"Maniac": Elijah Wood in a First-Person Scalper

Early-2010s Los Angeles is not late-1970s New York, and high-definition digital is not 16mm film, so it's not fair to blame Franck Khalfoun's Maniac remake for lacking the grimy seediness of William Lustig's 1980 original. The story is quite faithful, though, following a psychopath (the seemingly fearless Elijah Wood) who works out his mother issues by killing women and stapling their scalps to mannequins. Actually, the movie doesn't follow Wood's character so much as inhabit him, since the entire picture is seen through his eyes (except for one scene that homages the original film's iconic poster). It's a gimmick that works remarkably well, making Maniac one of the few modern horror remakes whose heavy reliance on CGI aids rather than distracts from the storytelling. But this new, effects-heavy Maniac doesn't skimp on the gore, modern technology allowing the full scalping to be shown without having to cut away, so to speak. Set to a moody synth score, the movie excels in the casting of Elijah Wood; while he couldn't be more different than the original's über-schlub Joe Spinell, Wood's scrawny adorability works to the remake's advantage, helping to solve the plot hole of just what that nice photographer lady (Nora Arnezeder) sees in this creep. After all, Frodo wouldn't hurt a fly, would he?

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