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Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 01/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ladies and gentlemen, the search is over. I have discovered the worst film ever made. This atrocity from 1934 is only 51 minutes long, but there is so, so much to talk about I hardly know where to begin. The sheer impossibility of this film actually makes it important, however. Maniac is essentially the grand-daddy of all exploitation movies, but this goes way beyond simple exploitation. It is paramount that we assign the blame for this movie where it is due: producer/director Dwayne Esper. palmed this film off as an actual study of mental illness-throughout the movie, we are occasionally presented with place cards detailing the types of mental illness our educational movie is about to illustrate. I can't believe this was actually released in the 1930s; there's even some partial nudity in this thing (though, of course, no glimpse of the evil belly button forbade by the infamous Hayes Code). Apparently, Esper made his educational entertainment films outside of Hollywood and thus avoided the type of censorship being practiced in Tinsel Town. The movie begins in the lab of Dr. Meirshultz (Horace Carpenter), a mad scientist obsessed with restoring life to corpses. He needs a dead body, of course, and he orders his assistant Don Maxwell (Bill Woods) to get him into the morgue. Maxwell is a former vaudeville entertainer and impersonator, so he passes himself off as the coroner and gets the good doctor inside the morgue (somehow fooling two incompetent and quite possibly inebriated morgue workers). Doc gives the lucky, female stiff a couple of jabs from his huge hypo, and after a few minutes of intense arm rubbing, she begins to stir. The boys hurry home gleefully with their prize. Not content to reanimate one measly corpse in one day, Meirshultz now insists on reanimating someone with a "shattered" heart. Did I mention that we are treated with random scenes of dogs, cats, and mice running around attacking each other throughout the film? Anyway, a couple of fighting cats scare Maxwell out of the undertaker's office, and he runs all the way home. Doc is furious that he failed him and naturally comes up with the idea of using Maxwell as the victim whom he will revive with his pulsating artificial heart in a jar. Rather than shoot him himself, he gives the gun to Maxwell and gives him the incredible opportunity of killing himself in the name of science. Guess who ends up with a bullet in him? Maxwell now comes up with the idea of impersonating the doctor and almost immediately finds a patient at his door. Mrs. Buckley (played by Phyllis Diller, but not THAT Phyllis Diller) has brought in her husband for further treatment. Mr. Buckley (Ted Edwards) thinks he is the orangutan from Edgar Allen Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Maxwell decides to give him a shot filled with water to get rid of him but accidentally jabs him with the great big hypo of super-adrenaline. It is at this point that you should pause the movie, call your friends, and prepare yourself for one of the most unforgettably over the top, hammiest scenes ever filmed-you have to see it to believe it, and even then you might not believe it. Eventually, Buckley grabs the newly reanimated young lady, runs off into the night with her (actually, it's a completely different actress than we saw before, but you're not supposed to notice), rips off her gown, and presumably doesn't stop there. Back to the lab: Maxwell decides he must revive Dr. Meirshultz, but the darned cat eats the artificial heart. It is about this time that Maxwell starts jabbering on and on about "the gleam" and commences to get hold of Satan (that's the cat's name) and pop one of his eyes out-yes, I know this is rather gross, but rest assured that the prop used not only doesn't look like a real cat, it is not even the same color as Satan). Now, I know you're wondering: does he eat the cat eyeball? Well, of course he does; this movie is called Maniac for a reason. He's still got this dead body to dispose of, so he takes it down in the basement and exploits another one of Poe's short stories by bricking up the corpse. Now things start to get weird. We are suddenly taken to a hotel room full of four young women prancing around in their skivvies. One of these is Maxwell's wife, we learn, and she reads in the newspaper that her estranged husband has just inherited gobs of money. Naturally, she suddenly yearns to be reconciled with her dear sweet hubby. Eventually, we end up with Mrs. Maxwell and Mrs. Buckley locked up in the basement in a bonafide knock-down, drag-out catfight while Maxwell continues to demonstrate every facet of mental illness upstairs. The police eventually arrive and finally succeed at ending this atrocious movie. I wish I could tell you more in the space of this review; I encourage you to do some Internet searches and read some of the detailed (and hilarious) information cult movie fans have written about this strong contender for worst movie ever made. I am really in a quandary when it comes to giving this movie a rating. It more than deserves the lowest rating possible because it is truly an atrocious movie, yet it is so weird and unbelievable (especially for its time) that it has become a cult classic that lovers of atrociously bad cinema, particularly of the horror variety, simply must experience. Quite reluctantly, I'm giving it five stars for having gone where no bad movie has gone before , but please heed my warning-if you don't love bad horror movies, you will absolutely abhor this film."
ANOTHER VERSION, PERCHANCE..?
Mart Sander | www.martsander.com | 07/12/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This one truly is an unforgettable mishmash... really enjoyable bad film with lots of laughs in the store for the one who dares. But: this release as depicted above (red cover) is using incredibly poor source material. Amazon.com also sells another version: Navarre Corporation/Reel Values Triple Feature Horror Classics Volume 9 (wow! sounds like a British address!) features The Maniac which looks much better. It's almost as cheap, but it comes with two other flicks which are mediocre but quite watchable. Recommended!"
A Wonderful, Bizarre Film. Quality of Alpha Release so-so
Michael W. Miller | Franklin, VA | 05/10/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you are looking at this review you probably already know the story of the fim, Maniac. A film you have to see to believe. A sampling of the things that happen in this 1933 film: A woman is brought back to life, an unemployed actor kills an insane scientist, a man plucks out a cat's eyeball then eats it, a crazy man is injected with Super Adreniline, a man rapes the woman who was brought back from the dead, there is nudity, there are misspelled words in the pseudo scientific inter-titles, a man is walled up ala Poe's the Black Cat, etc. AND, this all happens in 51 minutes!Alpha's release is not great, but watchable. If you are curious about this title, then spend the $.... If you like it, then wait and perhaps some company will release a nice print. As I suspect this will be unlikely, go ahead and take a gamble on the Alpha release. There are no extras on the disk and is contains only 4 chapter stops. Hey, what do you expect for $...?"
I Am Just Numb with Joy
Lonnie E. Holder | Columbus, Indiana, United States | 08/19/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I guess I am one of the few people unimpressed by this sad excuse for a movie. Other reviewers consider this movie to be of the "so bad it's good" variety. I consider this movie so bad that it is just plain bad. I did put this movie above one star for a couple of reasons, which I shall explain.
Dr. Meirschultz (Horace B. Carpenter, who appeared in uncredited roles in dozens of films until his death in 1945) apparently attended the Dr. Frankenstein School of Recreation, because he has a nearly insane (did I say nearly?) desire to make dead bodies live. All mad scientists, or mad people in movies, as the case may be, must have an assistant. Dr. Meirschultz's assistant is Don Maxwell (William "Bill" Woods, who later became a makeup artist for movies like "Gunga Din" and "Around the World in Eighty Days"; this was William Woods' only film role). However, Don Maxwell is not just any stupid assistant. When Dr. Meirschultz asks Maxwell to kill himself so that Meirschultz can revive him with a heart that he has been keeping alive in a jar, Maxwell decides that dying is not in his best interest and takes out the good(?) doctor instead. Then Maxwell hits on the great idea of replacing Meirschultz because of his great knowledge of makeup - I guess this movie was indeed the start of a great career.
This movie gets weirder and weirder. Maxwell starts fixating on the "gleam," which apparently generates feelings of paranoia in Maxwell. Maxwell keeps insisting that various characters have the "gleam," by which I suppose he can tell that those people need killed. But Maxwell, and at least one other character, also take the opportunity to get their hands on beauteous babes because they are, as the original title of this movie suggests, sex maniacs.
Somewhere along the line Maxwell gets hold of a cat named Satan and pops its eyeball out. The cat does not look all that real, but the eyeball does. Guess what Maxwell has for a snack? Maxwell then walls up the corpse of Dr. Meirschultz and the live cat, a la Edgar Alan Poe. You can figure out where this subplot is going.
Just to make this movie even more surreal, we get images of various critters throughout, along with overlaid images of various beings, including what appears to be Satan (the real Satan, not the cat). I suppose these overlaid images were to indicate that evil influenced Maxwell to do what he did. Or they could have just been there to make the movie seem more avant-garde.
This movie contains explanations throughout that seem to vaguely indicate that this movie has something to do with an explanation or study of insanity. The explanations may have been part of an attempt to avoid censorship since there is brief nudity, violence and more than a little bizarre behavior in this movie. However, the explanations fail to match the action in the movie and are more confusing than explanatory.
Before I forget, near the end of the movie we are treated to a no-holds-barred fight between two women that looks incredibly real. I think director Dwain Esper, whose wife wrote the script for this mess, threw in everything he could think of to appeal to people with bizarre tastes. I have no idea whether his ploy translated to box office success.
Eliminate the explanations of insanity between segments and this movie becomes very surreal. However, being surreal does not make a movie good. Neither does gratuitous sex and violence; they can make a film interesting, but not good - by themselves. This movie seems to be snippets of Edgar Allan Poe mixed with Mary Shelley and flavored by Robert Louis Stevenson. There are probably other influences "borrowed" from other sources. The problem is that none of this stuff is very cogent, and the movie is mostly fascinating in a morbid way rather than from being entertaining or artistic. I had to watch this mess twice just to make some vague sense of all of it.
This movie does have enough experimentation, purposeful or inadvertent, that it does have some interesting moments for students of film. Fans of bad horror movies will also have something to poke fun at. Those two positive aspects of this film suggest that the film is worth two stars. Unfortunately, the movie takes itself too seriously and it fails to rise (or lower, depending on your point of view) to the level of the cult turkey "Plan 9 from Outer Space."
Good luck; you will need it!
Schlock's Primordial Ooze!
Bindy Sue FrÝnkŁnschtein | under the rubble | 01/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"From the ancient sludge of Dwain Esper's seedy brain comes MANIAC! A mad scientist and his eraserheaded assistant / henchman steal a body from the morgue in order to re-animate it with a secret serum. Luckily for us, the body is that of a young babe who spends a lot of time naked. Back at the lab, Dr. Mearschultz (our mad scientist) decides he must have another corpse so he can try out his new synthetic heart. His assistant goes to the local mortuary, but is scared away by two tomcats locked in mortal combat. As an alternate plan, Dr. M comes up with the brilliant idea of having his croney shoot himself! Well, he plugs Dr. M instead, then disguises himself as the Dr.! A woman stops by with a man who thinks he's the simian killer from Poe's "Murders In The Rue Morgue". Our new "doctor" gives the guy an injection of adrenaline instead of the water he'd planned on giving him, causing the already kooky guy to go completely bananas. He runs amok, grabbing the recently revived dead gal (remember her?) and taking her out for an evening of animalistic savagery and topless debauchery. Meanwhile, a neighbor shows a police officer his backyard cat farm and yammers eloquently about his cat-skinning enterprise. Across town, four women are having a late-night discussion in their underwear, when one of them reads in the paper that her husband (our fake doctor Mearschultz) has inherited a fortune. She throws on some clothes and rushes to tell her beloved. Unfortunately, her hubby has gone quite mad and plots his wife's demise. This evolves into a righteous catfight between wifey and the woman who brought in gorilla-man. It takes place in the basement (where the real doctor Mearschultz and his cat "satan" have been bricked up in the wall). The cops arrive, finding poor doctor M after hearing satan's meows of distress. The next scene has the Eraserheaded assistant / henchman behind bars, where he seems a bit TOO happy. The End. There, now you know the story, and I didn't even mention the incredible feline-eyeball-eating-scene. I can only hope that you enjoy this film as much as I did. It should be shown to all psychology majors across this great land..."