Don Maxwell is an ex-vaudeville ham, wanted by police, who has now found himself as the unlikely assistant to Dr. Meirschultz, a mad scientist in the business of reanimating corpses. Maxwell's gift of impersonation gets him and Meirschultz past the guards and into a morgue where they use a special serum to revive the corpse of a pretty young woman. But that's nothing. Dr. Meirschultz has a heart beating in a jar of solution and is eager to put it into a corpse that really needs it. Meirschultz gives his assistant a gun and advises him to commit suicide, so that he can put the heart in him, but Maxwell shoots and kills the scientist instead and hides the body. People will miss Meirschultz, Maxwell quickly realizes, but no one will miss his lowly assistant; and so Maxwell dons eyeglasses and a fake beard to become his onetime benefactor. The trouble is, he impersonates the mad doctor too well and goes crazy himself. Written by
Very bad...but still light-years ahead of its time!
This film is, in one word, DEMENTED! No matter how you try to look at it either an early underdeveloped educative docu or an ambitious exploitation pioneer, you can only come to the conclusion that this is a masterpiece of awfulness! How else would you describe a movie that features images of fighting women in a basement (with baseball bats!) or a dude munching a cat's eye (which, by the way, has just been squished out)? The whole point of "Maniac" is giving some sort of anthology about all the possible mental illnesses through the adventures of a science assistant. Maxwell helps his employer with stealing bodies from the morgue and re-animating the dead tissue for the cause of science. When his boss (Dr. Meirschultz) becomes a little too obsessed, Maxwell kills him and replaces him in performing the art of mad science. In order to give the story an Edgar Allen Poe twist, he walls up the corpse and a black cat accidentally gets buried along. "Maniac" is one giant incoherent mess! Amateurish pacing, ridiculous dialogue and downright atrocious acting make it almost impossible to sit through this film even though it only lasts only a good 50 minutes. Bill Woods and Horace B. Carpenter overact terribly and especially their diabolical laughter is pathetic. And yet I had a great time watching it and I have a great deal of respect for director Dwain Esper's risky and ahead-of-their-time ideas. Being a massive fan of eccentric exploitation and bizarre cult-films, I'm convinced that could have enjoyed a much more positive reputation by now if it only had been made in the period of sleaze-deities like Jess Franco or Jean Rollin. The editing of silent German expressionism highlights into the film is quite eerie definitely well attempted. Maniac also contains a lot of gore and even nudity, which is quite spectacular for a 1934 film. So, if you're not too easily disgusted (either by kitsch or awfulness) I recommend tracking this deranged early horror film down! I sincerely hope everyone involved in this production ended up in a mental asylum and lived happily ever after.
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