Tag Archives: 3.0 Star Movies

Maniac (2012)

Admittedly, I have never seen the 1980 original of “Maniac,” and just recently became interested in the remake, ¬†which, for all it’s guts and gore, turns out to be a pretty decent psychological slasher movie. Physically Elijah Wood isn’t a great stand-in for the apparently imposing, plain Joe Spinell but he still manages to turn in a good (if slightly over-acted) performance as the lead psycho. Frodo ain’t here Mrs. Torrance.

Frank Zito is a disturbed, slightly stereotypical nutjob (hmm, a sexually repressed loner with mommy issues… just dress him up in a wig and a dress and call him Norman) whose Mama liked to whore around in front of her impressionable son. This has left him with some issues with members of the fairer sex, and Frank acts out by killing and scalping attractive women. Did I mention Frank owns a mannequin shop? Creepy stuff for sure. At least Frank finds a way that all those scalps aren’t wasted.

Then the unthinkable happens. Pale creeper Frank finds a girl, Anna (Nora Arnezeder) who makes him rethink his creeper life. She’s smart, pretty, and she, y’know, GETS him- an attribute that’s in short supply if you’re a psycho killer with a fetish for scalps. She even seems to like his mannequins even more than she likes him, and this makes Frank’s heart flutter with something unexpected- love, caring, a yearning for a different way of life.

Anna muses that the mannequins are beautifully unique and seem to have distinct personalities (no, she’s not crazy.) Her soft, gentle manner draws out tentative Frank- but how long can Frank keep up his facade? And it soon becomes obvious that Frank’s mask of sanity is about to slip (to borrow a all-too-overt reference to “American Psycho.”) Will Anna be repulsed when she finds out Frank’s true self?

The movie adopts the disturbing stylistic approach of forcing us to watch the crimes from Frank’s POV. Not only does that bring up all kinds of moral and ethical questions (is our fascination with violence and serial killers cathartic, or rather voyeuristic and exploitative?), it occasionally makes the killings uncomfortably sexualized, marked by Frank’s repressed libido and misogynistic rage.

I understand what the filmmaker is trying to do, but it is disturbing to watch a woman’s breasts while she is strangled. Then again, doesn’t the fact that the strangling doesn’t bother me speak volumes on Americans over-familiarity with violence and carnage? Maybe that’s what this movie is trying to say.

Frank spends a lot of time looking in mirrors, which may portray his fracturing personality (he often argues and pleads with his ‘darker half,’ which takes over when she gets the urge to kill) or it might just be there to remind us “yep, it’s Elijah Wood playing the killer, not just a camera being toted around by the crew.”

On the surface, this film is fast-paced and exciting. The psychology behind the character of Frank is a little sketchy (somewhere between Norman Bates’ exclamation of “a boy’s best friend is his mother” and Philip Larkin’s poem that begins “They fuck you up your mum and dad…”) but the movie is mostly solid.

I actually think “Tony” by Gerard Johnson, a highly underregarded film and hell of an independent production, knocks this film on it’s ass. But “Maniac” is still a solidly acted way to pass the time. Take a date- but make sure they’re not TOO into it, or we might have of a”Maniac” on your hands. Think about it. Good afternoon, everyone, and enjoy the feature.

The Woman (2011)

The events that unfold in “The Woman” are not always believable or even serious, but they are consistently intriguing and have a thought-provoking message behind them. The acting adeptly drives home this message- ‘the woman’ of the title (Pollyanna McIntosh,) a feral human wandering the wilds of rural North America, may be more animal than human, but she is more of a person than her sadistic (and supposedly ‘civilized’) male captors.

The Cleeks are an all-American family that have done well for themselves- Dad Chris (Sean Bridger) is a successful lawyer, while the others fall into traditional roles of housewife, jock brother, feminine sister, and cutie pie youngster. But something is terribly wrong. Chris rules his frightened family with an iron fist, bullying them into compliance, while older daughter Peg (Lauren Ashley Carter) hides a terrible secret from the rest of the world.

So when the unthinkable happens- Chris brings home a feral woman to force his family to participate in her ‘reintroduction into society’- the others are bullied into playing along- but such a decision will have explosive consequences. While brother Brian (Zach Rand) follows in his dad’s footsteps and downtrodden mom Belle (Angela Bettis) frets, sister Peg’s secret becomes increasingly hard to hide.

The acting here is quite good- I was especially impressed by Lauren Ashley Carter as Peg, who portrayed her alienation, aching loneliness, and increasing empathy for her father’s prisoner startlingly well. I really started to care for her- I felt she was a good person trapped in a very sick family dynamic, and felt keenly for her.

Polly McIntosh and Angela Bettis were very good too- Bettis, who impressed in director Lucky McKee’s 2002 horror film “May,” here shows her versatility as a weak, frightened wife and mother, while there is no trace of actor in McIntosh’s portrayal of a wild woman who has met her match in sadistic captor . I felt Sean Bridger’s ‘family-values-gone-awry’ dialogue was a bit silly at times (like a close descendent of Terry O’Quinn’s “The Stepfather,”) but he did alright with the resources he had.

“The Woman” raises this question- what is more dangerous, a person who is taught to put on a mask of success and normalcy but remains a wild animal, or a person who has never been taught these resources. This would make a great companion viewing with the Stephen King essay “Why We Crave Horror Movies,” which goes into the dark urges we are taught to keep in check.

I urge you to pay attention to the scene where youngest child Darlin’ Cleek (Shyla Molhusen) demands a cookie from her mother, to which Mom responds, “That’s not a very nice way to ask.” Promptly, the girl says “Please may I have a cookie Mommy, I love you” (not a direct quote.) We are taught these techniques from an early age, but when the person being taught in a psychopath, does etiquette make him a less monstrous monster?

The editing in “The Woman” is sometimes a little overbaked, as is the writing, and the bombastic ending is so gory and disgusting that it is hard to take seriously, but the films performances and psychological aspects make it worth seeing and discussing.
Rating-
6.5/10