Maniac (1934)
0 comment Sunday, May 11, 2014 |
Runtime: 51 minutes
Countries: USA
Cast and Crew
Directed by Dwain Esper
Written by Hildegarde Stadie
Starring William Woods, Horace B. Carpenter, Ted Edwards, Thea Ramsey
Production Company: Roadshow Attractions
The early 1930�s were an interesting time for film making. Just as pictures were making the transition from silent films to talkies, some people ran over a few road bumps on the path to glory. Some films stumbled along, the physical acting retained from the silent films only hampered even further by the wooden and creaky camera movements. Other films seemed to be clearly aware of these foibles but, instead of blushing in their midst, decided to blow their big ugly horns for the entire world to hear through sleazy, meritless exploitation movies. Good taste be damned! Morals? Bah! Dirty, cheap entertainment? More of that please! These are the qualities that make Maniac a fine picture indeed.
Don Maxwell (William Woods) is not well at all. A former vaudeville performer (his acting sure shows it!), the mentally unstable lad finds himself assisting the even loonier scientist Dr. Meirschultz (Horace B. Carpenter). The crazy kraut is determined on perfecting his formula for reanimating dead tissue... but oh! how will they ever find a body? Cue Maxwell�s brilliant powers of impersonation and the devious duo soon have a first class ticket to the town morgue that apparently highlights as a torture chamber on weekends.
Motivated by the success of his serum, Meirschultz tries to coax Maxwell into suicide so that he may use him in his experiments. The conversation goes something like "Oh, here. Kill yourself. No really, dude, it�ll be awesome. I�ll like revive you and stuff." Maxwell has a better idea: he guns down the doctor and then uses his Handy-Dandy Makeup Kit to complete his transformation into Meirschultz. What follows is a smorgasbord of insane antics that include homages to Poe, wrestling women, and a dramatically moving scene of a man eating a cat�s eyeball.
Dwain Esper was a talent in the pioneering days of sound films who knew the quickest way to an audience�s heart: mindless and morally objectionable drivel pumped through their popcorn-greased veins. You know what kind of film you�re in for when you witness a scene of young women parading around a bedroom in nothing but their lingerie. Masterpiece Theater this is not. Maniac is filled with so many similar scenes of laugh out loud hilarity that it seems tough to write a review that encompasses all of them. So instead I�ll take the quick and easy way coached to me by Mr. Esper to highlight a few memorable moments:
� The movie has one of the best opening scenes this side of The Dark Knight: a stirring title card that urges the audience to fight off any thoughts of fear in order to keep insanity at bay! Approved by a licensed doctor of course.
� During the scene where Maxwell and Meirschultz go to the morgue, the doctor takes out his stethoscope to check the corpse�s heart rate. Yep. She�s dead alright.
� What is with all of the animal fights? We have cats fighting dogs, canine on canine brutality, and an actress in male drag who makes a living from skinning felines and rats that she/he raises on a backyard farm. Uh huh...
� Whenever Maxwell is having a fit of mad laughter, the screen is filled with superimposed, surreal images derived from the darkest nightmares of Man and the foulest regions of Hell. Actually they�re just clips from Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages and Fritz Lang's Siegfried.
� As if the beginning didn�t drive the point home, we have lovely "mental illness intermissions" that tell us of the brain disease that is to be portrayed in the following act. Trouble is, these intermissions like to come up right in the middle of a scene.
� And, in perhaps the greatest scene of the entire film, Maxwell/Meirschultz plans to dispose of an ill patient by injecting him with some water as a placebo. In a truly Looney Tunes moment, Maxwell accidentally grabs a hypodermic needle filled with SUPER-ADRENALINE and gives the bum a shot of the good stuff. The guy goes into a fit of diabolical acting and recites a bit of jam poetry before turning into a frothing monster. A girl wandering onto the wrong set finds the error of her ways when the horny maniac steals her into his scrawny arms and runs away with her into the night only to rip the dress off of a completely different actress.
Check it out for yourselves:

If you found yourself grinning like an idiot during any of these descriptions, then you know this film is for you. The performances delivered by the actors are so tremendous that they would make any high school drama teacher cringe in torture. William Woods should be given the Shatner Overacting Award for his portrayal of Mad Maxwell and an honorable mention for Best Man Vs. Cat Scene in a Motion Picture. Ted Edwards� brief but ever so memorable appearance as Mr. Buckley will undoubtedly be burned into the audience�s memory for years to come.
The crown jewel of this production though is Mr. Horace B. Carpenter as Dr. Meirschultz. Never before has the screen been so impressed than with the image of a mad German Santa Claus giving the best maniacal laughter ever while gleefully holding a floating brain in a jar. His insane ravings and ramblings tickle the spine and make the flesh creep in a positively devilish manner. As Dr. Meirschultz most appropriately intones to Maxwell in the film�s beginning: "Vonce a ham... alvays a ham!"
Maniac is an absolute delight for people who have tastes in things socially unacceptable. While the film may have a few slight hints of actual artistry (check out the Freudian moment when Maxwell/Meirschultz is walling up the body of his doppelganger mentor), these are quickly replaced by montages of the mad professor menacingly pumping his hypodermic needle as bare-chested woman run around the sound stage. If this sounds like your cup of super adrenaline, drink deep of all the side-splitting lunacy. The rest of the crowd can go watch cinematic trash like Citizen Kane.

Labels: , , , ,