Dwain Esper, the man who brought us the immortal Reefer Madness, directed this hilarious cult classic that plays like a Frankenstein movie cross pollinated with Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat”.
A psychotic physician blackmails an out of work actor (“Once a ham, always a ham!”) into assisting him in his experiments in which he tries to bring the dead back to life. After the assistant murders the doctor, he hides his corpse behind the basement wall and uses his acting talents to impersonate the doctor. The dude gets so crazy that he plucks the eyeball out of a cat and eats it. (“It’s not unlike an oyster or a grape!”) He also experiments on a drug that turns a patient into a wild screeching maniac who rips the clothes off of a woman and rapes her. Eventually the cops come and discover the doctor’s body and lock the assistant’s nutty ass up.
To get away with the lurid subject matter, Esper tacked on a written prologue warning the audience of the dangers of mental illness, as well as title cards in between scenes giving us a lot of medical terminology. You see because the title cards were “informative”, the nudity and murder was OK. (Esper did the same thing with Reefer Madness.) Esper’s directorial style is a little flat and stagy, but the constant close-ups of the mad doctor’s face superimposed over shots of devils (stolen footage from Haxan) are really effective.
While it may seem a little tame by today’s standards, Maniac is one of the earliest exploitation movies ever made and therefore it comes highly recommended. There’s murder, nudity, catfights (one between two women and another involving actual cats) and a little bit of gore. Filmmakers would later take these elements and run with them, but the groundwork was first laid here with Maniac.
Maniac sits atop of the Video Vacuum Top Ten of the Year for 1934 at the Number One spot.
AKA: Sex Maniac.