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Interview: Franck Khalfoun on “Maniac”

"Maniac" director Franck Khalfoun and star Elijah Wood

“Maniac” director Franck Khalfoun and star Elijah Wood

With the forthcoming release of Maniac from IFC Midnight on June 21st, director Franck (P2) Khalfoun takes audiences on a journey into the mind and eyes of a madman as he searches for love at the end of his knife. Diabolique was given a chance to chat with Khalfoun about the evolution of the Elijah Wood-starring film, its unique perspective, and what both the original and his own vision mean to him.

DIABOLIQUE: Franck, thank you so much for talking to us today.

FRANCK KHALFOUN: Not a problem, I’m currently just relaxing on my day off. Thank you for the interest in the film.

DIABOLIQUE: Now, seeing as Maniac is a remake of a cult-classic slasher film from William Lustig, was there any pressure to try and stick slavishly close to the original, or instead drastically head in the opposite direction and make something more of an original concept?

KHALFOUN: Yeah, I knew that any attempt to recreate the original would have been deadly. The film is so loved, by me as well, and has such a following. Doing remakes, especially in a genre where the fans are so die-hard, is rough. The other thing is, I also knew that horror fans, or genre fans, really are the best movie fans because they don’t just love horror; they love all movies.  I knew that if we could come up with something that was good, they would forgive the fact that were making a remake and just enjoy the film. I think trying to do something that was very original as a remake was really key, but obviously, we still kept the tone of the first Maniac.

DIABOLIQUE: Were you tempted to recreate specific iconic sequences from the first film, particularly the gruesome “shotgun scene” with Tom Savini?

KHALFOUN: To me, that was something that really shocked me back then, but I’ve seen it so much by now that I really wasn’t [tempted]. My whole goal is to connect it to an audience. I would struggle, today, to do something like that because it would just draw people out of the film. There is a much more sophisticated audience nowadays. There are also just some things you don’t want to touch, whether in homage or not. It’s been done so many times; it’s been seen. It’s not shocking to people. The shock value of this film really had to come from somewhere else. [Producer/Co-writer] Alex [Aja] and I talked a lot about [remaking that sequence], and felt it would just be too distracting.

DIABOLIQUE: Speaking of Alexandre Aja, you two have worked together on quite a few projects now. How did the two of you begin that working relationship?

KHALFOUN: Alex’s father, Alexandre Arcady, is a filmmaker, and I had been working with him. I’m a few years older than Alex and we became friends, talked about movies, and when he finally made his first film, High Tension, he put me in it [as Jimmy, the store clerk]. So that began our creative relationship, but we’ve known each other for almost 25 years.

Elijah Wood, using the First-Person Camera Rig for "Maniac"

Elijah Wood, using the First-Person Camera Rig for “Maniac”

DIABOLIQUE: So now comes the question that I’m sure you will answer in every interview for Maniac: what inspired you to shoot the entire film in the killer’s point-of-view?

KHALFOUN: Primarily, when looking back on all the horror films that [Alex and I] like, especially the original Maniac where the first shots of that film are all done in P.O.V., those tend to be the parts of the movies that are the scariest: Someone is being stalked and the audience sees it from the point-of-view of the killer. We talked about that, and about how interesting it would be if we did the entire film from that point-of-view. It’s dangerous, obviously, to try and tell an entire story from that angle. You have to connect with your character, to see your character. He’s your hero, no matter what he does or how bad he is. It was a real challenge. If you don’t see your character, then you can’t follow him. Not even that, but the point of horror is to scare people, and if you know where the killer is all the time, you take away a lot of tools of the genre. So that element alone was a real challenge.

We thought about it more, and seeing how today there is so much found footage stuff, so much stuff seen from someone holding a camera, and that first-person-shooters are really common with our demographic, we thought the world was ready. The audience has already been prepped and geared toward seeing an entire movie that way. It’s something we might not have gotten away with 10 years ago, so it sort of fit [now]. At the same time, doing another slasher in a sort of straight manner would not have been as interesting, and we had to find a different way of telling the story that was just as connected and just as scary and creepy.  It was a daring choice for the producers, I have to say. It was daring [for them] to allow me to do it, because, like I said, it was very unorthodox and they were putting a lot of money into what was basically an experiment. [Producer] Thomas Langmann and Alex are both filmmakers and I think they were excited about the idea as well, and we were clever about it. We don’t always stay in P.O.V. because we needed ways of justifying seeing the character. It was important to do that, since we had a major movie star. We have to see him a little bit, you know? (Laughs) He’d be performing, and reading lines, and giving this amazing performance, and there is just this disappointment knowing I was not going to capture it. No one would ever see his performance because it’s all behind the camera.

DIABOLIQUE: Besides losing Elijah’s performance, what were some of the major difficulties or tricks you had to work around the keep the first-person perspective you used for the film? KHALFOUN: Leaving the perspective, for the most part, was important. To take a breath from it and see our character was the main thing. So obviously you ask, “How do you see him?” So, obviously, if it’s point-of-view, the guy is going to see himself in a mirror and you get to see your character that way. Then we figured in dreams also. In dreams, you see yourself some times, so flashbacks and dreams could be another way to pull away and see our character. The last one was that we had read about all these serial killers having these out-of-body experiences, and I thought it would be really interesting to sort of “pull out” at the moment of killing and have him watching himself from outside of his body. So those were all, technically, some challenging things to do and pull off well. Not only that, but we are shooting this movie to look beautiful. With a more sophisticated audience, it’s really difficult nowadays to sort of immerse them into your movie, so everything needs to be perfect. The slightest thing could take an audience member out of the story, so it was important to me that the movie looks good in order to entice people. That is why the movie looks so polished and lush, which offsets the original Maniac, which was very grimy. Ours was grimy in sentiment but really, really visually enticing.

The music, as well, was very important to make, like a pretty picture the audience could immerse themselves in and then be hit with the ultra-violence. So, doing a pretty movie means having the right lenses and the right camera, and those aren’t usually handheld little cameras. They’re pretty heavy cameras that we have to then put on a big setup that’s supposed to be someone’s eyes. It is really complicated. How do you get hands around it? How do you drive with that? So pulling off each shot was pretty complicated, technically. While, sure, it’s a little easier not picking up coverage because you’re only ever shooting one angle it’s still a lot of coordinating for the whole thing, which did get pretty complicated.

DIABOLIQUE: Along the lines of the technical difficulties of filming, this film has probably some of the most graphically realistic violence in a while, due in part to the long takes to fit the P.O.V. format. How important was that aspect of the film to your vision?

KHALFOUN: It was important to be realistic, and that goes back to your question about blowing up heads. Some things can take you out, but if you keep it as realistic as possible then it’s that much more painful for the audience. It’s not the goriest movie, but because it’s realistic and it sucks you into it in this very sort of beautiful manner it seems that much more violent. I think it’s the juxtaposing of beauty, and peace, and calm with ultra-violence that makes it seem that much more disturbing and palpable.

"Maniac" director Franck Khalfoun and Producer/Co-writer Alexandre Aja

“Maniac” director Franck Khalfoun and Producer/Co-writer Alexandre Aja

DIABOLIQUE: Well, with the performance by Elijah Wood, the film is definitely effective. Was he your first choice for this role, or was it a role he auditioned for?

KHALFOUN: When we decided to go counter to the Joe Spinell version; counter to this sort of apparent monster he quickly came up as one of the names that would be good for this. So, it was really just a decision about which way to go in terms of the character. Did we want the “boy next door” or did we want this monster that was creeping through the streets at night? So, obviously, he has an incredible acting range and we started talking to him about it and realized he was a big genre fan, too. He has done a variety of different things and is real open to experimental stuff and is a rather big cinephile himself; he loves movies. He was very daring as well. He doesn’t always make the same choice for a role and that’s something to respect. His performances are great.

DIABOLIQUE: How much did Maniac evolve and change from concept to final cut, or did it stay along the lines with your original vision for it?

KHALFOUN: No movie ever does that. (Laughs) No movie will ever end up the way you imagine it will, for good or bad. The old saying goes, “You write something, you shoot something, and you edit something, and they are all different.” That was definitely the case with this. It evolved as we were writing, and when I boarded the movie, it wasn’t a P.O.V. movie. I turned it into a P.O.V. movie so that became a whole new stage of writing and development. Then shooting a P.O.V. is strange. You never know what you’re going to get or what you’re going to be able to do, so we had to adapt to that. Then you have time constraints and the script can’t get entirely covered so things have to change. We mostly shot the film in one-take’s because I thought each scene was going to be able to be done as one choreographed set-piece after another, but it turns out everything has a lot to do with rhythm and emotion and we wouldn’t be able to do that as effectively with one-take’s so the movie changed there as well. So, it was constantly evolving, but that’s the same with all movies. I mean, I don’t know about the $200 million movies that are done by committee, but obviously they have to evolve somewhere along the way as well. (Laughs)

DIABOLIQUE: What’s next on your list of projects? Anything genre-related?

KHALFOUN: I’m working on I-Lived and it is, somewhat, yeah. It’s a strange breed of things, but it’s kind of scary. It’s a dark film-noir-suspense-thriller-comedy…thing. It’s its own kind of thing, but I would say, because of that, it does fall under genre.

DIABOLIQUE: Do you think you’ve found a niche in genre films?

KHALFOUN: I’d say my films kind of teeters on the edge, you know? They’re not entirely just genre films. P2 was genre but it was more suspense and thriller as well. The things I like are all different and I love those elements of genre. I love fear and I love dealing with that sort of fantastic world, but it’s more important to me to tell stories that connect to people emotionally. I like my characters to be strong, and I like their arcs to be defined and interesting. That’s what’s most important to me.

Khalfoun’s latest film, Maniac, will be released by IFC Midnight on June 21st in theatres, cable VOD, iTunes, XBox, Playstation, GooglePlay, YouTube and SundanceNow.com. For more information, visit the film’s official site here.

By Matthew Delhauer

Matt Delhauer is a graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey, with a degree in communications and digital filmmaking. As an avid fan of horror films since childhood, Matt has had years of exposure to the best, worst, and many in between. Outside of film Matt also holds knowledge in several fields of media and entertainment, from literature to television, which are all met with an eye for analysis and a love of entertainment. For more of Matt’s work take a look at his blog at www.gingergeekblogs.blogspot.com or follow him on twitter: @MattDelhauer

About Matt Delhauer

Matt Delhauer is a graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey, with a degree in communications and digital filmmaking. As an avid fan of horror films since childhood, Matt has had years of exposure to the best, worst, and many in between. Outside of film Matt also holds knowledge in several fields of media and entertainment, from literature to television, which are all met with an eye for analysis and a love of entertainment. For more of Matt’s work take a look at his blog at www.gingergeekblogs.blogspot.com or follow him on twitter: @MattDelhauer

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