Elijah Wood isn’t just playing a serial killer in the remake of William Lustig’s Maniac; he’s putting the audience inside Frank’s head, too, and that’s an undeniably dark and twisted place to be for 89 minutes. (Read our Maniac review.)
Wood leads the new version as a young man with a serious mommy complex. After she passes away, he takes over the family’s mannequin business - but Frank’s top priority isn’t tending to the statues in their showroom, but rather amassing a private collection of mannequins of his own, each of which is topped with a real human scalp.
Clearly Wood isn’t Frank, and he’s played loads of lovable and honorable characters throughout his career, but the role of Frank in Maniac is a tough one to shake. Like those first six minutes unveiled back in December, the rest of the film plays out through Frank’s point of view, so not only are you experiencing vicious murders, you’re doing so from the ultimate vantage point - the killer’s. There’s still a thrill in being with a victim as he or she tries to run and hide, but walking in Frank’s shoes and knowing what’s coming as he stalks his prey achieves an unprecedented level of dread.
However, even though Wood’s work will undoubtedly leave viewers with pits in their stomachs, portraying Frank on set didn’t have the same effect on him:
“I didn’t approach it from a method standpoint so I don’t feel like I was living in the character’s skin for a month. I tried to understand the character as much as I could, and I tried to find the humanity within the character, but I didn’t walk away feeling like I’d lived in the character and left with a sense of being disturbed.”
Even though Wood attributes his ability to shake Frank off to his love of the genre, he did admit that there were particular scenes that made him uncomfortable:
“If you’re talking about occupying that dark space of the character, I think where it manifests most on set was physically having to simulate murder on these women. And I think it really manifested most – well, two of the deaths. The Lucy character and then the character of the museum curator, both of those because one I’m strangling, and those were my hands, and that’s uncomfortable, and then another with the woman who works at the museum, pushing her head under the water. Because everything else is simulated for the most part, I mean, it is entirely, but that literally was me pushing her head under the water. And granted, she was controlling it, but in that moment it feels so real.”
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While certain moments did feel unnervingly real, Wood also greatly appreciated the disconnect that existed because it let the horror-lover in him have a blast with the abundance of blood and grotesque props, particularly while shooting one of the final scenes of the film.
“As graphic as the film gets, we didn’t actually have that many days with a lot of blood, so it was really fun to have a particularly gory sequence to portray. That was one of the most fun days just in terms of having a lot of – because most of the work in the film is practical. We didn’t really have many digital effects, so most of what you’re seeing was in camera anyway. The scalpings were all practical, and it was really fun to work with those things.
You know, it’s interesting, when you’re making a horror film, there’s a great disconnect to a certain degree, too, so as much as you’re asking if I was in the headspace of the character and was it disturbing to occupy that space, there was also this great element of being a fan of the genre and getting to play with blood and scalps and knives, you know, from an objective standpoint.”
Wood took his love of creating horror to the next level in the fall of 2012, when he joined forces with Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller (Raze) to create his own genre production company, The Woodshed. So far they’ve got a movie in post called A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, an Iranian black and white vampire film; a film set for distribution called Toad Road, a piece almost entirely constructed with documentary footage that weaves in a narrative through the Toad Road myth; and another going into production in July called Cooties. Wood calls that one “a horror comedy about a zombie-esque virus that affects children pre-puberty in an elementary school.”
You can catch even more about Wood’s work at The Woodshed as well as loads more about his experience making Maniac in the full video interview at the top of this article.
Maniac will get a limited release on Friday, June 21, 2013.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.