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MANIAC ON THE LOOSE (2008)

--Review by Jason Phillips--

Just because a film is of the indy variety, or of the B variety, doesn’t mean it has to resort to lazy clichés disguised as camp or plagiarism disguised as “homage.” And “Maniac on the Loose” gets plenty of points for avoiding those pitfalls. The film, which tells the story of a doctor’s attempts to hide his negligence in allowing a serial killer to escape a mental institution, does what many of it’s ilk either fail to do or are incapable of doing: Tell a serious story, and tell it straight, without wallowing in its limitations and winking knowingly (and annoyingly) at the audience as it does so.

This shoestring mash-up of “Halloween” and “Psycho” (with a dash of “Pulp Fiction” thrown in for good measure) is extremely well-done, and contains a strong narrative voice. There are also just enough special effects that come off realistic and not at all cheap looking. The cast, led by Nick Faust as Dr. Grimm and Randy Hardesty as serial killer Alex Bromley, also manages to rise above its independent bloodline. Co-writer and co-director Steve Hudgins also acts in the film, and is perhaps the strongest of the cast. Hudgins is riveting as the sadistic mental ward guard sent to capture Bromley, imbuing his character with both frightening anger and humor of the darkest variety.

Having said all that, the film suffers from a preoccupation with saving the “big reveals” about each character until after nearly every character has met his/her bloody end. The plot points that could make an audience invest more fully in the characters are too often stubbornly saved until after each character is gone.

The film, which jumps back and forth in continuity, also seems to want to employ non-linear storytelling simply for its own sake, and also comes off as gloomy and pessimistic for no discernable purpose. It’s one thing for a film to rely on a downbeat tone; to feature a hero who fails or ends up too flawed. “Maniac on the Loose, though,” is one of those movies that, by the end, leaves you realizing that the story never really had a hero in the first place. That’s an important distinction.

 

But even the film’s shortcomings are substantive ones; the kinds of storytelling choices that invite debate about their merits. “Maniac on the Loose,” which was shot in Madisonville, Ky. by a group of local actors, is certainly homemade, homespun filmmaking. But it also doesn’t let that stand in the way of making a solid, ambitious film.



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