If there was one stylistic device that defined horror films of the late 70's and early 80's, it was the POV shot, where audiences viewed the cinematic landscape from the slasher villain's perspective.
But it became so overused that it lost its effectiveness and soon went out of fashion.
But thanks to 'Maniac', its been resurrected and used more extensively than ever before.
'Maniac' is a 2012 remake of the William Lustig's 1980 sleazy slasher film, and while it shares the basic themes of that gory cheapie, it departs enough from the original film that it is its own entity.
It stars Eljah Wood as Frank Zito, a disturbed young man who runs a mannequin sales business.
But Zito is also a serial killer who scalps beautiful young women as mementos. His mannequins serve as artificial replacements for female contact, and he projects the (imagined) personalities of his victims onto the mannequins, as well as their scalps.
What makes 'Maniac' such a distinctive film, is that the POV shots account for almost every frame of the film; Wood's face is usually only seen in reflections, meaning that we see the world through Zito's deranged eyes, and witness each kill in bloody, close contact.
And while this approach is novel, and at times engaging, it wears thin. While we get the suspense of seeing Zito sneaking up to his victims, this eventually loses its power, and the film suffers from a lack of jolts and jabs.
'Maniac' is produced by Alexandre Aja, who directed the remakes of 'Piranha' and 'The Hills Have Eyes' and directed by Franck Khalfoun. Both give 'Maniac' a stylish flair, but it feels at times too clean to truly get under the skin.
It's also hampered by poorly executed CGI gore and a pretty sheen that just doesn't jibe with a film of its content.
Lustig's 'Maniac' was a flawed movie, and so crudely made that its excessive gore and grisly subject matter was given a truly unpleasant cinematic texture. One wants to take a shower after seeing it's grubby, gristly bits. The remake never gets to that level.
Wood seems an odd fit as a threatening killer, but occasionally his timid demeanor and innocent face strike a Norman Bates-esque chord. He's a far cry from original 'Maniac' Joe Spinell, who's greasy hair, slovenly appearance and battered face made him a far more obvious choice.
Like many modern horror films, 'Maniac' features a John Carpenter style retro-80's synth score by a French composer known only as Rob, and its quite effective. The use of incidental music however is too smirky (one scene shows Wood's character attacking a prostitute to 'Goodbye Horses', the eerie New Wave oddity that Buffalo Bill danced to in 'Silence Of The Lambs.')
In the end, 'Maniac' comes out as a wash; it's partly effective, partly redundant, and more of a cinematic exercise than a fully formed film. It's a movie with a protagonist you'd rather not spend too much time with, and in that respect, it joins the ranks of its repugnant predecessor.