A young woman (Liane Balaban) is out clubbing one night in New York City and has decided to return home, but not to take a cab with her friend and catch another instead. However, she is being watched surreptitiously by a driver across the street who begins to follow her; when she notices she quickens her pace, stumbling but getting away, though the observer notes aloud he knows where she lives anyway. He plans to catch up with her at her apartment, and when he does he approaches the woman, alarming her; soon she is dead of a knife injury, and the murderer takes her hair as a trophy...
He being the Maniac of the title, one Frank, a sufferin' psycho played by Elijah Wood. Elijah Wood?! He had tried this trick before of being the bad guy in Sin City, but for countless audiences this was still Frodo, so seeing him adopt the role of a serial killer was a pretty hard to accept, especially when every time we saw him he had the same pained, troubled by indigestion expression on his face. That might have been why the movie had a trick of its own, and played out the action through the point of view of the killer, so we didn't have to have the jarring for the wrong reason images of the innocent Hobbit getting up to no good.
Of course, Wood wasn't really playing a Hobbit here, he didn't have the big feet or anything and wasn't three feet tall, but his whiny voice was less likely to evoke pity for a pathetic killer and more likely to have you wanting one of those women to stand up to him. But there was another problem, and that was the long shadow cast by Joe Spinell, the actor who had taken the part in the original version of Maniac. In that grindhouse favourite, he was such a sleazy performer and so obviously getting off on his role as a reprobate creep that it gave the production a real and uncomfortable charge, something that was never going to be the case when watching Wood.
You could reason that a baby faced killer was more worrying when their behaviour didn't match up to their apparent butter wouldn't melt appearance, but Spinell inhabited the role so effectively that if you had seen his performance any comparisons came up wanting for the 2012 effort; it was never going to be a popular reading, but it did stick in the mind for its baleful seediness. As if recognising that, director Franck Khalfoun and his team (which included Alexandre Aja co-scripting, yet again on remake duties) dropped more than a couple references to the first Maniac, as well as one for The Silence of the Lambs - seriously, if you went round to a girl's apartment and she started playing that song you'd be uneasy.
Except it's she who should be concerned, but this was another instance of the film taking the audience out of the experience to remind them they were watching a movie, as if the subjective camerawork was not doing that enough. Technically, it was impressive, but had been more vivid as the introduction to a blatant influence, the introduction to Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, even if it did come across like a ninety minute tribute to the video for The Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up only with a serial killer as the lead character. A French co-production, that explained why the photographer this time around was played by Nora Arnezeder, befriending Frank for some reason, not realising he has a collection of mannequins sporting the scalps of his victims in his bedroom. Any psychology about mommy issues was tired at this late stage in the genre, and the scenes where he chases down the women were curiously underpopulated, but the biggest question mark came when he threw a grown man through a locked door: had Elijah been working out? Neat electronic score by Rob. Just Rob.