The Bad Movie Report


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Oh, gentle reader! Would that I had the multimedia might of! Would that I possessed the bandwidth of whoever the hell it is that made Octaman available online! 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 language!

First, 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.

Maniac 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.

Acting!Lastly, 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.

But let us begin with our first bit of educational material, the beginning scroll:


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.

Now 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.

After 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 made arrangements?"

You see dis?  I made dis from Lego blocks and a chicken gizzard!  I am a CHENIUS!Not 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 relents.

What 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 Pre-B-Fest 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.

Where were we? Oh yes! The morgue! (Creepy!) Esper once again shows himself to be a film pioneer, by interjecting The morgue!  Dead people!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!"

This 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, Mierschultz!"

The 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 Maxwell!

Meanwhile, 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? WeMST3K's cancellation went down hard with some folk. already know that Mierschultz' black cat hisses whenever he's near). That accursed fear thought!

Mierschultz 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.

Struck 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.

Maxwell 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 primitive tendencies.

-Crime and the Criminal, Philip A. Parsons, Ph.D.

Once 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.

Well, when the super adrenalin hits Buckley's system, he freaks out in the classic piece of overacting quoted in the Cheech ACTING! with a capital A!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.

Meanwhile, 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 Girl.

But back to Maxwell and Mrs. Buckley, who is opining, "I've often heard of your uncanny experiments, but this tops his is the 1934 your grandparents didn't tell you about.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!"

And 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.

After 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).

Yep.  That looks like a cat's eyeball, alright.Fearful 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.

Maxwell 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.

Collins 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.

Time 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.


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.

Wasn't she killed several scenes ago?Maxwell 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!"

Maxwell's 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 Wake up!  Time to feed the kitty!  WAKE THE HELL UP!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.

The 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.

And 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.

Overwrought, badly edited, acted and shot (there are several instances when the background is in sharp focus but the actorsInsanity (artist's interpretation) 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.

All that was really needed was a giant spider. Then our cup woulda runneth over.


Mmmmmmmm......ham and cheese!

- January 23, 2000