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BEFORE WE BEGIN: This site rarely covers what are now considered to be "horror" films. Slice 'n' Dice gorefests mean nothing to those of trained by the less-is-more stylings of things like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, in all its technicolor splendor . . . . ask enough people, especially the middle aged kind who may have seen Psycho on the big screen and then avoided it for decades on the small, and you will find more than a few that would swear on a Bible that Hitchcock's masterpiece was shot in color. Which it wasn't. Or that maybe only the shower sequence or parts of it, were in color. Definitely. Which isn't the truth either.
The events in the story of Maniac are horrific. Their depiction is graphic enough to turn your stomach and, if you are anything like yours Cranky, make you want to hit the pause button on the DVD screener and leave the room.
IN SHORT: Scared the crap out of us. [Not Rated. 100 minutes]
Maniac is the story of a lonely young man named Frank (Elijah Wood) who turns to the internet for digital dating. Perhaps he will find the girl of his dreams. Perhaps . . . but if that were the case, this wouldn't be a film that would live up to its title, right?
Frank's mother Amelia (America Olivo) really screwed up her little boy but good. During the day, she runs a store that peddles mannequins to whatever department store or clothing store (or whatever) needed them. During the evening she sluts her way around town and doesn't think much about what her son sees while he hides from her in the bedroom closet -- nothing ironic or foreshadowed here -- and she services one or two or more men. Or how it would affect him when he grew up. Don't worry. Little Frank grows up to be a rousing heterosexual. Anything else and Maniac would have been a surreptitiously circulated cult movie on the 'net.
Grown up Frank inherited the business when mom died a year ago. As noted above, he uses an online dating service to meet women. That written, Frank's idea of "scoring" at the end of a date has little to do with sex and a lot to do with what he can do with a knife. There's more to the man's obsession than the overwhelming desire to kill . . . but we're not going spill those beans.
While Frank tries to hide from the world in the mannequin shop, those dummies in the storefront window attract the attention of an artist called Anna (Nora Arnezeder). Anna sees artistic potential in those mannequins and proposes to Frank, the idea about integrating mannequins into an upcoming LA gallery show of her work. Frank agrees to supply his property pro bono, desperately hiding that he is trying to achieve a normal relationship with the lovely photographer artist. Anna seems game for that, too. But . . .
Well, it seems that the owner of gallery staging Anna's show has promised that, if the show goes well, it could be moved to a sister gallery in New York. Of course, that would mean Anna would follow her show to New York. The smitten Frank really doesn't want that and, well, things happen.
We thought about revealing what that might be but decided that any reader out there willing to sit for Maniac deserves the right to, maybe, run screaming from the theater or room with a video screen or whatever.
Maniac is not a very high budget affair. We give great props to both Wood and Arnezeder for their performances, which have to deliver when the production chooses not to follow the current stereotype for horror movies. We will write it again: at times Maniac had us wanting to run from the room (our own medical crap forced us to screen the film on DVD. Had we made the critic's screening we probably would not have made it through the screening . . .
. . . . which is just what a horror film sets out to achieve. After it grabs your ticket money, of course <g>.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Maniac, he would have paid . . .
While the killing act(s) in Maniac do not produce geysers of blood spewing seven ways to Sunday, the scalping is pretty gruesome and redefines the notion of horror. At least for yours Cranky. The performances play off the effects and the effects enhance the performances. Those performances, especially the one delivered by Ms. Arnezeder, are worth every dollar not present in this film's budget -- the dollars that would normally have paid for gushing blood special effects).
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