Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Maniac (1934)

This film manages to pack a whole lot of crazy into its 50 minute run time.  Which is appropriate enough in light of its title and alleged subject matter, I guess.

I say 'alleged' subject matter, because back in the thirties (that's the 1930s, for the benefit of any futuristic space people reading this in 2040 or later) there were very strict content restrictions on motion pictures made for entertainment purposes.  But for films with an educational purpose, these restrictions were relaxed.  So it took people like Dwaine Esper all of five minutes to realise that if they gussied up their flicks with some kind of informative interstices, they'd be able to release stuff with nudity and violence through 'legitimate' channels.

Thus we get this film, sometimes under the title Sex Maniac, which purports to be a treatise on psychological disorders - by which I mean it throws up a text card every ten minutes or so describing some mental malady - while dishing up topless ladies, catfights (some with actual felines), and a (simulated, I hasten to say) scene where a man pops an eyeball out of a cat's head and then eats it.

Remember folks, these things are fine because they are educational.

The story?  I guess I should discuss it.  A crazy old doctor is exploring ways to bring the dead back to life.  He's assisted in this task by a former actor who has had some trouble with the law.  The doc uses this legal trouble to browbeat the ex-thespian - who is very squeamish about corpses - into impersonating the coroner so they can steal a body from the morgue.

The process works, more or less, so the Doc wants to try further experiments, and hands his assistant a gun, suggesting that it is time for the actor to shoot himself.  "You know my process works!" after all.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the actor chooses to shoot someone other than himself, and the Doc ends up dead.  You might expect the actor to make a run for it after that, but instead he decides to impersonate the doctor for reasons that are poorly justified.  Not to worry though, the movie has a whole lot wackier stuff in store than that.

The acting in Maniac is bad and the writing worse, and yet I really wanted to give it a Qualified Recommendation.  Firstly because it's an interesting historical artefact, and secondly because for me the insanity more than makes up for the dodgy production.  But then I remembered that most people aren't massive film geeks and want their movies to actually be good, so I didn't.

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