When William Lustig’s Maniac—a deranged, graphically violent movie about a schizophrenic serial killer—was released in 1980, it was greeted with damning reviews and public outrage. (Personal anecdote: in the early ’80s, my mom was taken to court for carrying the film in her video store.) Over 30 years later, Maniac has emerged as a cult favourite, an exercise in bad taste that has lost none of its ability to shock and offend. The recently released remake starring Elijah Wood has received little attention in North America (it grossed just $26,826 during its brief theatrical run last month), but it is now making headlines around the world thanks to a ruling that bans the film from being released in theatres or on DVD in New Zealand.
While it’s not that uncommon for a film to depict violent acts from an attacker’s perspective, The New Zealand Office of Film and Literature Classification believes that Maniac is “inviting a viewer’s vicarious participation.” In their ruling, they conceded that the film “does not actively promote or support this material,” but there is “a tacit invitation to enjoy cruel and violent behavior” that is “likely to lead to an erosion of empathy for some viewers.”
Judging from the film’s poor performance in North America, it’s unlikely that this ban will result in any great financial loss. In fact, it’s more likely to function as a badge of honour, legitimizing the film among shock-minded horror fans seeking new forms of cinematic transgression. Director Franck Khalfoun (P2) complained to BuzzFeed that the ban is an act of censorship intended to “control people,” but he also recognized that it places him in a proud tradition of uncompromising horror directors. “I guess as a genre filmmaker, it’s a compliment.”