Maniac (1934) Review: ’30s Sexploitation
“He menaced women with weird desires!”
Synopsis: A former vaudevillian gifted at impersonation assists a mad scientist in reanimating corpses and soon goes mad himself.
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Maniac is an odd example from the ’30s. There is actually some gore – minimal by today’s standards, but surprising for the time. Bare breasts are shown on screen multiple times, and there’s a number of women who were clearly only put into the movie for sex appeal, rather than story. The main character has a cat named “Satan,” which no one seems to find odd.
That all being said, there are quite a few things about Maniac that don’t surprise. Like many of the older horror flicks, it has the strange distinction of being both very short and very slow. A lot of the acting is overly stilted, and though Maxwell (Bill Woods) has a gift for impersonation, very little of anything on screen can really be called “good.” There are quite a few plot holes, as well.
The visual effects are generally quite good for the time; there are a lot of creative fades and overlays to help move things along and indicate Maxwell’s increasing madness. However, they lose a little of their oomph when paired with inconsistent audio. Most cuts from one scene to the next have a fade that’s too slow and audio that cuts out too abruptly. It’s a distraction that the movie can’t really afford, being less than good.
It’s certainly an interesting watch, and I can see why John Wilson included it in his Official Razzie Movie Guide – but it’s never quite fun. Mostly I found it worthy of note for the exceptions to ’30s cinema I listed above (though Bill Woods and Horace B. Carpenter do have excellent mad scientist laughs). Still, Maniac clocks in at only 50 minutes, so if you’re curious, you won’t lose much time.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: D+
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