of movies that otherwise would not have been so impactful with lesser availability. "The Evil Dead," for example, is one of the era's most sweeping success stories. Part of the appeal of the original "Maniac" is that it is a visceral movie, one that puts the viewer right into the middle of some rather unpleasant events. This remake maintains a chilly aloofness and captures events from a bold "killer's eye" viewpoint, but it simply lacks the horrific novelty of its predecessor. With another 30+ years of movie brutality in the can, the story behind "Maniac" doesn't have the same effect as it once did.
Beyond this observation, though, I will refrain from any other comparisons and simply look at this new iteration of "Maniac" on its own terms. Elijah Wood plays the titular character and he is, indeed, unwell. Fans of Wood might embrace this change-of-pace endeavor, but it should be noted that he isn't actually seen very often despite being in every frame of the movie. The whole experience is done with a creepy Point of View perspective, meaning that we're seeing through Wood's eyes. As far as plots go, Wood stalks a number of women throughout before pouncing in for the next brutal murder. Despite being (quite literally) in Wood's head, his character isn't developed in any depth (aside from the classic back story, told in brief flashbacks, that pins his compulsion on the acts of his mother). And we're also not asked to know anything about his victims or have any sympathy for them. When an attack occurs, we're simply left listening to Wood's panicked rants. While I found this approach rather interesting, the whole experience became a bit repetitive due to a lack of character involvement.
I think that's what I'm most apathetic about with "Maniac." I didn't think it was a terrible movie, but I simply didn't care much about what transpired. There isn't much suspense because there is no emotional investment. It doesn't help that most of the victims give rather amateurish performances either. Wood is creepy and effective in his voice work. The movie is shot and scored with a nod to its eighties heritage, and this homage works for the gritty violence depicted. The movie has a decent enough gore factor, but it's all so impersonal. At only ninety minutes, there isn't much story to maintain its brief running time. In the end, the movie was an interesting visual experiment for me. But because I never felt close to Wood or his victims AND never really felt the palpable dread that I desired, I can't muster up an unqualified endorsement. If you like the genre, you might give this a look. But it's not nearly as horrifying as it might have been. KGHarris, 10/13.