Kerwin Matthews, playing a dissolute drifter down on his luck, Jeff Farrell, is stranded in a cheap bar in France where he falls for Annette, the proprietor's pretty stepdaughter, played by Liliane Brousse. Annette's stepmother Eve, played by Nadia Gray, gradually shifts the young man's attentions to herself, rather than her stepdaughter, and together Eve and Jeff concoct a plot to help free Eve's estranged husband from the institution in which he's been confined as a homicidal maniac these past four years after committing the so-called "Acetylene Murder", when he killed with a blowtorch the man who raped Annette. The idea is that Georges, the husband, will leave the country, but, unknown to Jeff, it's not Georges who escapes but Henri, the guard who has become Eve's lover . . . Written by
Wheeler Winston Dixon
American landscape painter Geoff Farrell (Kerwin Matthews), stranded in Europe, is attracted to Annette, a young French barmaid, but ends up falling for her seductive step-mother, Eve (Nadia Gray), instead. Four years earlier, the teen-aged Annette was raped on her way home from school and her father, Georges, institutionalized for taking an acetylene torch to her assailant. Eve soon convinces Geoff to help her husband, now a local hero, escape from the insane asylum but, once free, a frightening series of events makes it look like Georges was a homicidal maniac after all...
In the wake of PSYCHO, England's Hammer Studios made a few black and white "mini-Hitchcock" thrillers that tried to emulate the "Master of Suspense". PARANOIAC, MANIAC, and HYSTERIA all featured real or imagined madness, murder, sex, and deception -along with numerous plot twists- to keep viewers on the edge of their seats with varying degrees of success. There's a stark, creepy, noir-like quality to MANIAC and the unseen rape, torture and murder in the beginning is quite disturbing. The location shooting in the isolated region of the French Camargue is a decided asset and the compelling story, written by Jimmy Sangster, includes a number of suspenseful sequences before a surprise revelation that is near impossible to see coming. I've read complaints that this wasn't directed by Freddie Francis but Michael Carreras does just fine with the gialloesque material. Recommended.
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