gentle reader! Would that I had the multimedia might of Badmovies.org!
Would that I possessed the bandwidth of whoever the hell it is that
made Octaman available
O, for a muse of fire! For then I would be able to a tale unfold that
would make your young eyes, like stars, start from their spheres! For
then, we could all enjoy the madness that is Maniac together.
As it is, I can only presume to approximate the Maniac experience
here, on the printed page, starting with florid, pseudo-Shakespearian
we must realize that producer/director Dwain Esper is a man whose name
should be whispered in the same hushed, reverent tones as Roger Corman
and Ed Wood. Corman, for his amazing grip of the world of exploitation.
Wood, for his astounding ineptitude in the filmmaking craft. Esper (and
his wife, Hildegarde Stadie) were responsible for other cultural icons,
such as Tell Your Children, one of the most popular midnight
movies of the 70's, when it was better known as Reefer Madness;
the similarly-themed Marihuana: The Weed with Roots in Hell!;
and the wondrously named How to Undress for Your Husband and
How to Take a Bath. I have seen neither of these last two, yet
I positively ache for their company.
may be Esper's most outrageous picture, dealing as it does with the
various forms of madness, and containing some brief nudity (and the
Hayes Code be damned!). These things could all be excused, you see,
for Maniac is, above all else, educational! The story
often comes to a dead stop while helpful intercards detail to us the
mental disease we are (supposedly) seeing acted out on the screen. Sometimes
these fact-filled scrawls arrive smack in the middle of a scene! The
fact that these intertitles are backed by what sounds suspiciously like
the Little Rascals theme does not make them any less jarring.
a word about the acting style of the time: hammy. Well, that
simplifies it a bit, but vaudeville and the more declamatory and physical
acting of the stage still held a lot of Hollywood movies in their grip.
This worked well in silent movies, where physicality is really all you
had to work with as an actor - but while naturalism was beginning to
sweep the world of the stage, it had made precious few inroads into
cinema. Take Colin Clive's "It's alive! It's alive!" scene
from Frankenstein, apply it to every single line being uttered,
and you have a fair idea of the general tenor of Maniac.
let us begin with our first bit of educational material, the beginning
The brain, in and of its physical self,
does not think, any more than a musical instrument can give
forth melody without the touch of the musicians hand. The
brain is indeed the instrument of thinking, but it is the
mind is the skillful player that makes it give forth the beautiful
harmony of thought...
It is because of the disastrous results
of fear thought not only on the individual but on the nation
that it becomes the duty of every sane man and woman to establish
quarantine against fear. Fear is a psychic disease which is
highly contagious and extraordinarily infectious. Fear thought
is most dangerous when it parades as forethought. Combat fear
by replacing it with faith. Resist worry with confidence.
-Wm. S. Sadler, M.D., F.A.C.S.
that we are in a lather about "fear thought" and its deleterious
effects upon society, the picture hits us with another whammy:
Unhealthy thoughts create warped attitudes,
which in turn create criminals and manias. The Chicago
Crime Commission made a survey of 40,000 convicted criminals,
and found them all suffering from some mental disease.
this alarming statistic, we find ourselves in the laboratory of Dr.
Mierschultz(Horace B. Carpenter), who is himself, we suspect, not exactly
an avatar of mental health. The scientist busies himself with an enormous
hypodermic needle while his assistant, Maxwell (Bill Woods), fiddles
with a box full of electronics (and which produces a sound uncannily
like a doorbell). Mierschultz tells Maxwell in his Lugosian accent that
he is finally ready to try his experiment on a human, and "dere
is a lethal gas suicide in de morgue... a perfect subject!" This
distresses Maxwell; we can tell it does because he grabs his thick shock
of curly hair and yanks on it. "The morgue! Dead people! Have you
hardly, Mierschultz informs him - he performs his experiments away from
prying eyes. It is up to Maxwell to get Mierschultz into the morgue.
We find that Maxwell is a failed vaudeville actor whose specialty was
impersonations. "You haff seen the coroner! Vhy not impersonate
him!" This, Mierschultz tells the actor, is how he may show his
gratitude for the scientist's provision of room and board. Maxwell goes
into a spiel about Mierschultz' weird experiments: "It's horrible
I tell you! Working on the dead! Trying to bring back life! It's not
natural!" Prompting Mierschultz' response: "Vunce a ham, alvays
a ham!" Mierschultz then threatens him with the police, and Maxwell
exactly Maxwell has done that he is hiding out at Mierschultz' lab is
never explained, nor do we find out how an untrained actor could be
useful with scientific experiments; sometimes, as William Hurt says
in The Big Chill, "you have to let art wash over you."
Experienced Web surfers will recognize our Mad Scientist as the fellow
who hangs out at the bottom of the front page for Jabootu's
Bad Movie Dimension, and is used as a sort of icon for Ken Begg
in Oh The Humanity's
article; whether or not this is due to an uncanny resemblance to
Mr. Begg or simply sentimentality on Ken's part for a great Bad Movie
is unknown; after I finally meet him this week, I'll be better able
to render an opinion. More bulletins as they occur.
were we? Oh yes! The morgue! (Creepy!) Esper once again shows
himself to be a film pioneer, by interjecting mondo
hand-held footage of a cat hunting and pouncing on a mouse, presaging
the real animal slaughter later used in Italian cannibal films. Maxwell
is apparently a pretty good impersonator, as he and Mierschultz gain
access to the corpses lying about on gurneys with no problems. Two "humorous"
morgue attendants comment on the coroner working so late, and bringing
'Santy Claus' with him. Our skulking duo find the suicide, a young lady
named Maria, and Mierschultz immediately brings his already questionable
sanity to the fore once again, as he pulls out a stethoscope and searches
for a heartbeat. (ahem... she's in a morgue, doc!) He then injects
her with the big damn hypo, and he and Maxwell work her arms back and
forth, either doing what passed for artificial respiration at the time,
or breaking out the rigor mortis, take your pick. She stirs, allowing
Mierschultz to exult as he beats Herbert West to the punch by almost
fifty years. They spirit the girl off, as "she needs oxygen!"
must be a job for Jones of the Bureau of Missing Persons! Jones is busy
interviewing the Odious Comedy Relief Morgue Attendant (the one who
can actually say his lines, as opposed to reading them)
and the Coroner about the disappearance of the suicide's body. Once
again, the movie's educational quality shines through, as I was unaware
that Missing Persons also handles graverobbing. When the OCR-MA
makes his crack about 'Santy Claus' again, Jones demonstrates why he's
chief, as he immediately deduces, "That sounds like your friend,
Coroner poo-poos the very idea, as Mierschultz has made "many advances
in the field of gland extracts." We cannot help but notice that
Maxwell was uncannily precise in his imitation of the Coroner, as they
look and sound almost exactly alike .....HEY! That is
back at Mad Scientist Manor, Mierschultz is predictably elated at his
success with the Living Dead Girl, and wishes to continue his Tampering
In God's Domain by transplanting his artificial heart (which is beating
in a nearby jar - oh, alright, somebody's just poking it offscreen)
into another corpse. So off Maxwell goes to the mortuary on the corner
for his next shopping expedition. But he is frightened off by more mondo
footage of cats fighting in the corpse-atorium, and this panic is only
accelerated by a cat-and-dog fight that crosses his path as he whimpers
home (what is it with this guy and animals? We
already know that Mierschultz' black cat hisses whenever he's near).
That accursed fear thought!
is driven to tears by Maxwell's failure, slapping his assistant around
and shrieking "Cowart! You haff failed me! In the greatest moment
uff my life!" Yeah, I know how he feels. I hate it when I only
conquer death once in a day. Then Mierschultz has yet another
brilliant idea, and hands Maxwell a pistol, ordering him to kill himself,
so Mierschultz can install the artificial heart and bring him back to
life, bwah ha ha ha ha! Maxwell does the logical thing:
he shoots Mierschultz instead.
with horror, Maxwell kneels next to the dead professor, and
This is the most important of the psychoses,
both because it constitutes the highest percentage of the
mental diseases, and because recovery is so extremely rare.
Dementia praecox patients show blunting
of the emotions, serious defects in judgment, development
of fantastic ideas, belief that they are being forced to do
things or are being interfered with.
gasps, "Murder! Murderer! And of my benefactor! Horrible! You
had so much to give the world! But.... has he? Why should the unconscious
peace of the dead be disturbed? Isn't the spark that moves the maggot
the self-same spark that moves the man?" He conceives a cunning
plan, however: going through Mierschultz' notes, he will bring the scientist
back to life with the heart. Now, I was an actor for many years, but
that in no way prepared me to perform a heart transplant! This guy must
be nuts! Oh, wait, yeah he is.... after all, we see scenes from the
silent pictures Witchcraft Through the Ages and Siegfried
superimposed over his face to prove this.
is interrupted in his nuttiness by Mrs. Buckley (Phyllis Diller, but
not the one you think), who wants to bring in her husband, one of Mierschultz'
patients, because "He's hallucinating horribly! He thinks he's
the Orangutan Murderer from Edgar Allen Poe's Murders in the Rue
Morgue!" Over Maxwell's protests, she leaves to retrieve her
hallucinating hubby, and Maxwell has no choice but to drag out his makeup
kit and impersonate the dead Mierschultz.
General paralysis of the insane, or
paresis, is the most serious disorder for the criminologist.
There is marked failure of memory , poor retention, and impaired
judgment, and failure on the part of the patient to curb his
-Crime and the Criminal,
Philip A. Parsons, Ph.D.
Buckley (Ted Edwards) arrives, Maxwell says he will give him a shot
to calm his "nerve tension". Pawing through Mierschultz' bag,
he finds the enormous hypo previously used on the Living Dead Girl.
"Super adrenalin? That won't do!" Then "Water will do
no harm! Then I'll be rid of them!", filling another syringe with
water. Distracted, he picks up the huge hypo instead, although it is
twice the size of the hypo with water... this guy must be nuts!
Oh, yeah. I forgot.
when the super adrenalin hits Buckley's system, he freaks out in the
classic piece of overacting quoted in the Cheech and
Chong drug segment of It Came From Hollywood:
"Stealing through my body! Creeping through
my veins! Pouring in my blood! Darts of fire in my brain! Stabbing
me! Agony! I can't stand this torture! This torment! I can't stand
it! I won't! I won't! Agony! Agony!"
then he apes out, throws Mrs. Buckley and Maxwell about the room, and
scampers off into the night, pausing only to grab up the sleepwalking
Living Dead Girl. Unfortunately for Maxwell, Mrs. Buckley has landed
in the lab, and sees the body of Mierschultz. Fortunately for Maxwell,
she knocked a chair over Mierschultz' head, and Maxwell is able to pass
the corpse off as his assistant.... who shot himself. "I vanted
to experiment on him.... I can restore him!" Maxwell explains.
the Orangutaned Buckley carries his prize through the woods, and begins
to rip off her gown, giving us our first minor nudity. It is probably
hoped that the sudden appearance of breasts will distract you from the
fact that the actress in Buckley's arms is not the Living Dead
back to Maxwell and Mrs. Buckley, who is opining, "I've often heard
of your uncanny experiments, but this tops everything!"
She has also seen a few horror films, as she feels that once his 'assistant'
is returned to life, "his mind will do as you direct! You can do
the same to Buckley... then his mind will do as I direct!"
back to Buckley, in another badly edited-in sequence, as he has his
way with our unfortunate nudette. She's still not the Living Dead Girl,
which I guess is good, as killing yourself and being resurrected by
a couple of mad scientists just so some orangutaned-out nutcase can
rape and kill you would really, really suck.
Mrs. Buckley leaves, Maxwell again tries to find the one sheet of paper
that Mierschultz left lying around headed "How to Transplant Hearts
in Three Easy Steps", but is again interrupted, this time
by his neighbor, who is missing some of his cats. Bizarrely, Maxwell
replies, "I think too much of Satan to experiment on cats."
This flies right past the neighbor. We will later figure out that Satan
is the name of Mierschultz' black cat, since none of our characters
has seen fit to inform us of this. Maxwell returns to the lab, only
to find that Satan has eaten the artificial heart (and let us hope that
this is the last time you hear that phrase).
of the Police, Maxwell drags the body into the basement and prepares
to wall it up in a convenient chimney. He pauses long enough to pursue
Satan about the house, yelling "Stand between me and salvation,
will you?" He finally catches the cat, but the feline in his grasp
keeps changing colors. Yes, much like the very bad body double for the
Living Dead Girl, a tabby cat with a glass eye has been substituted
for Satan, so Maxwell can 'gouge out' its eye. A close-up of a most
un-catlike anatomical eye model is seen, then Maxwell picks an oyster
up off the floor. "Why, it is not unlike an oyster, or a grape!"
he says... maybe he's not so nuts, after all. "And the Gleam is
gone!" (Maxwell goes on about 'The Gleam' a lot. Okay. Nuts.) he
gobbles down the eye, and returns to walling up the body (after, apparently,
installing a lamp in the chimney to better illuminate the body). So
it must be time for more education:
Why write all this stuff down? Nobody's
probably reading it, anyway. They're just skipping over the
white boxes. Cripes, you could put anything in here. The capital
of Alabama is Montgomery. King Juba of Morocco explored the
Canary Islands in the year 55 B.C. Liver is an excellent source
of vitamin A. There, that should do it.
is then distracted by more footage from silent films, so that he doesn't
notice someone throw Satan into the chimney with the corpse. He then
finishes the interment.
from Missing Persons starts canvassing Mierschultz' neighbors. One woman
(Marian Constance Blackton, who just may be the best actress in the
whole movie) has a scene which would provide much hooting laughter from
a modern audience, as she uses the word "queer" constantly,
as in, "Those that monkeys with what they got no business to, gets
queer sooner or later." Then it's a stop at the Cat Man's, who
has hordes of cats caged up in the back yard. "I'm in the fur business,"
he explains to Collins. Ah, just another day on the Nutty Side of Town.
for a plot point! For instance, did you know that Maxwell was married?
No, neither did I. But in a scene created specifically to show several
women in various states of underwear, Alice Maxwell (Theo Ramsay, doing
a Mae West impression) reads in a newspaper that Maxwell has inherited
an Australian estate from an uncle, and is now rich. Oh, the irony!
Needless to say, the feckless Mrs. Maxwell sets out to find her husband,
telling the whole story to a man who she thinks is Mierschultz.... but
is really Maxwell.
MANIC DEPRESSIVE PSYCHOSES
Yada yada yada, blather blather blather.
Abaxial: facing away from the stem or central axis of a plant
or animal. Alexander: Shake 1 oz. brandy, 1 oz. creme de cacao,
and 1 oz cream. Like the Arabic alphabet, the Hebrew alphabet
is composed mainly of consonants.
is hallucinating again, and apparently seeing more of Mierschultz's
patients, allowing us another glimpse of breasts. What a minute....
wasn't that the nudette from the Orangutan Murderer scene? (how thrifty!)
Maxwell then watches more silent films while soliloquizing: "The
Gleam! It was in Mierschultz' eyes when he wanted to murder me! It was
in Mrs. Buckley's eyes when she wanted to murder her husband! Alice
had the Gleam in her eye when she wanted to find me! She'd murder me!
That's what she wants to do! I must get rid of her!"
new cunning plan involves telling each of the women separately that
there is a dangerously insane woman in the next room, and he needs their
help in restraining her.
He gives each a hypo full of drugs and then inveigles to lock them in
the basement. Naturally, each woman freaks and attacks the other, thinking
her a homicidal maniac. The hypos get dropped as the two ladies go at
it with gusto, tearing clothes and using axe handles and shelves to
assault each other (while more inappropriate animal footage is interjected,
such as frogs and owls - the two fighting cats would have been more
apropos), and Maxwell, above, paces back and forth, enjoying
a good laugh with his old pals, the silent movies.
Cat Man, peering through a window, sees Maxwell laughing, and for some
reason this brings the cops running. ("Begorrah, 'tis a Code 31!
Mad scientist laughin'! Somethin's afoot for sure!") The cops take
Maxwell, still raving about "The Gleam!" into the basement,
and break up the catfight. Hearing yowls from the chimney, they break
it open, discovering the body of Mierschultz.
Manias are created by inability
to adjust to the world as it is. Insanity is our defense against
a world not of our making or to our liking. The normal person
can make such an adjustment. It is not always easy, but it
is being done constantly. The person of inferior mental capacity
cannot do this. He therefore creates a fantasy, which is his
idea of the world as it should be. Go placidly amid the noise
and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
If you drink, don't drive.
we end with Maxwell in prison, stating "I only wanted to amuse,
to entertain," but what the hell, he showed them all. Mierschultz,
his greatest performance! Phew, what a loony. The end. At which point,
no doubt, some fake doctor appeared in the theater to hawk his book
on mental health.
badly edited, acted and shot (there are several instances when the background
is in sharp focus but the actors
we are supposed to be watching are fuzzy), Maniac straddles two
different states of existence. First, it's a marvelous time capsule,
informed with the standards of the era, useful to students of film as
an example of how those standards were gotten around. Second, this baby's
a party tape, pure and simple, and will be able to render the most hardened
room helpless with laughter. At about an hour in length, it's practically
the perfect size, and it is simply amazing to me that this movie is
not as infamous as Reefer Madness, encompassing as it does practically
everything that is beloved by the seeker after Bad Movies.
that was really needed was a giant spider. Then our cup woulda