AKA Sex Maniac
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“Unless you regularly do mushrooms and go to Lady Gaga concerts with your good friend Crispin Glover, then watching Maniac is guaranteed to be the weirdest experience you have ever had.”–ad copy for the Rifftrax version of Maniac
DIRECTED BY: Dwain Esper
FEATURING: Bill Woods
PLOT: An on-the-lam vaudevillian kills and impersonates his mad scientist employer, driving himself mad in the process.
- Dwain Esper was a successful building contractor who, it is rumored, only got into the movie business when he came into possession of a cache of filmmaking equipment that was abandoned in a foreclosed property. He worked outside the film distribution system, taking his exploitation movies on the road and showing them in rented venues, accompanied by lurid advertisements promising forbidden fruit for “adults only.” Esper obtained the rights to Tod Browning’s Freaks from MGM for a song, and took the movie on the road with his other exploitation hits. Other films he directed or produced had titles such as Marihuana, the Weed with Roots in Hell and How to Undress in Front of Your Husband.
- Made outside of the Hollywood system, Maniac was not subject to the Hays Production Code, although it probably ran afoul of most local censorship laws. Audacious directors like Esper deliberately put racy material into their films that the major studios could not touch. Maniac contains a scandalous amount of nudity, which had been extremely rare in motion pictures up until that time and was banned outright when the Hays Code began to be enforced in 1934.
- The film incorporates (steals) footage from Maciste in Hell (1925), and reportedly also from Häxan (1920) and Fritz Lang‘s Sigfried (1923), for its delirium sequences.
- Named one of the 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made in The Official Razzie Movie Guide.
- One gruesome scene involving a cat’s eyeball appears to be a real case of animal abuse, but is almost certainly a convincing illusion.
- The movie’s ending rips off the Edgar Allen Poe short story “The Black Cat.”
INDELIBLE IMAGE: There are lots of strange, unexpected sights to be seen in this time capsule of man’s freakish desires, but you won’t forget the cat’s eyeball.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Maniac promises to show us the life of a madman as a shameless pretext for delivering multiple shock scenes in an “educational” context, but the final product is so disjointed, feverish and crazily assembled that it seems to be the work of an actual madman.
Scene from Maniac
COMMENTS: Most bad movies are just bad. A rare breed are so bad they’re “unintentionally” Continue reading 65. MANIAC (1934)