Maniac Director Franck Khalfoun on Updating the Slasher Classic for Modern Audiences
Elijah Wood is a Maniac.
By Cory Casciato
The original Maniac hit theaters in 1980 and quickly became a slasher classic by heralding a new era in on-screen depravity. The grimy, gritty film about a serial killer who scalps women and collects mannequins famously depicted a close-up of a shotgun blast to the head, multiple scalpings, and other radical -- for the time -- images of violence and gore. Although the movie still has a dedicated following, it's fallen into relative obscurity, with modern-day movies like Saw making its once-shocking kills look relatively tame. But that just makes it ripe for a remake, which is what producer Alexandre Aja and director Franck Khalfoun have done, updating the story to the present day and resurrecting the heart of Maniac with a new style and daring approach. We caught up with Khalfoun to talk about why horror fans are the best film fans, how L.A. is the new New York and bringing something fresh to a classic horror film.
Jackalope Ranch: Were you a big fan of the original Maniac?
Franck Khalfoun: You know, I remember the original. I remember being really touched -- it marked me. It certainly left an impression on me. I acquired a VHS copy of it years and years ago. I'm a fan of movies, and certainly when something is as powerful as that, which it was at the time, certainly I remember. So, yes, I was. I also knew the danger in trying to remake something like that, something with the audience, the core fanbase that it has.
The hardcore fans can be pretty unforgiving when it comes to remakes and reinterpretations.
Yeah. I feel that [horror fans] are movie fans more than anything. More than being genre fans, they're actually the best movie fans because they love all movies, they don't just love horror movies. They're the fans who will dissect and will live the movie. They appreciate movies more than anybody. They'll watch a David Lean film just like they will an Eli Roth film or one of my movies. They only care that films are good. They don't like remakes because they're usually bad. But if you attempt to give them something good, they're willing to watch and appreciate it for what it's worth.
It seems like the initial reception to this new Maniac, among fans and critics alike, has been generally positive, so you must have done something right.
It has. It seems like it has. Obviously, it's really dark, so when you start getting into more popular critiques they seem to shy away a little bit. But for the most part, even the big papers and the mass media has been pretty receptive to the film. I think that's because it's an attempt to do something fresh and new, to reinvent in a creative way.
But while still maintaining the spirit of the original.
Oh, yeah, totally. Well, we're still scalping women [laughs]. That's a tough one . . . You can't make Maniac without that.
I know you've worked with producer Alexandre Aja in the past. Is that how you came to direct this film?
That's correct. He and Thomas Langmann, who produced The Artist recently and has been a producer for years, had discussed this movie for a long, long time and felt that now the time was right to do it. It seemed like the obvious choice to follow up The Artist with Maniac. [Laughs.]
What was the impulse to change the setting from the original's New York to L.A. for your version?
Well, I think that New York is no longer as threatening as it was. I think that Los Angeles still has these sort of lost neighborhoods and these sort of isolated places. Where do you go in New York to find an isolated neighborhood? When I first read the script, it mentioned the Lower East Side and there was nobody there at one in the morning and I'm like, "In what world, what year, is this remake?" That's not really the case with New York anymore. New York is one of the safest places in the world. I was trying to find a place that sort of fit, that sort of embodied what the original movie embodied with the city, that sort of matched a little bit more.
Also, I felt that Los Angeles is this very strange combination of places, especially downtown. It's an old town that was really decadent at one point, that fell into despair and now has become sort of trendy again. It's a place where homeless people and crazy people mingle with artists and businessmen. It's a real melting pot of our society. It's also a place that's vivacious during the day -- and at night, most of that town goes dark and empty. People run away from that place at night. It's become hip and trendy in some areas, but for the most part it's still a very sketchy place.
The way you describe it, it almost sounds like L.A. today is very similar in that vibe to the New York of the late '70s and early '80s.
Yeah, I remember SoHo when it was just factories and there was nothing. It was the beginning of the gentrification. So was the Lower East Side, and it was pretty sketchy. It was just the beginning of renovation. And that's sort of what's happening to downtown in Los Angeles. It's a sketchy place that is now being renovated again. Lofts are coming up, and restaurants and clubs. In that regard, it's very similar.
And it makes a good setting for a psycho killer movie.
Totally. And the architecture is beautiful. You have this mix of modern buildings and these old post-war buildings from the '40s that are still very beautiful. Thematically also, it's really a wonderful place.