He looks so innocent! But Elijah Wood in Maniac -- out on DVD and Blu-ray today -- is the latest sweet-looking young man who's more disturbed than he looks. As the socially awkward owner of a mannequin shop, his innocent appearance belies the severe emotional traumas of his youth and his subsequent development into a serial killer. Now he's a young man who finds enjoyment in removing the scalps of young women and using them for his own devious means.
When he begins a relationship with a beautiful photographer, we hold our breath, waiting for the surely inevitable moment when he decides to spring into deadly action. Shot from the rarely attempted first-person perspective -- we see almost everything through the eyes of the killer -- Franck Khalfoun's remake of a memorably grotty 1980 grindhouse picture is best for hard-core horror fans with a stomach for explicit violence and gore.
The original film starred Joe Spinell, a good and juicy actor, but definitely not one who would be mistaken for a boyishly handsome hobbit. Wood, therefore, is following a different path, one that has been blazed by sweet-looking young men, prepubescent boys and teenagers alike. Here are three classic examples.
At the age of 27, Anthony Perkins was a modestly established commodity, pigeonholed for the vulnerable aspects of his personality that made him very attractive to teenage girls in the conservative 1950s. He wanted a new challenge, one that would open up the eyes of the world to his burgeoning talent. In the role of Norman Bates, he may have been a bit too successful; the marriage of his acting abilities and the cracked psyche of the character was a perfect fit, made all the more disturbing by his jittery demeanor and nervous habits.
With the example of the very young Linda Blair fresh on everyone's minds as a victim of demon possession in The Exorcist -- an innocent child turned into a horrendous monster -- it was only a hop, skip and a jump to imagine a boy whose soul, rather than his outward appearance, has been completely corrupted. A child whose mother has died giving birth seems to be the answer to a prayer of U.S. Ambassador Gregory Peck, but the adopted child, named Damien, proves to be a nightmare spawn.
What a diabolical idea! Having established his bona fides as America's favorite sweetheart in Home Alone, Macauley Culkin proceeded to stomp on the happy holiday memories of his defense of the family home by enacting an evil child who kills a dog, causes a traffic accident, and harbors homicidal impulses toward his immediate family, all as his bewildered cousin watches with increasing horror. Culkin's character represents a nasty twist on 1956's The Bad Seed, the prototype for all little murderous children in the movies, and, in a final swirl of irony, the "innocent cousin" is played by none other than... (drum roll, please)... Elijah Wood. No wonder he grew up to be a homicidal maniac!