From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Review of Maniac (1934)
Alright, brace yourself for this one! After a typically long prologue/title card that many of the first exploitation films always had to open with, we're thrust into a laboratory where Dr. Meirschultz (Horace B. Carpenter) is conducting experiments along with his assistant, Don Maxwell, (William Woods) a web-haired former Vaudville impersonator(!) It comes as no surprise that the Doctor's plan is to re-animate dead bodies through a serum he invented. And after a night-time visit to a morgue, the Doc (Who, according to an embalmer, looks like "Santy Claus") finds his first test on a dead woman successful. But it will take 24 hours for her to be fully functional, so the body is kidnapped and taken to the Doc's mansion. Yet, the Doc is still not satisfied and wants MORE action! So now his new "Supreme accomplishment" is to have a dead body with a "Shattered heart" so that he can replace it with a bodiless heart that he has managed to keep beating! With the morgue out of the question, Maxwell is now sent to find a corpse at a mortuary. But he comes up short when he's chased out of the mortuary by some dueling cats. If that wasn't strange enough, he runs past a random dog/cat battle (I kid you not) With no body to work on, the Doc breaks down in tears and then tells Maxwell to shoot himself (????) Okay, well at least he has a reason. And that reason is if Maxwell shoots himself, the Doc will bring him back to life with his special heart! So the Doc hands Maxwell a gun to do the deed, but Maxwell isn't that much of a MANIAC (Yet), and he reverses the gun and blows away the ranting and raving doctor.
- The movie gets interrupted by a title card to explain what a "Maniac" is.
Maxwell immediately feels guilty at first, but then his evil desires emerge which is not only evident in his soliloquy to the audience, but the film gets superimposed with stock footage of Satanic imagery! Before devil-horns start growing out of Maxwell's head, he's interrupted by a Mrs. Buckley (Phyllis Diller--No, not THAT Phyllis Diller) and as Maxwell finds out, Mr. Buckly (Ted Edwards) was a patient of Meirschultz, a delusional patient who imagined himself as the "orangutan killer" from Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue" (Which won't be the last Poe nod you see in this movie) Mrs. Buckley then tells Maxwell that she will bring her husband over for a checkup. Maxwell panics, but with the help of his vaudville experience and a random makeup kit (Which just happened to be sitting in the lab) Maxwell transforms himself into Dr. Meirschultz!
- Time for another "title card break*.
Now we get to see how Maxwell's medical skills are as he does his impersonation of the Doc! And boy, does he sure get a hell of a first test with Mr. Buckly! After a mixup of needles, Maxwell accidentally picks up the SUPER-ADRENALINE shot and injects Buckly with it! It's here where we get to see the movie's most famous sequence as Buckly does his show-stopping transformation into the orangutan killer! Oh, and remember that dead body that Meirschultz brought back to life? Well, the 24 hours is up and the zombie decides to take a stroll. But talk about a rude awakening! Zombie gal is immediately abducted and raped by the orangutan killer! As this madness is going on, Mrs. Buckley discovers the doc's dead body and.....Well, sorry folks, but you've just gotta see this movie for the rest of the crazy results.
I honestly haven't felt this way about a movie since my discovery of Blood Freak. Director (And godfather exploiteer) Dwain Esper's MANIAC is another one of those cases where an unimaginable story collides with careless and inept filmmaking which results in a rare breed like this. The fact that this was disguised as an educational film (Which explains all the frequent interruptions of title cards explaining the psychosis of being a maniac) makes the concept even more ludicrous. I mean, what kind of maniacs are exactly reminiscent of the characters of Dr. Meirschultz and Maxwell?
Plus, hardcore movie fans of today who aren't particular of "Old Movies" will likely bow down to MANIAC's boldness of animal cruelty (Involving cats), nudity, violence, and just plain weirdness. Though I haven't seen the rest of Esper's filmography to know where this ranks, it's unquestionable that this is the one that stands out the most in a career of boundary-breaking exploitation epics and thus enshrined into the Bizzaro-Film-Hall-of-Fame.
Reviewed by Laydback - 1/14/08