It would be nice if more remakes found some way to justify themselves beyond "because of the money" - it would be nice, in fact, if more movies generally did the same - and this goes doubly for films that are basically flawless. Which is a phrase I feel super uncomfortable in applying to 1980's Maniac, the spetacularly notorious calling card of cult director William Lustig, because in some ways it's miserable, and in many ways it's amateurish, but I don't think you could possibly deny that it is the best possible version of what it wants to be. Namely, a brutally, unforgivingly intimate stay in the mind of a sexually neurotic serial killer, not at all unlike the ones starting to crop up in every cheap horror film in 1980, with one huge difference: while Jason Voorhees and his legions of imitators are psychological and dramatic junk food, Maniac's Frank Zito is petrifyingly plausible, and the film built around him isn't exploiting the real world horrors of violent death, but in a very sickening and inescapable way, explaining them.

We can quibble over the question of whether the experience of Maniac is something that anybody ever ought to submit themselves to, but let's skip to the punchline: any remake that even begins to justify itself needs to find some way to at least approach the original's effect of trapping us in the brain of a person who we'd very much like not to be trapped inside, or it might as well not even bother. And sure enough, the remake of Maniac that now exists is absolutely hellbent on not just matching but exploding its predecessor's skill at marrying our perspective to that of the psychopath in question. One would expect no less of a film produced and co-written by New French Extreme icon Alexandre Aja (director or not, the film has a lot of his fingerprints on it; the actual director, doing a good job of it, is Franck Khalfoun), a man with an intense passion for making sure that violence is treated with unblinking gravity and care, but even then, it's hard to predict the, as it were, literalism with which the film picks up the mantle of its forebear in making us feel like we're in Frank's head. Maniac '12, in point of fact, is shot almost exclusively from Frank's point of view as he goes about stabbing and scalping women in a glossy, unnamed city played by Los Angeles (the originally was specifically, and even vitally, located in New York).

It's a gimmick, of course. First-person movies are always gimmicks, even the very best (which is, by leagues and leagues, Russian Ark). I will claim for Maniac the merit that it is an awfully well-mounted one (none of the wobbly gimcrackery of something like Lady in the Lake here!), with star Elijah Wood and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre collaborating in the most staggeringly complicated ways to make a vivid and fleshed-out character out of camera movements and occasional glimpses of Wood's hands. Mechanically, it's the kind of thing that seems unbelievable in the moment, only to get more unbelievable as you think about it. Aesthetically, it's a gimmick, one that never stops being distracting.

Mind you, it's a gimmick that gets the point across. It also permits a singularly fantastic moment in the middle of the film, when for a brief time during a murder, the camera does shift back to show Frank's entire body, the best job that I have ever seen any film do of suggesting the high that serial killers are said to feel in the act of killing. So in general, one must credit Maniac with making its point emphatically. We are thrust in the position of lingering over the things Frank lingers over, and understanding the urgency he feels in needing to kill and also the disgust he feels with himself. Much as is the case in the original film, there's very little sense of any of this being presented as "cool" in the way of the standard generic slasher or splatter film. The first death scene happens so suddenly, before we've gotten a chance to find our footing with the film, that it shocks one into a sense of dazed confusion that carries over to the first of the film's intensely graphic and persuasive scalpings; a later scalping is presented with the victim screaming hysterically in a way that makes it the most legitimately upsetting and alienating death scene I've seen in a horror movie in a very long time.

This is all the opposite of gore pornography: it is uncomfortable and distressing, though never as much as the original Maniac, which I'd credit to the first film having such grungy, hellish cinematography along with the unsparing murders, while the new film is a good deal cleaner and crisper. Obviously, it's not an easy film to recommend: there's absolutely no uplift or entertainment, only a lot of pummeling, and the film's ultimate message, like the original, is that this kind of thing happens and it is an absolute perversion that it does, but as humans we need to confront this kind of grotesque reality. Everything about the film build to this point brilliantly: the degree to which Wood has permitted himself to devolve into schlubbery for the few shots he appears in (the ratty-ass goatee in particularly is a wonderfully queasy touch), the jagged electronic score by Rob (the professional name of Robin Coudert), which adds a layer of distorted anti-humanity to the proceedings, unworldly and distancing even more than the animalistic kabuki of Wood's performance.

It is, all told, a potent and thoroughly effective reworking of the original film for new audiences and new concerns, though my question remains the same as with the version: is it valuable? I have seen each Maniac once and am very satisfied to have done so, though I have no intention of seeing either one a second time. They're bleak movies that rub our faces in the worst things that can happen in an stable, violent mind, confronting us with bloodlust and misogyny and depravity in a most direct and inescapable way, and this is not an unworthy thing, insofar as it can't help but produce a profound effect on the viewer. And certainly, art has a responsibility to make us aware of the ugliest and darkest as much as anything else, and the new Maniac achieves that goal gloriously. But it's just not the kind of thing you "like", and not the kind of thing you want to suggest that anybody watches at any time, for any reason, even if it's pretty nauseatingly powerful.