Welcome to Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober celebration! This year we’ve decided to present the ABCs of Horror, with entries every day this month providing Director information, Best-of lists, Genre overviews, and Reviews of films and franchises, all in alphabetical order! Today brings us M is for Maniac! Hello, and welcome to the ABC’s of Horror. Hopefully you’ve already read like twenty of these things, so you’ll pretty much know the drill by now. Anyway, it’s time to take a glance at a pair of psycho slasher flicks with the same name… that are pretty much blow-by-blow copies of one another. That happen to be as different as the aforementioned could possibly be. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s dig into Maniac… and Maniac. The 1980 version, and the 2012 remake, respectively. There was also a 1934 black-and-white film called Maniac but it was, um, different. As in, not the same franchise/story. As I mentioned two paragraphs ago, these movies are very similar. They star the same eponymous maniac, a man by the name of Frank Zito who, due to some extremely severe mommy issues, is driven to slaughter women, scalp them, and staple their hair to mannequins. It’s… less creepy than it sounds. So, the obvious question is – which one was better? This is the part where I’m supposed to go into painstaking detail listing the pros and cons of each movie, piecing them together, weighing them against each other, and eventually – either objectively or subjectively – trying to decide which one was the most deserving of “best Maniac movie.” I’m… not going to do that. I am going to weigh the movies against each other, but not out of any need to decide which one was best. Because I already know which one was best, and it was the remake. Yeah, yeah, I know. Remakes rarely grasp the same feelings and message of the original; they botch things, make bad decisions, yadda yadda yadda. Everyone hates remakes. And amazingly, checking Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, these two films have similar ratings. This… astounds me. Let’s take a look at these two movies, the Maniac saga as a whole, and why the remake did seemingly everything better. First, we’ll look at the protagonist. The 1980 version of Frank Zito is played by Joe Spinell… who, bizarrely, also co-wrote the film. He’s doughy and pockmarked with a ratty mustache, and kinda resembles Ron Jeremy (the 70’s leisure suits don’t help). Now this version’s a real creepo; while he chastises his sickness for the murders he commits, he never really seems that upset about what he does, and in fact seems to enjoy it on a few occasions. The issue here is that this character is not relateable. At all. Like at all. This is a problem when the maniac is your protagonist. There has to be something that makes us want to watch, want to know what will happen to him. The 1980 version of Zito tends to evoke little emotion other than revulsion. Since he’s obviously a grown-ass man who can take care of himself, there’s really no reason to feel any pity for him. He evidently does well for himself, as he can go to important events and wear nice clothing. The 2012 version of the character is portrayed by Elijah Wood. While casting Wood as a “creepy” character hasn’t been inspired casting since Sin City, he still makes a really great choice for this character. He’s slim and boyish, with wide, traumatized-looking eyes and a soft voice. Everything about him in this film drips with “I’m not in control of myself, and I hate what I’m doing.” This extends to not just the actor, but the characterization. Wood’s version of the character is obviously not competent and does not take care of himself well. He’s unkempt and poorly dressed, and has a job restoring mannequins (which I’m pretty sure can’t pay well). He lives in a dump, stammers when he talks, and is in absolutely no way socially able – this is a contrast from the Spinell version, who, despite being a total creeper, tends to come off as reasonably intelligent and well-spoken, if weird. Elijah’s Zito comes off as a fey, weak-willed manchild. It works a lot better. Back to what I was saying about evoking emotions, and the risks of casting a dangerous psychopath as a protagonist. While Spinell’s version tended to instill feelings of disgust, Wood’s version is pitiful in the extreme. In addition, the remake’s… we’ll say “gimmick,” is that it is shown in first person, from Frank Zito’s point of view. This shoves us into the maniac, making us see what he sees the way he sees it. Whether we want to or not, we want him to get better. This only grows when the love interest is introduced; we want her to help him get past his problems and evolve. In the 1980 version… there’s never any glimmer of that hope. The photographer love interest (can’t be buggered to look for her name right now, I didn’t even want to google the actor who played Zito in the 1980 film [editor’s note: Anna was played by 80s cult-icon Caroline Munro. They had previously worked together in 1978’s underappreciated Star Wars knock-off Starcrash.] seems to have no attachment to or affinity for the maniac… where as in the remake she seems to be enchanted by Zito’s virginal shyness and seeming innocence. Tl;dr: The 1980 version is flabby, brutal, and unrelateable. The 2012 version is meek, pitiful, and can be empathized with. On to the films themselves. There’s not a lot to say about the 1980 version – Zito kills a woman and her boyfriend. He then proceeds to kill a prostitute. He then kills another woman and her boyfriend. He then kills a model. He then attacks his “love interest” (used lightly in this case), has a psychotic breakdown, and, SPOILERS, mysteriously dies. We get a fun little hallucination scene where all of his mannequins turn into the women he’s killed, and they rip his head off. So that’s a plus. In this version, the reasons behind Zito’s mania are unclear until about halfway through – yeah, his mother was a prostitute who was too busy turning tricks to pay attention to her son. This really messed the poor guy up. Once it’s revealed, we never hear the goddamn end of it. Zito runs around wailing “mooooommy, moooommy, moooommy,” and monologuing to himself continuously to make sure we get the point. It gets pretty nauseatingly after about five minutes but rest assured, there’s plenty more after those five minutes are up. In the remake, we have a lot more nuance. There are still a few extended hunt-and-kill scenes with Zito, but they’re broken up with a little more substance. We see more of Frank’s attempted restraint, his genuine regret for his actions, and the way he interacts with other people, which is downright riveting. The love interest makes a much bigger impact in this, as she’s actually present through about half the movie and we’re treated to a lot of dialogue between her and Zito. As I mentioned previously, there’s a burgeoning sense of hope that Frank’s connection with her may help him overcome his problems. He dies in the same way (though the source of the damage is much more clear), and the hallucination scene remains intact, though a bit darker this time around. Regarding his mother and the reason behind his illness, we get a few flashbacks and brief hallucinations rather than the character outright telling us. For those a little slower on the uptake, there is one scene where the titular maniac kills one of his victims, curls up with her corpse, and whispers a single “mommy.” This is the only time the word mommy is uttered in this film, and it’s chilling, rather than… yucky. So, yeah. Let’s recap. 1980: Disjointed, unrelateable, repetitive, annoying, uninspired. It may have been exciting to see a killer with a few realistic problems in the time that it was made – but it doesn’t really hold up well today, in my opinion. 2012: Chilling, eerie, gripping, nuanced, intriguing. It sticks to the source material pretty well while simultaneously expanding it, and seems to fix a lot of the problems of the original. This is the realization of Maniac‘s potential. It’s worth mentioning that I saw the remake first, and often people tend to side with their first experience with a franchise. However, I’ve tried to be as objective as possible in my comparison of the two films – feel free to point out anything you feel I left out in the comments! Have a happy Halloween, everyone! Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.