When it was revealed Elijah Wood had been cast in the remake of Maniac, fans of the William Lustig-directed original scoffed at the notion. After all, Wood was half the size of “original Maniac” Joe Spinnell and, to some, the actor – who starred in The Lord of the Rings trilogy – arguably, wasn’t as threatening. Still, he was icy and eerily unhinged in Sin City. Would he be able to pull it off? Combined with Franck Khalfoun’s direction, the answer was ‘yes.’ Wood was able to make Maniac his own. Even though he’s not seen on the screen the entire time, as the film is shot mostly in POV, Wood’s presence is always there.
Shock Till You Drop spoke with the actor this week in anticipation of the remake’s Los Angeles theatrical debut (you can find it on VOD now) and found him very enthusiastic about the film. Further, we discovered he’s well-versed in the nature of the genre business and opened up about screen violence, his character in Maniac and more. Head inside for our discussion.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: Congrats, you guys have pulled off a remake that’s “one of the good ones.”
Elijah Wood: Thanks, I’m really pleased with how it turned out as well. When you’re dealing with trying to shoot something like this, it’s ambitious and we didn’t have a lot of money to work with. It also creates incredible limitations which were challenging, so to see the end result turn out to be something more beautiful than you anticipated was gratifying.
Shock: Did the original have a special place in your heart? Or was it on the periphery for you?
Wood: Well, it was only on the periphery in the sense that I hadn’t seen it prior to making this film. It was one of the early ’80s horror films I hadn’t gotten around to seeing yet. I watched it once we started making this version. I hold it close now. It’s a movie that’s incredibly powerful and resonates because of what Joe Spinnell did with the character. The movie rests on his performance. It’s an incredible dynamic and heartbreaking. I didn’t have an appreciation then for the film, but I do now.
Shock: At what stage did you come in to the project?
Wood: I came on board when Franck was attached to direct and Alex Taylor, one of the producers on the film, put forth the idea to me that I play the villain in the film. She pitched it to me and told me Alex Aja and Franck, it being a POV interpretation. I was pretty thrilled by the prospect and the idea of being seen only in reflections was exciting. And the fact that Aja was involved was exciting. It gave the film a sense of authenticity since I was a fan of his and, while not a fan of remakes, and that made me feel better because he has done something interesting with them.
Shock: The original took some heat for its level of violence…
Wood: Oh, shit, yeah! Oh, that film sparked a lot of controversy and so did many more prior to the ’80s and later in the ’80s. It was pushing the envelope of horror films. These were grindhouse films. Movies that pushed the exploitable elements and pushing people to be uncomfortable with what they were seeing on the screen. We kind of need those films. There is a place for that kind of filmmaking and storytelling.
Shock: What do you think has changed about the filmmaking climate with these types of films, then and now?
Wood: I think we’re desensitized. I suppose that’s the scary thing. [laughs] A movie like Maniac still holds up in being disturbing and visceral, but it had a far greater impact then than if you played it now. And that’s because people weren’t used to seeing that violence displayed on screen in an open and visibly grotesque way. Those movies bled into what became larger films or studio-driven films that were pushing the boundaries of what we could see on screen. And then you jump into the early-’90s and you’ve got Tarantino pushing the boundaries for what was accepted for violence on screen and he was inspired by old Hong Kong action films and exploitation films. Once it starts to happen at that level, it’s considered art because it’s referential. Our senses keep getting desensitized over time. Now on television, I tuned in to Hannibal and, being network television, I never expected it to be that violent. It’s amazing where it’s going. [laughs] But at the same time, we seem to be stuck in the same rut we’ve been in when it pertains to sex and nudity.
Shock: Who helped you find the look and vibe for your character of Frank?
Wood: It was a process. With my hands, as bloody as they were supposed to be. In the script, it’s described that he scrubs his hands with steel wool, that was all in the script. It was important to me that the character not look too much like me. It was a fine balance between being slightly disturbed and maybe unhealthy. He’s a loner, stays out at night for the most part. He shouldn’t be too disturbing-looking and can’t throw off red flags, because he is spending time with women and they can’t be so repulsed by him that they wouldn’t approach him. I cut my hairline back a little bit and grew the facial hair out a little bit more. Also, when you only have so many moments to see a character on the screen, I think it just became all the more important those moments indicate this character we’re dealing with.