All of these supposed negatives, however, make Maniac disturbing on more levels than has Candy Crush. The work of self-styled auteur Dwain Esper, Maniac was shown exclusively in "adults only" grindhouses and, when those weren't available, tents set up outside of city limits. That's what nudity, insanity and animal abuse will do to a movie's distribution.
Maniac rips off Frankenstein and several Edgar Allan Poe stories while still managing to be altogether unique. Dr. Meirschultz, a mad scientist (is there any other kind?) is working on a technique to bring the dead back to life. His assistant, Don Maxwell, is a former vaudevillian on the run from the police for unknown reasons. It would seem, however, he's wanted for impersonating a good actor.
|Maxwell strikes a blow for every|
overworked employee in America.
|"Hey, look what I found!"|
Buckley kidnaps the zombie femme and, in a sop to the more demanding audiences of 1934, shows his love by undressing her before grabbing her by the throat. We never learn what becomes of them, but I don't think it was a honeymoon in Bora Bora.
Toss in Maxwell's ex-wife, an inheritance, and a sloppy climactic fight between two women who think the other's insane, and you've got a 50-minute movie that stands the test of time, even while most people today can't stand it.
|Remember the Republican debate?|
|"Excuse me while I consult with|
|This is what drove grandpa wild back|
in the day.
|An eye for an eye for a cat.|
To make the scene that much more realistic, a one-eyed stunt cat was used for the close-up. You can only picture the want-ad Esper put in the trades: "ONE-EYED CAT NEEDED. MUST NOT MIND HAVING GLASS EYE VIOLENTLY SQUEEZED OUT OF ITS SOCKET." That the two cats don't look a thing alike is secondary. Show it any CGI-drugged audience today and watch 'em gag.
|Satisfied customers leave L.A.'s Gayety Theatre during|
Maniac's original 1934 run. Note the added attraction
of onstage "SEX MODELS."
Circulating prints, however, are in surprisingly good shape -- a little scratchy, but otherwise quite sharp for an indie movie over 80 years old. At least somebody cared to preserve it.
And it's educational, too. Thanks to one of the onscreen diagnoses -- "failure of memory, poor retention, and failure on the part of the patient to curb his primitive tendencies" -- I learned I had paresis. Thanks, doc!
The original 1934 trailer for Maniac. If you can't watch it, go here. It will make thy blood to creep. Honest, it says so!