Frodo Baggins as a psycho-killer? Why not? After all, he’s done it before: Now 32 and still looking a decade younger, “The Lord of the Rings” star Elijah Wood took a murderous turn in 2005’s “Sin City,” proving quite effective at playing a malevolent sociopath.
Now he’s back as Frank, the titular screw-loose in “Maniac,” a smartly modernized remake of one of the first and most notoriously reviled slasher films of the 1980s. Written by and starring Joe Spinell (best known as the Senate-testifying “button man” in “The Godfather Part II”) and directed by grindhouse expert William Lustig, the 1980 original was critically roasted for having no redeeming value. Thirty-three years later, director Franck Khalfoun proficiently offers no redeeming value in a technically superior package.
Khalfoun jumps onto the “subjective POV” bandwagon (the dominant horror trend since “The Blair Witch Project”), so for most of the film we see only what Frank sees, catching brief glimpses of him (in mirrors, etc.) as he stalks, kills and scalps attractive young women, then uses their hair to adorn his creepy collection of mannequins.
If you’re still reading this, you’ll probably catch references to other horror films, including the use of “Goodbye Horses,” the song that accompanies Buffalo Bill’s shocking transformation in “The Silence of the Lambs,” and more obvious nods to “Psycho” and its British counterpart “Peeping Tom.”
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As he tenuously befriends a good-natured French photographer (Nora Arnezeder), Frank’s deep-rooted mommy issues and split personality make this unrated “Maniac” especially disturbing.
In addition to unsettling sound design and an atmospheric electronic score by Rob (a stylish nod to the ’80s), it’s also a gross-out showcase for the goremongers at KNB EFX Group, the makeup masters who’ve perfected graphic zombie-killing in “The Walking Dead.” In other words, “Maniac” is a marathon of “Ewwwwww!!” See it if you dare.