Now playing on VOD and in select theaters in New York is Maniac, the bloody, rabid and slick remake of William Lustig’s ’80s film that was spearheaded by writer/producers Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur.
The duo are, of course, best known for the French thriller High Tension but they also made a mark on the “American remake” scene with films like The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha. With Maniac, they turned to a friendly face to direct: Franck Khalfoun, who had previously collaborated with the two on P2.
Maniac finds Elijah Wood delivering an eerie turn as Frank, a man who owns a mannequin shop by day and stalks and kills women by night. His habits are interrupted when he meets Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a young artist he falls for.
After the jump, you’ll find our conversation with Khalfoun as he addresses the casting of Wood, the decision to shoot the film in POV, the atmosphere of the film and the dangers of “homage.”
Shock Till You Drop: Let’s talk about the casting of Elijah, which is such a distinctive choice for this character next to someone like Joe Spinell. Did you always have him in mind?
Franck Khalfoun: No, I mean, the obvious choice is someone more Joe Spinell-ish when we were thinking about it. Aja and I have always had the conversation of “normal guy versus scary guy,” which is scarier? In High Tension, he had a very ugly, scary killer. We were exploring all kinds of actors. You know in Hollywood, so many variables have to come together for something to happen. Meeting Elijah turned out to be great, because he’s totally unexpected. He comes with some nice baggage, which is he’s a sweet guy and he’s seen playing non-threatening parts.
Shock: While Alex and Greg were at work on the script, were you there for creative input?
Khalfoun: They had the story mapped out and it was a very linnear, very basic killer stalking women movie. When we racked our brains in an effort to come up with doing something different, we came upon the POV stuff to give it a fresh take on the matter. Then I was involved in the script and conformed it to that format – which is substantial. You lose being on the side of the victims when you change the perspective. It changes the story a lot.
Shock: Did you communicate a lot with Lustig and, if so, what was his reaction to this perspective you were bringing to the film?
Khalfoun: He came to the set, but I didn’t get to talk to him a lot prior to that. He was very interested. Like anybody else who came to see what I was doing, or saw the film, he thought the movie was unexpected and he appreciated it, even though he things his original is a masterpiece and all of that [laughs] and felt it shouldn’t be touched, just like the fans did.
Shock: The original, for me at least, really captures New York City in a certain time period. There’s a certain atmosphere, a character. How important was it for you to lend a sense of character to Los Angeles?
Khalfoun: When I first read the script, it was in New York, lower East Side, late at night with no one around. But that’s totally not New York anymore. That New York is gone. Getting that seediness is important and we were trying to look at other locations. Los Angeles, especially downtown, it’s sort of in poverty, it’s being gentrified as well. It’s a strange mix of money and poverty and it serves the film well – the struggle for this character. He’s stuck in the past, but he’s trying to move forward and Los Angeles kind of personifies that. Downtown has some parts you don’t want to go down.
Shock: Was it difficult to straddle the line between paying homage to the original and putting your own stamp on the material?
Khalfoun: Yes, you have to be careful because some things are so iconic, like the head explosion in the first one. But it’s not really need [in our movie]. So, it was better to stay away from it than doing our own head explosion. We came up with some of our own kills, but left stuff in like the visceral strangling. I wanted something intense because of the POV it was important to create a feeling. That dark feeling was really important to create. That strangling is intense and then the girl who runs through the parking lot – you know how that ends. Anyway, there are some kills you want to homage and some you’d rather do on your own, that’s the fun of it.
Shock: You’re shaping Elijah’s character in two waves, the first being through the shooting and shooting in POV and then in the ADR process in post-production – did that turn out to be a creatively fun exploration?
Khalfoun: It was highly anticipated. We were looking forward to it. There were things we discovered on the set and there were things we discovered in ADR, it was a constant, evolving and organic process to find the truth of this character. It was exciting to know, after we shot it, we had the opportunity to discover more. You rarely get that when you make a movie. This is a character who is behind the camera for most of the film, so you’re given the freedom to say many things later and go in different directions.
Shock: Let’s talk about the soundtrack, so good…
Khalfoun: Rob is so talented, prolific and he gave us so much music. These lovely themes, we had dozens to pick from. Aja and Rob had a good relationship already and we knew which direction we wanted to go in. It needed to be anchored in a time and feeling, ’80s, of course, which is still popular today. His choice of music, what he composed, is stunning from beginning to end. It elevates the film, certainly.
Maniac opens in select Los Angeles theaters Friday, June 28th.