Bizarre Exploitation from the 30's
frankenberry | Los Angeles, CA USA | 05/14/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This double-feature DVD features 2 early 1930's exploitation films from Dwain Esper. Although maybe tame by today's standards, just try to imagine seeing people shoot up heroin in a movie back in the 30's! It's all very high camp now, of course, and if you like antique sleaze, this may be your thing. Esper was definitely no Kubrick, but he has his own strange and absurd style...inserting shots that have no point, suddenly cutting away to show animals fighting each other, superimposing stock footage, etc. Could he be the precursor to Ed Wood? Anyway, some highlights of the 2 films include a real shot of a cesarian birth of a baby, a snake eating another snake, a cat's eyeball poked out (and then eaten by the maniac), a couple of real sideshow freaks, some brief nudity as a psycho carries off a woman to ravish her, and of course lots of over-the-top acting. Both movies tried to get around the censoring codes of the time by pretending to have a message (narcotics are bad), but the movies are strictly exploitative. The prints used for this DVD are scratchy and have some jumps here and there, but considering the age and that no major studio was behind these films, this may be the best materials available. Also on the DVD is the trailer for "Maniac", some letters from the censor at the time, an excerpt from a silent italian film "Maciste in Hell" that footage was superimposed in "Maniac", and audio commentary by an author-expert on Esper and such films. A worthy purchase if you like stuff like "Reefer Madness", etc., but don't expect any scalpings in "Maniac" ---it's actually a loose re-telling of "The Black Cat"."
PRE - CODE HORROR CLASSIC
Scoundrel | Ann Arbor, Michigan USA | 03/15/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Forget the rest...This is the best available version of Dwain Esper's MANIAC on DVD.
KINO presents this exploitation shocker in a print from the UCLA Film and Television Archive that puts other DVD versions to shame. Not to say that this is material worthy of The Criterion Collection, but you'll not find a better version of Dwain Esper's twisted take on "The Black Cat" on DVD.
Dwain Esper was later known for distributing MGM's "FREAKS" after the studio shelved their own product out of embarrassment. Never one to shy away from exploiting material to make a buck, Esper added the " Special Attraction" prologue that now exists on most prints and made a small fortune distributing the film.
Complete with inserts from the silent film MACISTE IN HELL used to suggest madness, wax heads of famous executed criminals under the main title, women dueling with hypodermic needles in a cellar, brief nudity, body snatching from a morgue and suggested animal cruelty, MANIAC is Esper's best known claim to fame and must be seen to be believed.