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Maniac More at IMDbPro »

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This early '30s Maniac is one weird film even for bad movie buffs

Author: tavm from Baton Rouge, LA
8 June 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Just went on the Flick by Flick blog and watched one of the grade Z exploitation movies of the '30s made by one Dwain Esper. This one, Maniac, concerns an actor named Don Maxwell (William Woods), on the run from the law, becoming Dr. Meirschultz' (Horace B. Carpenter) assistant and doing various unethical things like playing a coroner when checking on corpses. He later shoots the doctor and takes his place. Why? Well, watch this movie and find out (or maybe not...). There's lots of other stuff like cats and women fighting with the women also baring breasts and some "corpses" moving and that infamous scene with Satan the cat's eyeball pushed out. Maniac is as bad as its reputation with what I just mentioned as well as stilted acting on the leads' part (what's with all the fists pounding? Must be their version of "effect") with a couple of others worth mentioning: Phyllis Diller (NOT that one!) as a woman who asks Maxwell as Meirschultz for help on her husband (Ted Edwards). The needle Maxwell puts on Edwards doesn't help him but turns him into a slowly raving lunatic whose movements made me laugh as it reminded me of Moe Howard's "Slowly I turn..." part of the Three Stooges' "Niagra Falls" routine in their Gents Without Cents short. So there's some enjoyment you can get out of this picture Maniac for any bad movie buff out there. Everyone else, watch out...

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This is the worst piece of crap that I've ever seen!

Author: Teenie-1 from Warwick, Pa.
26 December 2007

OK, so I was curious to see what all the hype was about this film. What a waste of $ 9.95! I followed the beginning rather well until the plot suddenly changed and the scientist became the nut case and the nut case turned another guy into another nut case that ravaged a woman and then turned into a nut case that ate a cat's eyeball and then turned two women on each other with hypodermic needles who both appeared to be nut cases then...geez, I could go on and on but I won't because after the first 10 minutes, it made absolutely no sense to me. And what was with the animals? Cats? Dogs? Frogs? Huh???? I was waiting for cockroaches....

Don't waste your time, folks. Esper's Reefer Madness at least made more sense.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

That reminds me, I have pressing business.

Author: Ben Larson from Leesburg, FL
14 September 2011

Don't look at this as a horror film. It is, and not much different than other horror films of the time, but it is more an exploitation film of the 30s. This was made before the production code, and the director, Dwain Esper, tries to push the envelope.

Horace B. Carpenter as Dr. Meirschultz was the perfect mad scientist. He even had the mad scientist laugh down pat. Make-up artist William Woods, on the lam from the law, played his assistant.

It was a little bit Reanimator, and a little bit Frankenstein. It was not supposed to be a comedy, but it was funny throughout.

I had to laugh at the use of psychiatric terms popular at the time. This puts it in the category of "message" films, whereby they tried to use messages to cover the exploitation.

Tame by today's standards, it is nevertheless a glimpse into moviedom's past.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Not graphic?!

Author: carly_corday-1 from United States
27 July 2007

I watched "Maniac" last night on my 50 Classic Horror Films DVD collection. That is, I watched some of it. At first I was wildly entertained, being an old-scary-movie buff since earliest childhood, but finally, I shook my head and turned it off, because really, nothing was happening, although at first, the movie was extremely "busy." But I read here in a review that the sex and horror in this movie is "mild." I don't think so! The violence against the reanimated suicide girl was one of the most shocking things I've ever seen in film outside of "I Spit On Your Grave" and far outdoing the much-maligned "Straw Dogs." I don't think this precise scene (in the woods) would be allowed in a trashy cult movie today. However, if you're particularly depraved, and thinking of renting it for a thrill because of my foregoing last remarks, you're sure to be tragically disappointed. If you're that depraved, you will have seen far, far, far worse in your pursuit of this kind of thing, and you'll only laugh, or else spend days looking in vain for the supposed "scene" I am referring to. Anyway...I wonder how this movie ends? Ha Ha.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A case against Film Preservation

Author: JoeB131 from United States
24 February 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Every so often on channels like TCM and AMC, you see ads asking you to donate to film preservation. Well, guys, there are some films that deserve to vanish from view, and Maniac (AKA Sex Maniac)is one of them.

I mean, you have every thing you could want. 1930's vintage toplessness, overacting, implied necrophilia, chick fights, cats getting their eyes gouged out. I'm not sure who the audience for this film was, exactly. It wasn't erotic enough to be considered a "stag" picture (what they used to call porn films in the bad old days.)

This film was produced by Dwain Esper, who produced such gems as "Tell Your Children" (Later known as "Reefer Madness", often shown at midnight matinées in the 1970's to hoards of pot-smoking teens.) and "Can it happen again", an awful movie about the supposed private life of Adolf Hitler. The amusing thing, I suppose, is that Mr. Esper probably thought he was making things with socially redeeming value. The film is inter-spliced with texts from psychology handbooks using now obsolete terms.

I have no doubt this film was made to try to cash in on the buzz caused by "Frankenstein", with a mad scientist character trying to bring the dead back to life. His assistant, a ham actor from Vaudeville (on the run for charges not quite clear) kills him before he could become the subject of his next experiment, and then attempts to impersonate the doctor.

What follows is a mess so confused that you couldn't figure it out on a bet.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Absolutely the worst movie of all time

Author: shanorm from United States
8 January 2007

I have seen some pretty bad movies but this one takes the cake. I use to think that Plan 9 was the worse until this one. There isn't any continuity, production values or acting to be found. I couldn't even say that there was a plot. I have seen High school videos that were better acted. I have been a fan of "bad" movies for 30 years and I can say with certainty that this is the worse!! Most movies are made with some sort of purpose, be it entertainment, education or exploitation. This one can't make up what it wants to be. Interjecting definitions of psychosis with jarring music, puerile "tittie" shots and a weirdly beating heart not to mention the cat'e eye scene made me think that the people responsible (you notice I don't call them Director or producer)were high when they did this movie. No one seems to notice that the sex maniac left with a blonde but was attacking a brunette. Although using scenes from the Swedish silent movie "witchcraft through the ages" to show madness might have worked, the scenes chosen didn't make sense and the effects were awful.I think the budget must have been $100 and was used on editing in the scenes from the silent movie.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

If you like movies with cat's eyes popping out of their heads, you'll like this one...

Author: Mr. Uforia from Kent, Ohio, USA
6 November 1999

This has got to be one of the stupidest movies I've ever seen. Although regarded as a cult classic, it rips on classic Po tales and offers nothing as far as cinematic genius. Great film if you're in seek of "envelope pushers" of the 30s, but otherwise, it's only worth a laugh.

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3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

MANIAC (Dwain Esper, 1934) *1/2

Author: MARIO GAUCI ( from Naxxar, Malta
23 January 2010

Esper's most notorious effort is almost a fiction film; I say almost because while there is certainly a story being told here, there are continual interruptions – sometimes in mid-sequence! – by title cards blandly delineating the nature of various types of mental disorders. The plot concerns a mad scientist and his even nuttier assistant – cue some of the most florid, yet oddly enjoyable, overacting in movie history – who steal a fresh corpse from the morgue (looking more like the basement of Dracula's castle!) in order to revive it by transplanting a beating human heart the doc has somehow acquired. However, the two cannot see eye to eye – especially when the old man asks his pupil to shoot himself so that he will then perform a transplant on him as well! Naturally, at this, the latter kills the scientist instead and, being something of an actor ("Once a ham, always a ham!" Dr. Meirschultz snidely remarks) impersonates him, since he happens to own a personal make-up kit and carries it along with him! Soon, he gets his first patient – a man who thinks he is the killer ape from Poe's "Murders In The Rue Morgue"(!): however, the inexperienced medico 'unwittingly' (hardly since the two needles are so obviously different in size!) administers the wrong medication and he goes berserk, first ranting about how his brain is on fire and then making off into the countryside with the revived girl from the morgue and ravages her (after which he is never heard from again)!! That said, his wife – who had accompanied him to the doctor's – is a schemer and hangs around; more trouble comes the protagonist's way when he is visited by his estranged wife while he is posing as the scientist. So, he has a stroke of genius and sends the two women to the basement of his lab armed with hypodermic needles making each believe the other is dangerous and needs to be sedated! Still, the much-talked about cat-fight which ensues between them does not really involve the syringes as they are dropped practically instantly. Also worth mentioning is the liberal but totally irrelevant use of footage from two Silent masterworks – Benjamin Christensen's HAXAN (1922) and Fritz Lang's THE NIBELUNGEN (1924) – in an attempt to emphasize the lead character's deranged state-of-mind, and also the abhorrent treatment of cats on display – among the film's most infamous sequences is that in which a feline has one of its eyes ripped out and eaten (though a completely different and apparently half-blind animal was used expressly for this shot!) but when it is violently thrown against a sheet of glass, this seems all-too-real!! The film ends with the Police bursting on the scene to find the two women still in the basement and the deceased Professor walled-up a' la "The Black Cat", having been alerted to his presence – as in Poe's tale (and countless other films) by the meowing of the feline which had itself been inadvertently entombed! Had Esper exerted more self-control and infused some real cinematic sense into his picture, MANIAC could well pass off for one of the oddest horror outings of the 1930s…but, as it stands, can only be deemed a relic and an undeniable curio – as both 'Grade Z' exploitation and, for what it is worth, a record of known variations of insanity (and their attributes) up to that time. Incidentally, in case anyone is wondering, this film rates higher than BOMB for me because - unlike NARCOTIC (1933) which was a total bore - this actually manages to be so preposterous as to be highly amusing.

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3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

quite simply, the worst film ever made,...and that's STILL being very charitable!

Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
4 February 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

For years, I thought that PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE was the worst movie ever made. However, in recent years I have seen quite a few films that actually were worse--though certainly not as much fun to watch. Of these films that are actually worse than PLAN 9, the very worst of these is MANIAC. In every possible way, it is worse than PLAN 9 and makes Ed Wood, Jr. look like one of the greatest writers/producers/directors that ever lived in comparison! Sure, both films had random stock footage inserted, but MANIAC managed not only to come up with more pointless footage BUT also managed to torment dogs and cats again and again and again!! The folks at PETA would have strokes if they saw the orchestrated animal fights and the average viewer will wonder WHAT these scenes have to do with the film (the correct answer, by the way, is "Nothing"). Other than Michael Vick, I can't see who would want to see this.

Both films also featured the worst actors of the day, but apparently 1934 had a bumper crop!! The guy who played the mad scientist was so awful and overacted so much that he made Tor Johnson (from PLAN 9) look like a thespian!! And so many of the supporting actors and actresses could barely read or remember their lines--in particular, the ladies who were undressing (in another irrelevant scene). Finally, the guy who was accidentally given the injection of "super adrenalin" overacted MUCH worse than the piano-playing guy from REEFER MADNESS!! I truly think the average 6 year-old is potentially a better actor than most of the folks who appeared in this movie.

But the worst aspect, and something that beats PLAN 9 for badness, is the plot and editing. I have never seen a more disconnected and plot-less film. It looked either like the director kept changing his mind and started and re-started many different films and ultimately just spliced them all together OR he was an active schizophrenic. Some parts were silly horror film, some was a porno flick (with a lot of exposed breasts), some was a snuff film for people who hate animals (featuring not just cat fights but a very, very, very realistic scene where a guy pops out the eye of a cat and eats it--done in closeup), and some was just irrelevant clips of ANYTHING they find!! And, on top of all this irrelevance, they interspersed long and dry text explanations of the accepted diagnoses of the day for mental illnesses (though terms such as "Dementia Praecox" are no longer used or accepted). No attempt was made to connect all this disparate images--like it was edited with a chainsaw!

Unfortunately, unlike PLAN 9, this film is also not particularly watchable or interesting. Perhaps bad movie films will still enjoy this mess, but due to it's high level of smut (something that Ed Wood, by the way, put into his later films--post PLAN 9) and disjointness, it's just not interesting--just BAD!

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4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

The Greatest Bad Movie Ever

Author: Michael_Elliott from Louisville, KY
27 February 2008

Maniac (1934)

BOMB (out of 4)

Dwain Esper "directs" this notoriously awful horror/exploitation film about an insane vaudeville actor (Bill Woods) who murders a doctor (Horace B. Carpenter) and then takes over his role, which just leads to women fighting, cat's eyes being ripped out and worse.

When people think about the horror films from the 30s their minds usually go towards the Universal films. After that stuff like FREAKS, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE or even WHITE ZOMBIE will come up but something like MANIAC also need to be discussed because it's clearly the worst horror film of the decade and one of the wackiest movies ever made. MANIAC is much like Ed Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE in that you can hear all the crazy stuff about it but you just won't be prepared for how insane it actually is.

MANIAC is a complete disaster from the start and it just keeps dumber and more insane as the fifty-minute running time drags on. Like a lot of exploitation pictures, this one here tries to pass itself off as an educational movie but don't be fooled. The only thing this movie wants to do is shock you with insane scenes including a doctor pulling out a cat's eye and eating it! I mean, can you imagine watching that with a crowd from 1934? You've got women fighting with needles and a scene of women getting dressed that really stands out in a film like this.

Not only is the story insane but so are the performances. Woods delivers a performance unlike anything you will ever seen. The camp factor is off the charts as he goes so far over-the-top that you can't help but laugh. Check out the scene with the guy who has a breakdown after the doctor shoots him up with something. I'm going to guess that they were aiming for a Renfield type of scene but this here is just nuts.

MANIAC is a really, really awful movie but thankfully it's so bad that you can't help but laugh and have a great time with it. Movies that are "so awful they're great" is used way too much these days. When you really get down to it there are very few that really live up to the hype and this here is one of them.

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