Don’t go out by yourself tonight: it’s The Return of STONER’S COLUMN! I’m Nightmare’s resident weed sommelier (Jon said it, I did not bestow this upon myself!) here to talk about horror’s trippiest movie experiences, while educating you a bit in various areas of cannabis culture. We’re exploring remakes and adaptations this month here on NOFS and this column is a reimagining of my podcast Bloody Blunts Cinema Club, but in reverse fashion I suppose. So like, the movie companion book version? Woah. Anyway, I’m sufficiently stoned. Let’s talk about the 2013 remake of Maniac!
Restoring an Antique
Did you even know this movie existed? When people talk about horror remakes, it’s a film I rarely see come up in conversation. Franck Khalfoun teamed up with frequent writing partners Alexandre Aja & Gregory Levasseur for the second time (P2) to remake the infamous 1980 film Maniac. Similar to the original, this version of Maniac was met with split opinions. Remakes themselves get divisive reactions, whether it be for not respecting the original or for not having a reason to exist.
However, I feel like this film fulfilled both those criteria and serves as a great template for how to properly remake a movie. But most importantly to this column, it’s a remake amplified by a truly dizzying and trippy experience due to the filmmaking style and aesthetic choices added. So let’s get into it!
There are many reasons for wanting to remake a film: to tell a story from a different angle, update the film to modern times, switching the sub-genres or tones. Maniac fits into those first 2 categories: this version of the film tells pretty much the same story of Frank Zito as a troubled man who stalks and kills women in gruesome fashion. Frank’s backstory remains mainly the same, with a couple tweaks and the brutality is still as violent as it was in the 80s (scalping included).
“Similar to the original, this version of Maniac was met with split opinions.“
The story also shifts the setting from New York to Los Angeles, for a more lonely feel than dangerous. However, telling the when I say “telling the story from a different angle” here; Maniac takes it quite literally, with a majority of the film being told from a first-person POV.
Some might write this first-person effect off as a gimmick, but it does much more than that. Not only does this change the aesthetic from video nasty grunge to a slightly more modern, sleek feel. It also allows the film to explore Frank in a deeper fashion than the original; putting the audience into his shoes and not allowing the audience to distance themselves from his actions, which adds an extra layer of terror to the film. It’s like playing a sad, twisted video game from the perspective of the killer. And if you watch Maniac as stoned as I have, you’re in for a wild ride (just remember: the mannequins are not alive, the voices aren’t real)!
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Becoming a Maniac
When discussing the trippier elements of the film, the biggest draw is the element is the first-person POV. Not only for creating a different viewing experience, that makes the somewhat quiet film feel more kinetic. But it’s a bit of head trip as well with the conflicting feelings you have towards Frank. I mean, hell, even the casting of Elijah Wood as the titular character messes with your brain.
Up to this point, Wood had been an actor you associate with being a goody guy: playing characters of purity such as Frodo Baggins, with his youthful face and gentle demeanor. Which is exactly why Khalfoun cast him, with the intention to shock the audience with his turn. Wood does bring some humanity to Frank not featured in the original, which could have sat uneasily with some people who struggled with feeling empathy for this deranged man. These are the mind games being played in your head while watching high, if you’re a philosophical stoner (I only am with heavy Indica strains).
Creating the first POV was no easy task and resulted in a unique filming experience for Wood. In this version of Maniac, we are with Frank for just about the entire ride. Being so present to the film, Wood was required to be on set the entire shoot working closely with cinematographer Maxime Alexandre. Wood would have to follow behind Alexandre, directing their movements by tapping their shoulder to move faster/slower and reaching his hand into frame when needed.
“[Elijah] Wood had been an actor you associate with being a goody guy […] Which is exactly why [Franck] Khalfoun cast him.“
The hand bit is interesting because Wood had a “hand double” for shots requiring heavy use of both hands, to look natural. They had to work together like dancers, with a lot of choreography and precise blocking involved. Any shots where Wood is actually visible were achieved through reflections and trick camera angles. Alexandre did some wonderful work here, not only creating the first person effect without making audience dizzy, but also being half of Frank’s performance.
With the unique filming style being employed, Wood was focusing more on the technical stuff than his character. This version of Frank was brought to life in post on the sound stage, with most of Wood’s dialogue being done in ADR. Going back to his hands, I noticed a lot of characterization there as well with textures and scratches since Frank primarily works with his hands and has a thing about viciously scrubbing them (trying to physically wash away his sins and feelings of remorse). All the hard work by Wood pays off big time, as his version of Frank is more of a three dimensional character: he feels very lived in and that much scarier.
Mannequins & Mayhem
Maniac is a total head trip. This is the first movie I’ve discussed on Stoner’s Corner that gets legitimately scarier when you watch it stoned. There’s something about the idea of never leaving Frank that feel confining. Most movies, you spend some time with the killer and witness their actions; but then you leave them to spend time with the other characters and your nerves get a break. Obviously not the case here with the first person POV, which puts you on the edge because Frank feels more unpredictable. You’re in his body, but not his brain so you don’t know what’s coming next, nor can you stop him from stabbing a woman up through her chin 5 minutes into the movie. Watching Maniac feels like a combination of VR and being trapped in the sunken place following brain surgery à la Get Out.
Speaking of what’s going on in Frank’s head; the film does a really great job at displaying Frank’s inner mania. Same as 1980 Frank, this version kills women that reminds him of his mother and then puts their scalps on his mannequins. This film goes a step further in showing how years of trauma have affected Frank, resulting in debilitating social anxiety. They capture this well in scenes where Frank will envision everyone staring at him, which is usually followed by a migraine. It’s a terrifying depiction of something people suffer from every day, including me.
Another scary aspect amplified by smoking the ganja and watching are the mannequins. I mean let’s be real, mannequins are kind of terrifying with a sober brain. But Maniac employs their creepy aesthetic to great use, even better than the original. They don’t move or talk, but it’s how much Frank engages with them that’s disturbing. He Talks to them and dresses them in the clothes of his victims, even doing their make-up (which he isn’t half bad at, tbh). And of course there’s the bloody scalps, attracting flies adding maximum grossness.
“[…] let’s be real, mannequins are kind of terrifying with a sober brain. But Maniac employs their creepy aesthetic to great use, even better than the original.“
The mannequins play a large role in the psychological motivations behind Frank’s actions. As a child, he could do nothing but watch the sleazy escapades of his prostitution mother. Years of this makes him feel trapped in his body; a vessel he’s not full in control of, but of course he can control the mannequins. The scariest scene of the movie is where Frank is looking at himself in the mirror and hallucinates himself as a mannequin, smooth nether regions and all. The film then calls back to this at the end when his mannequins tear his face off revealing him to be a mannequin himself, which is actually a hallucination while Frank kills himself.
Though I believe a majority of the terror in this movie is psychological, fans of the original should be satisfied by the brutality of the film. The kills are exceedingly violent, and seeing them happen from behind Frank’s eyes might make this uncomfortable watch for some. Khalfoun, Aja and Levasseur bring their French extremity philosophies to the film, which was a joint French-American production. The film employs practical effects that would make Tom Savini proud, particularly a scene including a character taking a meat cleaver in the mouth!
While thinking about the social anxiety depicted in the film, I couldn’t help but think about people that avoid cannabis because it makes them anxious and paranoid. In these cases, I always have 2 recommendations for people: edibles (consult my last article for proper dosing) and CBD hemp/flower. Did you know there’s cannabis available without THC? Marijuana harvest from the stalks of the plant, rather than the leaves, tend to be heavy in CBD with lower traces of THC.
When smoking, the psychoactive effects come from the THC cannabinoids. CBD flower can be smoked for the pain relieving properties, without the effects of getting high. CBD also can have calming effects, which is great for people with high anxiety without giving them the paranoia. As I discussed with edibles, marijuana flower have various ratio percentages of THC to CBD. Most weed sold lean to the THC, but you can purchase marijuana that is balanced equally between the two or that are CBD dominant with no THC. Well, almost none. Hard to find CBD herb with no THC at all, but there are many strains harvested with only traces of THC (less than 1%). To learn more or get you started, here’s an article with more info and some of the best CBD strains available right now. Happy smoking!
A New Point of View
Movie fans can be cagey and protective when it comes to remaking their favorite films, especially the horror community. Khalfoun had a lofty task on his hands to reimagine a 80s cult classic, but was more than capable. He managed to do something completely different with the first person POV, while maintaining the integrity of the original’s story and violence. He added a sleeker aesthetic, primarily through the color pallets and sinister synth score provided by Rob (just Rob, like Beyoncé). 2013’s Maniac also boosts the story, adding more characterization and personality to Frank. I also enjoy the increased importance of the mannequins, connecting Frank, his mother, and Anna. Remakes can be exceptionally tough but if you’re going to do one: Maniac is shining, yet gruesome example of how to do it!