Alpha Video // 1934 // 51 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dylan Charles (Retired) // May 4th, 2007
He menaced women with weird desires
Everyone has a movie that they hate, that one movie that makes shivers of revulsion race down their spine. A movie so awful that they get angry every time they think about it. It's the movie that graces the number one spot on their Top Ten Worst Movies List. Maniac is mine.
Dr. Meirschultz (Horace B. Carpenter) is a scientist, bent on trying to find the secrets of life itself. His assistant is the unstable Don Maxwell (William Woods). Maxwell ends up killing the good doctor and Maxwell decides to use his vaudevillian talents to impersonate the dead man. He then proceeds to go crazier, as does the plot.
Maniac does absolutely nothing right.
First, there's the text. The director, Dwain Esper, has supplanted his movie with large blocks of text from a psychology book. These unwieldy chunks of dry writing can last up to a minute and are placed intermittently throughout the flick. The sad thing is that these vast expanses of literary desert are welcome respites from the actual movie.
Then there is an incoherent mishmash of plot. It starts out with what is now a cliché, the mad scientist and his assistant looking to raise the dead. The story rapidly falls apart after that. Characters come and go with little or no introduction. Esper dashes through at a heady pace, unwilling to develop any aspect of the plot.
Which is actually a good thing, considering how unbelievably annoying the characters are. Dr. Meirschultz is stricken with such a bad case of scenery chewing that it's a relief when he dies. Unfortunately, Maxwell is just as bad. In fact, everyone in this movie has a compulsive need to ham it up, with the unrestrained ravings of Ted Edwards as Buckley being a case in point.
Then there's the thoroughly incompetent lighting. Maniac spends a lot of time being overexposed, but it does switch things up on occasion. There's one stretch where it's so dark that it's impossible to see what is on the screen.
Because the box makes such a big deal about it, I'm going to have to mention the much purported nudity that's in Maniac. If you have yen for 1930's breasts, this movie is not the place to go. The breasts have very little screen time and when they do appear they're overexposed and washed out.
Finally, there are the little bouts of animal cruelty. Cats are pretty roughly treated, and while they aren't actually hurt (as far as I can tell), they are tossed about with carefree abandon.
According to legend (and his biography on the New York Times website), Dwain Esper was not even a filmmaker by trade, but rather, won his filmmaking equipment in a lawsuit. This explains much.
Maniac is a buffet of bad, with something for everyone to hate: the cruelty toward animals, the acting, the plot-less chaos, the softcore pornography, the poor quality of the softcore pornography.
The disc is devoid of any features and the box even has a mistake about the runtime, adding a full 16 minutes to the movie. The movie is an older one, so be prepared for scratches and dust on the film. Every last wretched howl that pours out the actors' mouths is, unfortunately, audible.
Maniac challenged the restrictive notions of what could be shown on the screen in the 1930's. And that's the only positive thing I'm saying about it.
If you're the kind of person that watched Reefer Madness and enjoyed it on a non-ironic level, then take a crack at this. Everyone else stay very far away.
Guilty. I rule that Maniac should be hanged by the neck until dead.a
Review content copyright © 2007 Dylan Charles; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Alpha Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 51 Minutes
Release Year: 1934
MPAA Rating: Not Rated