Maniac (1934)

He menaced women with weird desires!

Year of Release: 1934
Also Known As: Sex Maniac
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 51 minutes
Director: Dwain Esper


Bill Woods ... Don Maxwell
Horace B. Carpenter ... Dr. Meirschultz
Ted Edwards ... Buckley
Phyllis Diller ... Mrs. Buckley
Thea Ramsey ... Alice Maxwell
Jenny Dark ... Maizie


Dr. Meirschultz is attempting the re-animation of dead tissue, when he himself expires. His assistant assumes the deceased medico's identity, and walls up the corpse in order to hide his deception.


Maniac, remindin' us that when you need your toadie dead that so you can continue on with your re-animation experiments, the honor system rarely works when you hand 'em a gun an tell 'em to off themselves. An speakin' of people who can't follow basic instructions, Skunky Hernandez is fightin' the city council again. This time he's P.O.'d cause they won't let 'im have a liquor license to sell beer at the drive-in, which... let's face it, was never gonna happen. I told 'im it was a waste of time to even apply, but he started rantin' somethin' about how "een Ahmehreeka we do eeny stupeed theeng we want, thees what make ose baste conetry on playnet!" Then I tried explainin' what kinda problems the introduction of beer was likely to cause, considerin' the kinda crapola we put up on the screen, but he wasn't havin' it. So, of course, when his permit application gets declined, he goes into the Gas, Grass, or Cash 24-hour Fuel, Lawn Care, and ATM Station an works out a deal with Horace Ellingson that allows 'im to stick a marquee for whatever we happen to be showin' that weekend above the beer display that reminds folks to "stock up for the show, cause the city council don't want you to." At first it was just about money, but now he thinks he's fightin' a crusade for the American every-man, or somethin'. So come Saturday, the place is packed with people swillin' every brand under the sun from the hoods/beds of their rigs, an things're actually goin' alright. Coupla fist fights, a minor spike in the teen pregnancy rate, but really nothin' that's gonna give the town a blacker eye. Folks're runnin' for the outhouses after over-indulgin' in chili-cheese dogs, yellin' witty remarks at the screen, playin' Mumblety-peg under the bug zapper, basically everything's no different'n any other week, til I spot Apollo staggerin' his way up to the projection booth steps an... well, it was kinda scary, cause it was lookin' like Old Yeller time. Ya know how dogs kinda stagger a little when they're rabid? But no, it was more like Old Milwaukee time, cause some jackass'd given 'im about 8 cans of Keystone Light, an by the time I got to 'im Sheriff Hardassian was already down there givin' 'im a breathalyzer test. Used the same tube that he'd been usin' on the yokels watchin' the movie too. Talk about unsanitary conditions, Apollo's gonna be tastin' nachos an Red Man for a week now. Poor guy didn't deserve that, an sides, he always wanders around the lot makin' friends with the patrons an eatin' whatever the kids feed 'im. Anyway, Apollo blew a .17 an got a citation for drunk an disorderly, even though they'll never get the disorderly part to stick, cause he was too wobbly to be disorderin' anything. An just for the record, for all you jerkolas out there who think this's real funny; his regular brand is Rainier, so AT LEAST lay off the cheap stuff if you're gonna invite 'im to your parties.

As for the movie this week, the audience an I kinda liked it, even though it was so short that we hadda show The Beast of Yucca Flats afterward so everybody got their full three hours worth. That'll teach 'em not to bring their snivelin' grievances to me ever again. Still, bad as it is, I think Maniac is pretty entertainin' by 1930s standards, cause most moldy oldies tend to have this little problem I like to call; constipaceon. No matter how much the audience grunts an groans, there's just no way to get things movin'. But the flick's just so goll dang weird, disjointed, an racy, that it holds your attention pretty well, an when you get right down to it, it's one of the very first exploitation movies in the history of film. In many ways, Dwain Esper was kinda the proverbial blind squirrel who found the nut, an I don't really care whether he came across it through chance or not, because his flicks're culturally significant, no matter how bad they may stink. So Dwain, if you're down there, here're a few of the things I learned watchin' your magnum opioid. First, never inherit a large sum of money on a slow news day. Cause when people read about it in the afternoon edition you'll be fendin' off floozies an investment brokers for the next month. Second, beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but Satan is in the eye of the house cat, an the only way to exorcise ole Brimstone Britches from a feline is to pop its eye outta the socket an eat it. An third, there's more than one way to skin a cat, an apparently, usin' rats to eat the meat off the hide is as good as any.

But I was so inspired by Dwain's quest to chap the hides of the high sheriffs with this one that I'd like to give a brief symposium on why grouchy old farts feel the need to censor certain things while allowin' others, cause this flick perfectly sums up the kinda hypocrisy that's only just startin' to get stamped out like the flamin' bag of dog doo-doo it is. For example, you ever notice how you can get away with doin' somethin' that'd otherwise be considered "morally bankrupt" by the cranky old church guys with funny hats, so long as you do it under the guise of bein' "educational?" I mean, this flick was made in 1934, an it shows off some pretty flagrant boobage for somethin' made at a time when your grandpa was playin' with Linkin Logs in his crib. You'd think somethin' like this would never see the light of day, but hold on a minute... now, what if they were to, say; throw up flash cards in between acts explainin' the various types of psychoses that drive people to the reprehensible behavior they'd just witnessed? Oh, well, why didn't you say so? That's completely different, feel free to work for another 20 years, good sir. Cripes, Tod Browning directs Freaks in 1932 an his career goes down the crapper faster'n a turd fulla lead sinkers cause society wasn't ready to root for disabled people yet, while this guy continues makin' movies until he gets bored or runs outta money. Same deal in the 1960s when the nudie cutie became popular. You weren't allowed to uncork the pork in regular movies, so people'd shoot these god-awful films in nudist camps where the narrator'd talk about the actors' "alternative lifestyle," while you watched these anatomical abominations flop up an down as their owners played nekkid beach volleyball. Nobody went to these movies to learn a damn thing. They were on skin safari an everybody knows it, but those movies were allowed up on the screen cause there was this smokescreen of supposed intellectual betterment blanketin' the theater. Course the smoke was bong smoke, but nobody told you that at the time. The point is, people'd go see 'em cause that was the best they had to jerk with at the time. Also gave the censors just cause to watch each flick seven or eight times in super slow-motion so none of us got corrupted. Eventually the bottom dropped outta those cause the censors got tired of gettin' the word "prude" spray painted on their Ford Pintos an decided to allow nudity in regular movies. Then everything went to Hell in the 1980s, because by that time everybody had VCRs an it was easy enough for the moral majority to get hardcore pornography by mail order from Raincoat Video, an since nobody really hadda go to the regular theater to get their hoses flushed anymore, the censor board decided to stick it to the producers to score points with The Jesus Brigade. Mosta these people have sicker stuff in the tops of their closets than I do, but that's beside the point. Point is, sometimes I think folks don't really appreciate these exploitation filmmakers as much as they deserve, cause they were the only ones willin' to unleash enough smoke an mirrors to grease the palms of the censor board, an deliver us the kinda filth that we, their dedicated clientele of loyal miscreants, demanded.

The movie begins with this silent movie style scrollin' quote about how the brain can't think on its own, cause it's really the "mind" that does all the heavy liftin'. I think this's supposed to be some kinda heavy philosophical mumbo-jumbo about how man's *imagination* is the key to profound thinkin', but the way they phrase it just makes it sound like they're a buncha out of work phrenologists who aren't ready to accept that free will exists. Anyway, once the movie actually starts, we're in a laboratory that looks like it functions as a flea market on weekends, where these two doctors're swishin' chemicals around like they're tryin' to disperse the foamy dog slobber in a hubcab, when Dr. Rabbi Gandalfski tells his assistant (Maxwell) that he's ready to try his big experiment tonight, an that Maxwell'd better Get Smart an devise a plan that'll help 'im get ahold of a corpse from the morgue. Max objects on the grounds that it might damage his reputation as an out-of-work doorstop, but is eventually convinced on the basis that the professor is gonna rat 'im out to the cops for his part in the big exposition heist of '34, an Max reluctantly agrees to help 'im pick out a deadspread for their guest bedroom. So Max opens up his Lon Chaney "Man of 1000 Faces" tool kit an makes 'imself look like the coroner to gain access to the morgue, where he an Gandalfski pick out a pretty young thing to stick with their Re-Animator juice an force 'er to do the Jane Fonda Workout to get the kinks out of 'er. This ain't good enough for the doc though, cause after his successful test run he's gotten cockier'n Muhammad Ali durin' a pre-fight press conference, an now he wants to find a corpse with a shattered heart so he can edge out God as the greatest resurrecter of all time. So Max searches the corners an alleyways around Mae West's house but can't come up with anything, an when he comes back to the lab empty-handed the doc is P.O.'d. Then he gives Max his gun an tells 'im to put a bullet straight through his brain, but Max refuses on the grounds that the doc wouldn't do the same, much less catch a grenade for 'im, an he sends a bullet into the doc's gut bucket to do a little exploratory surgery of his own. Max's kinda bummed on account of havin' just terminated his own medical coverage, but once he hallucinates a buncha scenes of demons preparin' a cauldron fulla pedophile stew, he feels a whole lot better. Then some lady (Mrs. Buckley) whose husband thinks he's Cheetah from the Tarzan series shows up cause she needs somebody to help 'er get 'im down from the chandelier or somethin', an Max decides to pretend like he's on Jenny Jones an give 'imself a makeover so he'll look like the doc an be able to write his own prescriptions. Most of us'd just dress up like Leila Hyams an fondle ourselves, but not Max, Max wants to help his fellow man.

Only problem is Max learned everything he knows about medicine from a guy who barely spoke English an hadn't even mastered the hair brush, so he decides to just stick Mr. Buckley with some water so he don't make the situation any worse. Unfortunately, he accidentally shoots the guy up with the Ghoul Aid an turns 'im into Mr. Hyde, an next thing you know the guy's squealin' like somebody's runnin' a belt sander over his gondolas an runnin' off with the zombie gal who can't seem to keep her undead udders under wraps. By this point, Mrs. Buckley's startin' to take a closer look at the medical degrees on the wall to make sure they don't have "for novelty purposes only" printed on 'em, when she trips over the corpse of Dr. Caliczari an tells Max that the doc's been shot through the heart an he's to blame. Fortunately for Max, Mrs. Buckley's willin' to keep quiet about the little malpractice incident so long as he agrees to get Mr. Buckley's head screwed back on right an put 'im under her control. This is a clear violation of the Hippocratic oath, cause the dead chick Mr. Buckley ran off with ain't nearly as cold as Mrs. Buckley, but Max's pretty well up to his scrubs in problems right now, so he agrees. Then Max bricks up the doc in the basement, only while he's doin' that he realizes the cat's been takin' notes of his every move an hasta chase it all over the lab until he can pop its eye out an eat it. Meanwhile, some investigator's askin' the neighbors if they've seen Max, when some lady who's built like a Sherman tank tells 'im that he's been workin' for the doctor an that there's been all kinda queer goins on up there, an the guy realizes he's gonna hafta stop off at the costume shop to grab an eyebrow pencil an some feather boas if he's gonna be allowed admittance. Elsewhere, Max's hitherto unmentioned wife (Alice) is hangin' out at the easyspank with 'er fellow skanks preachin' about cooteronomy an usin' one of those machines that makes your ass cheeks vibrate like an engine with a busted motor mount until you get a cheap thrill. Cept they hafta turn the machine off when the neighbors complain about all the gas bein' jostled outta the girls' recti, an so this gal who sounds like Minnie Mouse on helium reads a story in the newspaper about Max bein' the heir apparent to a buncha money, only nobody can find 'im. So once Alice is able to scrub the cartoon dollar signs off 'er eyeballs, she heads over to Max's place where Max tells 'er he ain't there (cause he's still playin' doctor) an to come back after he's feelin' more like himself. But in the meantime, he convinces Mrs. Buckley that Alice is crazy an wants to get between 'er an Mr. Buckley an use all his money to buy 'er shoes... or somethin', I can't keep the motivations in this thing straight. Then, when Alice comes back, he tells her that Mrs. Buckley's the one who's cracked like a plumber loosenin' a drain catch, an convinces 'er to help 'im get rid of her so they can go pick out some padded walls for their love nest an live happily ever after. Gonna end the summary here, but you can watch this public domain classic via the link below.

Doesn't exactly sound like something you'd wanna show outside a ritzy fundraiser for the performing arts where everybody in attendance pays $50,000 for three ounces of chow, does it? You can always recognize a movie that's gonna have an extremely high score on Rotten Tomatoes, and this is one of them. Bizarre, quirky, ahead of its time, daring enough to show nudity at a time when that was a big no-no, and sporting a script that's so disjointed it allows artsy-fartsy critics a lot of wiggle room to explain what it all means; these are the things that make for a winner on Rotten Tomatoes. Can't help but feel sorry for those guys, but to an extent I kinda agree with them on this one, based upon nothing more than the fact that the flick managed to hold my attention. Most movies from the 1930s are unbearably slow, and seldom have enough thrills to compensate for their pacing, but Maniac is so off-the-wall crazy with its constant barrage of new plot developments that it's impossible to hate. Part of that is the extremely short run time, but that's the mark of a director who, if nothing else, knew enough not to make any attempts at character development or exposition. It's an exploitation movie, so frankly, doing either of those things is nothing more than an attempt to water it down and make it more palatable to the mainstream public. Which in those days wasn't necessary anyway, because they would've actually wanted to see something like this, simply because it was so unlike anything they'd experienced before. Movies like this are a big part of why I use the rating system I do (50% for technical proficiency, 50% for how much I liked it, regardless of the former), because rating a movie based solely upon how much you like it leads to the ridiculous rating it has on Rotten Tomatoes (89%), where rating it entirely based upon technical merit dumps it unceremoniously into the sewers. The thing I like most about it is how unrestrained the director is when it comes to content that must have made those early audiences storm out in anger, gasp in horror at the perceived indecency, and throw up when confronted by some of the film's more disgusting sequences. This flick is just full of stuff you didn't do in those days, and Dwain Esper not only did it, but he did it in such a way that made it seem as though he were actually crusading against the things he depicted. When taken at face value, it was a warning against allowing these various psychoses to go untreated, but in reality, it was nothing more than window dressing that allowed him to get away with putting said "filth" on the screen. I don't imagine his cautionary tack convinced anyone in the audience who was horrified by what they'd seen, but using that angle was enough to keep him from being run out of town, and I suppose that's what counts when you get right down to it. There's one other thing I feel like I should mention, with regard to the spurning of social values; there's a scene towards the end that looks like they might have been leading to a lesbian kiss between Mrs. Buckley and Alice, but the film cuts with each of them still in motion moving their faces in each others' general direction. Just hearsay, and maybe I'm mistaken, but in slow motion, it kinda looks that way.

Alrighty, let's shoot up some zombie juice and find out if this thing makes any more sense while under the influence. The plot is pretty simple, yet lacking in details to the point that people's motivations are seldom clear. Excluding Max, of course, because he's a Maniac and the things he does aren't supposed to make sense. But why does Mrs. Buckley assume Max knows a damn thing about how to get her husband under her control? He's not a scientist, and she knows this, so what's that about? Also, if Max is wanted for something, and the whole neighborhood and his ex-wife know where he is, why hasn't he been apprehended previously? And I'd also question the likelihood that any man capable of devising a serum that can resurrect the dead would be stupid enough to hand a gun to his toadie and demand he commit suicide, but maybe I'm just an illiterate clod who doesn't understand the "artistic process." Yeah, the artistic process of a man who only started making movies because he happened to be a real estate agent who foreclosed on a house that contained a bunch of film equipment. But yeah, the plot's kind of a mess. The acting is a little difficult to rate, at least as far as the main characters go. A lot of the supporting cast is flat out bad, but Bill Woods and Horace Carpenter don't resemble that remark. No, they're not "bad," but their acting styles hadn't quite evolved from what people were doing about a decade earlier in the era of Silent Film. Their movements are somewhat exaggerated, and they read their lines in this bizarre hybrid-Shakespearean style that's halfway between motion picture acting and stage acting. Kinda like watching the first fish that crawled out onto dry land. Then, by contrast, you've got Ted Edwards, who uncorks one of the most pitiful, unbelievable "transformation" performances in the history of cinema after Bill sticks him with the Re-Animator juice, and reminds you just how amateur this production really was. So there's some pretty hysterical stuff in here for an art film. Here's who matters and why: Horace Carpenter (Return of the Ape Man, The Shadow 1940, Condemned to Live). I hope nobody got lost trying to follow that list.

The special effects, while dated, do at least exist. A lot of flicks from this era don't even have special effects, so we should probably be thankful for the few we do get. Mostly it's just scenes from another movie (Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, which was another extremely explicit flick for as old as it was) that features witches and devils and so forth being superimposed over the top of the shots were Bill Woods is goin' out of his cracker, but at the time I don't imagine hardly anybody in America had seen Haxan (as it was Swedish and "morally reprehensible"), so it would have seemed as though the Satanic imagery was footage shot specifically for this movie. Then you've got the scene where they pop the eye out of the cat's head, which at the time, probably made people throw up, even though the cat was already missing an eye and they just popped a marble out of its socket. But then they actually show the eye (which looks pretty realistic), and the lunatic eats it, it's pretty gross. Absolutely revolting by 1934 standards, so nice job, Dwain, we're all proud of ya. The primary shooting location (the lab) is kinda pitiful, and looks like the crew threw it together pretty hastily, unable to really afford the kind of fancy stuff that made Frankenstein's laboratory as impressive as it was. Bottles on shelves, some beakers, and a coupla hospital gurneys make up the majority of the room, so it's a bit lacking. Then you've got the morgue, which is okay if you've never been in one and suspect they resemble the dungeon from Dracula's castle. Otherwise, you've just got a brief scene at the police station, and the basement, which might well have been the unused side of the same room being used as the morgue. The basement is probably the best of the lot, though not the least bit important. The soundtrack, which only plays over the credits and the title cards that describe the various mental imbalances being exhibited, would seem really inappropriate and completely out of the place were the movie less goofy, but as it stands, they actually steer it inexorably towards the comedic. Which will have worked just as well at horrifying the original audiences (as it would have seemed to be making light of the situations in the movie) as it does in amusing a modern audience. If you watch this movie today, you really can't take it seriously. But that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed on other levels, and the ridiculous, cartoonish soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to the insanity playing out on the screen. Overall, you're probably not gonna have many people in your circle of friends to whom you'd recommend this flick, but in the right company, it makes for a fantastic entry in a bad movie marathon. Check it out if you wanna see what it took to make parents' heads explode in the 1930s.

Rating: 42%