Maniac (1934)

APRIL 30, 2008


“Once a ham, always a ham.”

A fantastic line from a fantast- well, from a movie.

But hey, can you go really wrong with a 1930’s era, COMPLETELY non-Code-following production called Maniac? Well, yes. You can go wrong with a lot of things. Luckily, this odd little (very little – the running time is shorter than that of the studio edit of Les Cousins Dangereux) movie more or less delivers it’s non promise of a maniac and visuals that are quite frankly pretty shocking for the era.

What does it deliver, besides odd dialogue about luncheon meat? For starters, and to quote Mike Starr: “Tits!”. Yes, despite being, you know, old, this movie has lots of nudity (the full title was Sex Maniac), which was a surprise to me not just because I thought such things were outlawed back then, but also because, as it is a budget pack movie, I was watching it at work, and had to quickly minimize the window before my co-workers saw (one of them was watching FOX news at the time, so I doubt whatever bullshit they were airing was any less graphic, but still). The whole point of the budget pack is to allow me to watch movies at work when I don’t have time to watch one at home (tonight I am seeing Speed Racer, and then punching out whoever assorted Liberty City denizens tell me to), due to the fact that they “definitely” don’t have not-work-safe things like nudity or graphic gore. What’s next, drug use and on-screen murder?

Well Maniac has those too. The story concerns a doctor who is killed by his assistant while they are attempting to revive dead tissue (pretty much the modus operandi for all mad scientists. Just once I want to see a mad scientist whose primary objective is to cure anosmia). For reasons that never quite make sense, the assistant then disguises himself as the doctor and continues the work. He was an older man – why not just say he died? Or Even still, why disguise yourself at all when you constantly have to explain where the “assistant” went anyway? Stupid mad scientists!

The most unique aspect of the film is that it continually presents us title cards providing us very stripped down (and now outdated) facts about paranoia, manic-depressives, etc. They pop up every 5-10 minutes and deliver info that isn’t quite relevant to what is on screen (he’s not manic depressive, he’s just a fucking loon, and terrible criminal mastermind to boot!). The scientist also occasionally freaks out, and we see the terrible visions in his mind – all of which happen to be footage from films such as Fritz Lang’s Siegfried. It reminded me of a “self portrait” I had to do in film school – the camera zoomed into my eye and you saw my “brain”, which consisted entirely bunch of clips from Fletch and Armageddon, plus snippets of bad rock ballads about broken hearts. Good stuff.

And star of Demon Knight.

Oh and the doctor pops a cat’s eyeball out for some reason. The director goes to great lengths to ensure the audience that it’s not a real cat (the one he squeezes in close-up is orange, despite the fact that it is a black cat that he captures), but still, it’s hardly the light fare I am used to for any film that cost me 40 cents.

If anyone has a copy of this movie on its own DVD, I am curious – is the title card quite obviously a still from the movie with the title imposed with computer based technology (i.e. Avid title tool)? Because it’s really jarring as presented here, and I am wondering what the deal is on that.

What say you?


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