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In the 1980s, thanks to the Brothers Medved, "Plan 9" earned the reputation
as the worst film of all time. In the 1990s, thanks to MST3K, "Manos, the
Hands of Fate" earned the worst film moniker.
Allow me to submit the film "Maniac" as the very worst. This film is so wretched, so fallible, so awful, it's impossible not to have an opinion about it.
"Maniac" is a film of almost no reputation. However, cult film critic Danny Peary called it the very worst. It's easy to see why. "Maniac" has almost no frame of film that is expertly produced. The film is grainy, shots are poorly executed, actors are rendered unseeable by being filmed standing behind test tubes.
"Maniac" easily has the worst acting in any film, from any time, any country. Overacting must have been a prerequisite to being hired for this film. Everyone talks in such an imposing, declaratory style, you'd think you were watching a session of Congress. At least "Plan 9" has professional actors such as Lyle Talbot; at least "Manos" has interesting characterizations. "Maniac" cannot boast any of that, except that actor Horace Carpenter once worked at Biograph with D.W. Griffith. What a comedown for him to be in this film.
Don't get me wrong; the film is a hoot to watch. From the incredible cat's eye scene to the cat fighting to the women fighting with syringes, "Maniac" has it all.
This film, made in 1934, may surprise people with its brief nude scenes. But it was a "roadshow" movie, so it's not really surprising at all. This was the kind of movie that could only be seen in burlesque houses or tent shows. Often, a promoter would put ads about the movie in the local papers, gaining huge interest in the film. The promoter would pitch a tent on the outskirts of town for the screening of the film. The promoter all too often would have to fold the tent and get out of town quickly, trying to avoid local authorities and local moral laws.
Do yourself, do your family, do your community a favor. Rent "Maniac" and see if you don't agree it's the worst ever.
You'll howl, you'll cry, you'll kiss your rental money goodbye!
See! Incredible eye-popping scenes! See! A bevy of chorus beauties! See! Mad scientists go even madder! See! How long you can stand watching it!
If you have never seen a Dwain Esper film you might feel nervous sitting in a room with people who have seen and enjoy them. Curiously there is no middle ground for Dwain Esper, you either love his films or you hate them. He was no filmmaker; originally he was a real estate agent and one of his clients defaulted on a mortgage and left a house full of filmmaking equipment. Esper was wondering what to do with all the stuff and suddenly the movie making bug bit him and that was that; he had a new career. Dwain was no Edward D. Wood. Eddie's films have a laughable ineptness but the sincerity was there despite the shortcomings, and they were legion. He wasn't even comparable with Andy Milligan whose filmic efforts make Ed Wood look like John Ford by comparrison. If I HAVE to compare Dwain with someone it could only be David Friedman. Both went directly for the cinematic equivalent of a heart punch and gave us images so unrelentingly gritty and brutal they dared us to keep looking. Having seen most of Dwain's movies I have to say MANIAC is his magnum opus. Horace Carpenter, a former director of silent westerns (check out FLASHING STEEDS sometime) and member of Cecil B. DeMille's stock company (ROMANCE OF THE REDWOODS, JOAN THE WOMAN, etc) plays Dr. Mierschultz, the maddest doctor to step in front of a camera. Bill Woods is his assistant, the dangerously neurotic Maxwell who is on the run from the police (we never find out why but Dwain was not one to clutter up his screenplays with needless facts). Neither of these characters is playing with a full deck. Meirschultz restores life to a dead woman and wants to restore someone else by transplanting a living heart into a dead body. When he demands that Maxwell shoot himself it brings an abrupt end to their employee/employer relationship and Maxwell kills him and decides to take his place ("I not only look like Mierschultz, I AM Mierschultz! I will be a great man!") And this is where the movie gets REALLY weird! The film has lately been restored and it available on both video and DVD so I don't want to spoil the surprises; and there are a lot of them in the 55 minute roller coaster ride of a movie. I will warn all cat lovers to avoid this movie. There are one or two scenes that will bother them, but there is no animal cruelty! That one eyed cat was a real one that Dwain bought from an animal shelter. Dwain always claimed he was making educational films to warn people against drugs, promiscuity, and to enlighten people about mental illness. He must have known it isn't WHAT you say but HOW you say it. So pop this cassette into your VCR. Good luck to you all. Viddy well, little brother, viddy well.
This film has no cohesive story, go figure it's an exploitation film, and as a true exploitation film it provides an abundance of spectacle. Maniac is about a......well a maniac. Throughout the film intertitles appear that define aberrant mental states (dementia, praecox, paranoia, etc..). Spectacle is furnished scenes such as a man popping a cats eye out of it's head and eating it, two women lounge about in their underwear, two women fighting with syringes!! Finally the last two scenes are nudie strip scenes, and are inserted for titillation sake only! Suicide recovery, cat chasing mouses, mad scientists, and a guy ranting "rats eat raw meat--you know, cat carcasses...so the rats eat the cats, the cats eat the rats, and I get the skins", are all part of this disjointed viewing experience everyone should see!!
I am somewhat embarrassed to say this, but _Maniac_ is simply not that bad
of a film. The acting is hammy, but its ineptitude doesn't even approach
the Ed Wood level. This is an exploitation film, pure and simple. It was
created to show insanity and scantily clad women when such things were
prohibited from the mainstream. It is actually quite entertaining,
especially when compared to other 1930s B-movies. The plot is certainly
loopy, but not beyond following.
_Maniac_ is not a "good" film, but I would not put it anywhere near the running for worst movie of all time. That honor should be reserved for complete disasters like _Manos, The Hands of Fate_, _Robot Monster_ (which is probably the ultimate "so bad it's good" film), _Glen or Glenda_, _Big Jim McLain_, _Ninja Wars_, _The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant_, or _Dracula vs. Frankenstein_. These films were trying to be snappy entertainment and came out horribly wrong. _Maniac_ was trying to be exactly what it is.
I remember the first time I sat down to watch CITIZEN KANE many years ago. That movie had the reputation of being perhaps the greatest American film of all time, and I was sure I was going to be disappointed. I wasn't. It's a brilliant piece of film making that I've enjoyed again and again over the years, and one of the few times I remember thinking that a much-hyped film had actually exceeded its publicity. Last night I had a similar experience: I watched Dwaine Esper's classic MANIAC. We may be talking about the other end of the cinematic scale here but my reaction was similar: here was a movie I'd read about for years which not only lived up to the hype but surpassed it. MANIAC is a work of demented genius. I can't remember seeing another film that was more assuredly the product of a man unhampered by matters of good taste or conventional film making technique. It's one of the most consistently watchable and entertaining features I've seen, with an atmosphere more reminiscent of an old underground movie that a Hollywood production. The over the top acting, ludicrous but somehow clever dialogue, and nightmarish imagery (raving madmen superimposed over footage from silent horror classics, way ahead of its time gratuitous nudity, people being shot up with hypodermics the size of harpoons, and a killer catfight between two ferocious and seemingly indestructible women) all combine into a unique and surreal viewing experience. And yet the most shocking thing about this movie is the flashes of actual talent it displays (albiet sparingly). The sets and photography are occasionally quite atmospheric, and some of the dialogue, if competently delivered, would have seemed quite clever and original, foreshadowing the "postmodern" exchanges of people like Tarantino. All in all a movie that defines by example the word "unique" and an experience not to be missed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This piece of insanity is the work of Dwain Esper, perhaps the
granddaddy of bad movie making, the precursor of such other infamous
names as Ed Wood or Doris Wishman. I pay my utmost respects to the man
who - unlike the latter - never managed to contract any "real" actors
for his films or any other talent for that matter. MANIAC is even worse
than his other brainchild, REEFER MADNESS or MARIHUANA,THE DEVIL'S WEED
(1936), probably the first film to deal with the effects of marijuana,
although Esper's NARCOTIC (1933) covered various kinds of narcotics,
I'm not exactly sure if marijuana is covered too (haven't seen that one
yet). Interesting note: Dwain Esper also was associated with the
production of Tod Browning's earlier masterpiece FREAKS (1932), not on
the credits though.
This piece of work deals with the subject of insanity, as in mental disease and psychiatry. It's about various forms of madness and for all you voyeurs out there, there's various forms of female nudity in it as well. Most people who read reviews want to know what the movie is about. I don't know what it's about, I'll just describe some things I saw.
A mad scientist, Dr. Mierschultz, decides to employ some vaudeville artist. In bad movies, scientists always need non-scientific helpers, who never seem to be useful anyway. Usually either one of them ends up being killed, used for some kind of sick experiment, or - in this case - the scientist himself is killed by his new employee, an interesting "plot twist". So, the vaudeville artist puts on his false beard and takes on the identity of the mad scientist and grows more insane with each passing minute. Why? Because Dwain Esper wanted it that way.
What follows are the infamous cat eye-popping scene, a catfight with two drugged women using baseball bats, homicide, some bare-breasted women, some incredible examples of over-acting and lots more. Between the scenes, the viewer gets some psycho-analytical (des)information about various mental disorders, which were novel and quite en vogue at the time. Everything from manic depression, dementia praecox, to schizophrenia is covered and is apparently the sole explanation for the existence of this slice of dementia.
Camera Obscura --- 5/10
This movie is one of my guilty little pleasures. The more I watch it the more I just have to laugh. This is far from one of the worst movies ever made, but it may be one of the most pointless. The actors are the founding fathers of the Shatner-Hasselhoff school of ham. The camera work is horrid. The plot -- lets see how many gratuitous points of senselessness we can throw into one movie and still base it (vaguely) on as many Edgar Allen Poe shorts we can throw in. Who cares about continuity we can always film cats. The best part of these 50 minutes is the blatant attempts by the film maker to make this exhibitionist trash a legitimate "educational" flick. Love it or hate it everyone with an interest in psychology, z-rated movies, or just an hour to pointlessly kill should watch this at least once.
I'd venture to guess that HBO could come up with a decent series about gypsy movie producers skirting the Hays Office of the 1930's... guys like Dwain Esper running all over Depression-Era America showing T&A "sex education" flicks in fraternal lodges and burlesque houses... it's just too bad that the movies they made stink (maybe that's their appeal). MANIAC is patently awful... Framed within chapters straight out of a pre-war DSM manual, MANIAC has so much to mention, all of it bad. Bill Woods is deserves particular notice for his relentless over- errh, I hate to call it 'acting' but in the Land of Hams, he would be King of Pork. Rivaling Woods is the uniquely bad Horace B. Carpenter. Everything in MANIAC screams for something better. Actresses appear and vanish (and in one case change altogether) for no discernible reason (although I suspect one probably balked at being topless). There's a couple of gratuitous topless shots--- one of which makes absolutely no sense and Esper has spliced in some (probably, no undoubtedly better) silent movie into the scene where Maxwell goes nutzoid at the end. THE INTERESTING THING: The "cinematographer" William C. Thompson deserves special notice: his work REALLY sucks. Camera movements are terrible, the lighting is horrible and there's a jerky feeling in every scene (lots of shots of cats and rats)... but wait! Thompson would later go on to become ED WOOD'S cinematographer (look... goosebumps!) and would obviously never truly get any real grip on his craft. I suspect Thompson was played by the ubiquitous Norman Alden in Tim Burton's homage to the antithesis of cinematic greatness, 1994's ED WOOD (4-stars!), but his character is unnamed. MANIAC has historic interest as a footnote showing how stupid an independent producer/director could get with a camera and what looks like a $400 budget. Rumor has it that Esper was a prosperous slumlord who obtained an abandoned movie camera and editing equipment from a tenant. Esper must've turned a buck on these things because he was able to keep grinding them out... but Maniac makes the worst drivel spewed out by Educational Films and PRC look like art. NO STARS!
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.
All right, I admit that "Reefer Madness" had continuity one could
follow; but after you lose interest in 'counter-culture' naughtiness,
that movie does get a little dull quite often.
The thing I like about "Maniac" is that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Although narrative bits and pieces are borrowed from mainstream horror films of that era, and of course from the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, they're never actually woven together in any coherent manner. Nor is there any relationship established between these and the recurrent dictionary definitions of various psychoses that appear on title cards with syrupy strings playing in the background.
And of course none of it's believable in anyway - especially the make-up when the killer 'disguises' himself as the mad scientist.
However, I will say that the pacing here is swift, the dialog hilarious, the acting overwrought to the point of pure self-parody, and, after all, folks - it's only 51 minutes.
And it only cost me $2 - one just has to do one's shopping more carefully.
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