Wow. This is one hell of a movie. It’s positively loony.
Plus it has 1934-era women getting disrobed to various degrees. 🙂
I am tempted to just link to Dr. Freex’s memorable review of this flick and leave it at that, but no, I can’t.
Maniac was written and directed by Dwain Esper. If he’s known for anything, it’s for the cult classic Reefer Madness. Even from everything I’ve heard (and no, I have not actually seen it, though I will soon), Maniac blows that one out of the water on any level you care to take it at.
Maxwell ((Who has no silver hammer, at least not that we ever learn of. )) is an actor who works for a mad scientist, Dr. Meirschultz. ((See? I told you this was awesome! The first sentence, just giving the background, and it’s already nutty! )) The very first line of dialogue, delivered in a wretched German accent, is “Tonight, my dear Maxwell, I am ready to try my experiment on a hyoo-min.”
Dr. Meirschultz thinks he can revive dead bodies, you see. And he’s harboring Maxwell from the police. Dr. Kraut bullies Max into impersonating the coroner, so that they can get their hands on a stiff from the morgue. The get into the morgue, find the hot young stiff (Maria Altura, age 24, we’re told), make sure she’s dead ((You just can’t trust those morgues, you know! )), and inject her with something. Why they do it in the morgue instead of trying to get the body out to their lab where they can work at their leisure is anybody’s guess, but they do it in the morgue.
While waiting for the serum to take effect, two other morgue workers go to work in a completely different room. This little sequence gives much evidence for Dwain Esper’s incompetence as a director. The two workers are, you realize after the scene has played out, supposed to be able to see Dr. Kraut and Maxwell (disguised as the coroner) in the distance, and unclearly. The way that it’s shot and edited together, the sight lines not only don’t match, it’s like they’re on disconnected planes. The camera angles don’t help any, and the two bits, the workers in one room and Dr. Kraut and Max in the other seem, very probably, to have been filmed weeks apart by two entirely different crews who had no communication between them about how to make shots match together. It’s so bad that Dr. Kraut looks up, apparently right at the two workers, and fails to notice anything.
The young stiff licks her lips, and the two morgue robbers then decide to take her out, because “she needs oxygen”.
The police are alerted to the existence of two corpse snatchers, while Dr. Kraut implores Maxwell to go out and get another corpse, one with a “shattered heart”, so that he can transplant a heart he has somehow brought back to life into it, and achieve his supreme accomplishment. (Reviving the dead apparently is small potatoes to this guy.) So Maxwell goes sneaking into the undertaker’s place, conveniently just around the corner, this time via a tunnel. He decides to go there because a gangster just got shot today. But when he gets there, there are two cats fighting in the same room as the body, and Maxwell bolts, apparently afraid that someone will hear the catfight.
Outside, he runs past a cat and a dog fighting. Why? No reason.
He reports his failure to Dr. Kraut, who immediately shouts “Coward!” and decides to plug Max through the pump and use his body for the experiment. But he makes a minor tactical blunder. He hands Max the gun and tells him to kill himself(!). Max, being not a total fool, kacks the doctor.
At this point, we get the first educational bit. The screen fades to black, and the following text enlightens us poor plebeians:
This is the most important of the psychoses, both because it constitutes the highest percentage of mental diseases and because recovery is so extremely rare.
Dementia praecox patients show blunting of the emotions, serious defects of judgment, development of fantastic ideas, belief that they are being forced to do things or are being interfered with.
Under this, a small orchestra plays oddly inappropriate sleepy-time music. ((You can always tell a low-budget movie from the early 1930s — there’s never any music in dialogue scenes. It’s true here, and was also the case in the two John Wayne Lone Star Productions films earlier this week. ))
Then, back to the film, where Maxwell realizes he is now a murderer — “and of my benefactor!” But he begins raving (or rationalizing, take your pick) about how the spark that moves the maggot is the same as the spark that moves the man, and that the individual spark is not important. While he raves, footage from two different silent films gets superimposed over him ((Siegfried and . )) to symbolize his madness. He regains his calm and, as the door buzzer buzzes, realizes he has to hide the body.
One of Dr. Kraut’s patient’s wives insists that the doc has to see her husband, and goes to get him. Maxwell sees his makeup kit and says “Meirschultz will be missed. Maxwell, never would.” He decides to impersonate and take the place of Dr. Kraut, and claim that Maxwell ran off.
The patient goes nuts, the wife sees the body Maxwell still hasn’t hidden, and more nutty stuff happens. The patient runs off into the night with the revived girl (and out in the night, gropes a mostly-nude, completely different girl), as an example. And Maxwell is now, for the rest of the movie, imitating Dr. Kraut.
And it carries on like this, for 51 glorious minutes. Maxwell’s estranged wife shows up, because she learns that he’s come into an inheritance ((Surely this was a groaner of a cliché even in 1934! )), the real Dr. Kraut gets put behind a brick wall in the cellar along with a cat ((E.A. Poe is given story credit, too. )), and each time Maxwell starts behaving in a different way, the movie pauses to give us a lecture on a different form of madness, most of which have only glancing relation to the story at hand.
Oh, and there’s boobs. Not many, and very briefly, but pretty darn daring for a 1934 independent feature, anyhow.
The film as absolutely nuts, and quite entertaining. But good it is not.
You can download it free from Archive.org. Or you can buy it on any of these collections:
Below, a few 1934 NSFW shots: