Frightfest ’12: Under the Bed, Tulpa, and Maniac (Remake)

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Under The Bed (2012) Movie Image


“The Aggression Scale” director Steven C. Miller returns with “Under the Bed”, an homage to the much loved creature features and Amblin films of the 1980s, in particular “The Goonies” and “Poltergeist”. Of course, with Miller being one of the rising stars of US indie horror, the film unsurprisingly also has a nightmarish quality, making for an intriguing mix that should catch the attention of genre fans who grew up during those heady days of kiddie danger cinema. The film follows a troubled youth called Neal (Jonny Weston, “John Dies at the End”) who returns to live with his father and younger brother Paulie (Gattlin Griffith, “The New Daughter”) in the house where their mother died years back – an event which Neal blamed on a monster under the bed which only Paulie has seen too. In the years since, his father has come to believe him to be mentally ill, though soon enough the beast is making its presence known once again, its attention focused on Paulie.

Jonny Weston in Under The Bed (2012) Movie Image“Under the Bed” is somewhat of a change of pace for Miller, and on the surface at least is a more accessible offering, without the same level of gritty violence and blood seen in his superb “The Aggression Scale” or his debut “Automaton Transfusion”. The film is still very much in his style though, being grounded and down to earth and having the same eye for well observed and likeable characters. Whilst the plot itself is nothing new, the whole monster under the bed angle is imaginatively handled and enjoyable in exactly the kind of 1980s style that Miller is aiming for. An atmospheric slow burn chiller for the first hour or so of its running time, the film does go pretty crazy towards the end, the final act packing in some great creature effects and a few genuinely shocking gore scenes. Though this shift is a little sudden and does threaten to derail the film’s till then carefully maintained sense of suspended disbelief, it works well and helps to end things on a rousing note.

As a result, “Under the Bed” is an old school piece of fun, and comes highly recommended, particularly for horror devotees who spent too much of their childhoods during the 1980s watching films of its type.

Claudia Gerini in Tulpa (2012) Movie Image

TULPA (2012)

With Italian director Federico Zampaglione’s 2009 outing “Shadow” being an unappreciated gem that really should be seen by more horror fans, the announcement that his latest effort would be a Giallo was cause for considerable attention. The film has a heady plot, revolving around a woman called Lisa (the stunning Claudia Gerini), a high powered company executive who spends her nights at the S&M club of the title, where she engages in orgies and all manner of perverse sex, urged on by a bizarre Tibetan guru to try and use her libido to reach a higher state of consciousness. Her life starts to spiral out of control when company politics turn nasty and people from her nightly couplings begin turning up viciously murdered, with all the signs pointing to the killer being somehow connected to the club.

Tulpa (2012) Movie PosterThe only word which does “Tulpa” justice is simply ‘wow’, as it’s genuinely hard to remember a crazier, stranger or more mesmerising film. Zampaglione has done a stunning job in bringing back to life the kind of surreal, logic defying excesses of “Inferno” era Argento, with a film that overloads the senses with exotic visuals, sensual colours and a pounding, invasive soundtrack, not to mention an abundance of graphic sex and bloody violence. At the same time, he also manages to notch up the madness several steps, with a narrative which makes little sense, unbelievable and barely there characters, and a series of twists and revelations which keep the viewer in a state of entertained bafflement. The film veers wildly between moments of jaw-dropping high camp and truly wacked-out (possibly) mock serious philosophising, with a comically enigmatic script that makes it really hard to tell if Zampaglione planned the film as some kind of insane, drugged up spoof.

Though definitely not for everyone, and very likely to elicit laughter far more frequently than screams or titillation, it’s an utterly unforgettable and hallucinogenic experience which defies description and which, whatever else it might be, is certainly never anything even approaching dull.

Elijah Wood in Maniac (2012) Movie Image

MANIAC (2012)

When it was announced that Franck Khalfoun (“P2”) would be remaking William Lustig’s 1980 bad taste slasher classic “Maniac”, with Elijah Wood of “Lord of the Rings” fame in the lead, many assumed that it was a joke. Surprisingly, the project turned out to be very real, with current Euro horror darlings and remake kings Alexander Aja and Gregory Levasseur (the duo responsible for “Switchblade Romance”, “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Mirrors” and “Piranha”) on-board as writer and producer, and the film premiered at the Cannes Festival, complete with the obligatory walkouts and outrage. Sticking pleasingly close to the original, the film sees Wood playing the demented Frank, a mannequin store owner in Los Angeles, who prowls the downtown streets looking for women to scalp. Although he seems to be getting away with his crimes, poor Frank is a tormented soul, and after he strikes up a relationship of sorts with a pretty young artist called Anna (Nora Arnezeder), his madness and bloodlust reach new levels of depravity.

Maniac (2012) Movie PosterImprobable as it may sound, “Maniac” is a shockingly good film, and one of the few remakes that stays faithful to its source material while carving out a persona of its own. This is largely down to Khalfoun making the bold decision to shoot the film almost entirely from Frank’s point of view, with the protagonist only appearing in reflections or briefly during some of the murder scenes. This works surprisingly well, and really does pull the viewer into the mind and actions of the Maniac, giving the film a truly disturbing quality that echoes the original and makes for some horribly queasy scenes. Khalfoun’s direction in general is absolutely spot on, and he does a fantastic job of creating a lurid atmosphere and giving the film a sleazy and grim look throughout. Bolstered by an excellent Argento style synth score, the film unfolds at a fast pace, packing in a number of gruesome gore scenes, and while the special effects don’t have quite the same impact as Tom Savini’s scalpings did back in 1980, its definitely one for viewers with strong stomachs.

Elijah Wood is utterly convincing in the lead, channelling and adding to Joe Spinell’s original performance, and though his Frank is a loathsome, twitchy, sweaty creation he manages to pull off the difficult feat of keeping the audience engaged while never giving them anything sympathetic or human to identify with. Though likely to be hard going at times for sensitive viewers, “Maniac” is definitely one of the best US horrors of the last year, and a brave, vividly nasty piece of work in the best possible way.