Once again, it's macabre moratorium time. First, we tried to limit the number of vampire flicks filling the direct to DVD coffers. Then we focused our concerted efforts on stemming the unfathomable flood of living dead/zombie films. However, the current terror threat is much more concerning. We are now at the point where the critical community needs to stand up and demand an end to all these pointless 'based on a true story' serial killer efforts. It seemed like, after Silence of the Lambs scored Oscar gold, everyone and their sick, twisted brother wanted to capitalize on the whole 'maniac with a hankering for human vivisection' subject area. Hundreds of horrible movies were made, pushing this subsection of the genre to the breaking point. Now, after a decided downturn in the mass murderer's filmic fortunes, the craven character - now somehow based in reality - appears to be back to his old terror tricks. Take, for example, the latest release from Lionsgate, Mummy Maniac. It purports to be inspired by the real life case of a psycho who gives his victims the King Tut treatment. But the truth both in front of and behind the camera is much more disturbing for reasons that have nothing to do with fright and everything to do with filmmaking.
When he was a teenager, he killed his father by strangling him. Now, Babyface is an overweight dork who spends his days endlessly fantasizing about his dead (?) mother's sexually tinged beratement of his inadequacies, and his nights playing pervy policeman. Dressed in a deceptive uniform, he finds single women and kidnaps them. Then he takes them to his bright green basement 'office' and proceeds to torture them. After a little psychological byplay, he grabs a rope (or knife, or cleaver) and ends the lives of these unlucky gals. Then he heads out into the streets to dump the body - and look for more victims. Right before he's finished, however, he does do one last thing to the lifeless corpse. He grabs a bunch of gauze that he happens to have around, and wraps the head like an ancient Egyptian artifact. That is why he is called the Mummy Maniac - and that is why all of New York is (supposedly) in an uproar over his cruel, craven crimes.
At first glance, Mummy Maniac looks like your standard serial killer crap. It uses its "based on a true story" ruse to fake relevancy, forcing you to believe you'll be witnessing something snatched from the recent headlines. Before you know it, there's a small sense of anticipation creeping up your spine, a horror fan's hope that this won't be just another miserable macabre based on some talentless fanboy's deepest, darkest desire to make movies. And then you watch it. Suddenly, all fears (the non-terror oriented kind, mind you) are confirmed, all expectations dashed on the rocks of another dismal digital excuse for dread. Then you look beneath the corporate shill surface and realize you've been doubly duped. You see, Mummy Maniac is the product of first time filmmaker Max Nikoff's ongoing association with none other than - Ulli Lommel. You know the name. He's the direct to DVD cousin of fellow German joke Uwe Boll, a miserable excuse for an artist whose been living off the limited reputation his 1980 effort The Boogeyman has generated for over 27 years now. Reduced to churning out horrendous hack fright flicks (abominations like Curse of the Zodiac, Green River Killer, and Zombie Nation) with all the panache of a heart punch, the aesthetic acorn hasn't fallen far from the offal oak Lommel has spawned. Nikoff, who acted, produced, and worked sound for a few of his mentor's miserable motion pictures, produces equally worthless junk, excuses for entertainment that are neither clever nor competent.
In essence, Mummy Maniac is the same exact scene repeated six separate times. In between, our obese actor and his equally elephantine "mother" infer incest, exchange abuses and dwell in all manner of FBI mandated mass murderer profiling. Dressed as a policeman, our villain scours the streets, picks up unlucky ladies, and takes them to his secret basement 'interrogation' room where he basically bores them to death. They whine and cry, scream and plead, pushing the legitimacy of their amateur acting skills to the breaking point. Then our portly provocateur whips out an implement of death (knife, rope, axe, stubby sausage fingers) and works out all his flawed familial issues. Afterwards, the victim's head is wrapped in leftover athletic tape (thereby legitimizing the title), and then just to add a little levity to the situation, our killer grabs something sharp and stabs/pokes/prods/pummels the bandaged noggin with furious abandon. It's supposed to be all gross and gory, but the Kayro syrup budget must have been spent on body girdles for the leads. We get a small amount of splatter, and that's it. Frankly, there's more grue in an episode of Two and a Half Men when compared to the slim sluice provided - not that added arterial spray would have helped much. Nikoff is such a horrible writer and director that he fails to understand the difference between menace and mental masturbation. The only person he's satisfying is himself, and by the looks of things, he usually ends up frustrated and very, very angry.
The lackluster nature of the killer's motivation doesn't help matters either. Nikoff has read one too many true crime tomes, gleaning only the most clichéd and formulaic facets to forge his antagonist. The so called 'Mummy Maniac' himself is a collection of cop outs, his failure as both a Marine and as a man leading to a life plowing tools into women's heads. We also learn, in a frequently repeated flashback, that our baddie killed his father when he was a teen, driven to destroy him because...oh wait, Nikoff doesn't explain that. He also never clarifies whether the domineering bitch hag of a mother is real, imagined, or a kooky combination of the two. She's in the 'mirror' whenever Babyface does his thing, but the lack of real narrative clarity really stifles our understanding - and in turn, caring. Realizing the limited range of his material, Nikoff nicks post-production moves (double exposure, purposeful flaring, varying frame speeds, oddball editing inserts) from Lommel. In fact, if you didn't know this novice numbskull was behind the production, you'd swear you were watching BTK Green River Zombie Bloodsucker Killer 2: The Boogeyman Dickening. In an arena where more unwatchable trash is delivered per DVD than porn and direct to video Disney sequels combined, Mummy Maniac is a lame, lumbering landfill. It offers no scares, no compelling characterization, and no real reason to exist.
Like those long lost salad days of the medium when Artisan would release any piece of dung onto DVD and hope it sold, Lionsgate is doing the same with skunk spunk like this. Dressing up shot direct-to-digital dumbness to look like a feature film never works, and while the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is colorful and clear, it is still clearly a camcorder affair. Some film fans like the immediacy of such an approach. Smart cinephiles rightly reject it.
Placing a 5.1 Surround soundtrack on a title like this is like putting a designer prom dress on the decaying corpse of a dead crack whore. It doesn't make matters any more pleasant or appealing. The Dolby Digital mix is acceptable, the dismally repetitive dialogue being easily understood. There are some strange sound effects, and a few attempts at bringing the back speakers into play, but overall, this is a one channel presentation purposefully puffed up.
Luckily, Lionsgate saves us the additional embarrassment of having to hear Nikoff and his cast try desperately to defend themselves via interviews, commentary or behind the scenes featurettes. Trailers are the only thing this bare bones package has to offer, and as they say in certain spiritual sectors, thank Heavens for small miracles.
Johnny "Rotten" Lydon, legendary lead singer of the seminal punk band The Sex Pistols, once starred vacantly at his audience during a rather dismal concert appearance and asked them, cynically, "ever get the feeling you're being cheated?" This could actually be a tag line for any project coming out of the Ulli Lommel fear factory. These horrendous horror films are all bait and no switch, all promise and little to zilch payoff. In the case of Mummy Maniac, a Skip It addresses this dynamic quite effectively. There is no reason for anyone, not even the most rapid fright fan, to waste their time on this claptrap as creepshow. There may have been a real life killer who wrapped his victims up in bandages as a way of "preserving the terror he inflicts" (to quote the DVD's cover art), but you'd never know it from this completely phony fright flick. It's trapped in its own world of creative incompetence. Here's hoping it never gets out.
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