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The 100




Maniac
(1934)
Reviewed by Nicholas D'Amico
Rating: 10 Beans

here are probably a lot of you that haven't seen this film, and if you're lucky, it'll stay that way. If, however, you are one of the perverse souls that uses this site as a rental guide, I hope you can find this one, because believe me, it shares that rarified air that THE CREEPING TERROR occupies: this movie TRULY has to seen to be believed.

If you've ever seen a film by Dwain Esper (the only one that comes to mind at the moment is MARIHUANA: THE WEED WITH ROOTS IN HELL, which was, along with this film, excerpted in the movie IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD), you know what to expect: deliriously bad overacting, cheap sets, non-existent direction, awful dialogue… the list could go on and on.

To the review:

The film starts with a title crawl containing some psychological insights to mental illness circa 1934. It explains that while the brain is the part of the body that does the thinking, it needs the consciousness to work, and that fear is a psychic disease that needs to be quarantined against. "Fear thought is most dangerous when it parades as forethought," it continues. "Combat fear with faith. Resist worry with confidence… Unhealthy thought creates warped attitudes which in turn create criminals and manias. The Chicago Crime Commission made a survey of 40,000 criminals and found them all suffering from some sort of mental disease."

We then dissolve to the laboratory of Dr. Meirschultz (Horace Carpenter, using the worst bogus German accent I've ever heard), who's hard at work with his assistant, Maxwell (Bill Woods). "Tonight, my dear Maxwell," says the Doc, "I'm ready to try my experiment on a human. In the morgue, there is a lethal gas suicide, an ideal specimen." We get some exposition in this scene, to wit: Maxwell is being protected by the Doc, he's an actor of some kind, the Doc works in secret, and Max has to go to the morgue in disguise and steal a body, something he's not too anxious to do. ("…But the morgue! DEAD people!" cries Max.) The Doc browbeats Max into impersonating the coroner and Max objects, pointing out that trying to bring the dead back to life isn't natural and that he doesn't like the Doc's cat. "Once a ham, always a ham," answers the Doctor (and truer words were never spoken). "You. An actor? Heh. Don't forget, my dear Maxwell, the police.. would be very glad to find you." Max agrees to steal the body and then we cut to a couple of cats pursuing a mouse.

We then cut to the morgue (you know it's the morgue because there are a couple of bodies covered with sheets) as Max and the doctor steal in. For some reason, the doctor slips on a stethoscope and checks for a heartbeat, even though they're examining a corpse. Meanwhile, a couple of morgue attendants in another part of the place are boxing a stiff and discussing how heavy bodies are these days. Just as the discussion seems to be turning to necrophilia, we go back to the Doctor, who injects the body with his serum and starts pumping its arm. This seems to work, as she starts coming back to life. Max and the Doc then apparently take her away, because the next thing you know, the attendants are at the Bureau of Missing Persons, reporting the body snatching. (One of them seems to be drunk.) The Detective asks them about the what the guys that took the body looked like and promises to look into it after observing that one of the suspects sounds like Don Maxwell, a vaudevillian that does impersonations. (And all this time I thought that the Missing Persons Bureau looked for people that were still living.)

Back at the lab, the Doc and Max are gloating over the fact that they were able to bring her back to life. This isn't enough for the Doctor, however. He wants to bring someone with "a shattered heart" back to life, tells Max to find just that, and starts to laugh like, well, a maniac. "Get vun!!" he thunders when Max whines about finding another body. "Za ends vill justify za means!!" Max crawls through the air shafts to the undertaker's place next door (now THAT'S convienient) and is about to steal a corpse when he gets scared away by a cat fight (a real one, not two women) and he takes off like someone stuck an M-80 up his ass.

Back at the lab, the Doctor is walking around clapping his hands over his head, running his fingers through his hair, and generally acting like an idiot when Max comes running into the room. When he finds Max is empty handed, he begins to throw a hissy fit like you've never seen before. "AH, YOU FOOL!!!" he yells. "YOU HAVE FAILED ME!!! IN THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE!!! GET OUT!!!" After manhandling Max, he starts to pace back and forth, alternatively sobbing and scratching his head like Stan Laurel. When his eyes set on the human heart he has beating in a jar on the table, he grabs a gun and hands it to Max, demanding that he take his own life so the Doctor can give it back to him. Max, who's obviously not that crazy after all, shoots the Doctor instead, killing him.

We then cut to another title scroll that defines Dementia Praecox. "Patients show blunting of the emotions, serious defects of judgement, development of fantastic ideas, belief that they are being forced to do things or are being interfered with."

Cut back to the movie as Max agonizes over what he's done, soliloquizing about the spark of life ("the GLEAM") as superimposed hands make odd gestures over his head. At that moment, Mrs. Buckley (Phyllis Diller. No, not that Phyllis Diller) comes to visit the Doctor to get help for her husband, the imaginatively named Mr. Buckley (Ted Edwards). "It's so very urgent! Will you tell him that Mr. Buckley is having positively alarming hallucinations? Why, he thinks he's the orangutan murderer in Poe's 'Murder of the Rue Morgue'! Tell the Doctor I must have some definite help! I'll go get him and bring him in." Max then gets the bright idea of impersonating the Doctor himself after musing, "Meirschultz would be missed! Maxwell never would!" He then dresses up as the Doctor and manages to look nothing like him, not even getting the shitty accent right. "Not only do I LOOK like Meirschultz, I AM Meirschultz! I will be a GREAT MAN!!!" he yells.

Cut to another card that explains Paresis, defining it as "general paralysis of the insane… There is a marked failure of memory, poor retention, impaired judgement, and failure on the part of the patient to curb his primitive tendencies." Watching this movie triggers it.

When we cut back, Max is examining Mr. Buckley. Figuring to get rid of him, he plans to shoot him up with tap water, but instead accidentally picks up a much larger syringe full of serum from a rabid dog (???) and injects that into him. There's an immediate reaction, of course, and this could very well be the best part of the movie. Mr. Buckley immediately starts convulsing as if there were a tourniquet around his privates and starts screaming ( I have to quote this word for word for you get the full impact): "GACK!…limpic… OOOooooreeeeggggghhhhhh… stealing through my body!…. ooooooocreeping through my veins… pouring in my blood!!… ohhh, DOUSE THE FIRE IN MY BRAIN!!!… stabbing me… agony!… I can't stand it! This torture… this torment! I CAN'T STAND IT!!! I WON'T! I won't… I woooo…" (Think of someone doing a really bad imitaion of Jerry Lewis). He then starts to grimace and growl and screech as his wife stands by and helpfully points out, "Doctor! He seems to be getting worse instead of better!" He then starts jumping around like an ape, menaces his wife by giving her a sissy little push, knocks down Maxwell, and grabs the girl that was resucitated earlier, running out the door. Mrs Buckley acts about as upset as she would be if she broke a heel on her shoe and when she finds the dead body in the lab, Max explains that it's for a re-animation experiment. She archly strikes a deal with Max: if the experiment works, the reanimated body will have no will of its own and will have to obey its master, so if he does the same to Mr.Buckley for her, she'll keep her mouth shut about the murder. (I swear to God, this is really how the plot goes down!) While this is going on, we're treated to a few shots of Mr. Buckley screeching and tearing the clothes off the revived girl before strangling her.

Max then figures he has to bring the Doc back to life, but he's interrupted by his neighbor, who's looking for his cats. After the guy leaves, Max goes back into the lab to find that the Doctor's cat has eaten the live heart in the jar, so he drags the Doc's body down in the cellar to brick it up in the wall. The cat sees him doing this, so after a frenzied chase, he grabs it, pops its eye out (on camera) and tosses it (the cat) out the window. He then picks up the eye and swallows it, claiming, "Why… it's not unlike an oyster. Or a GRAPE! But, the gleam is gone!"

As he finishes walling up the Doc, we cut to yet another card describing paranoia, then back to Max. The doc's cat jumps into the wall with the doctor, and Max bricks it shut (without mortar).

Cut to a woman sweeping her stoop as a detective walks up and begins to question her:

COP: Do you know a Dr. Meirschultz and his assistant, Don Maxwell?

WOMAN: Sure. They're sort of queer, I'd say. There's lots of queer goings on up there. Why, they even brought a dead dog back to life once.

COP: Well, that sounds really remarkable to me!

WOMAN: It may be, but to my notion, those that monkeys with what they got no business to, gets queer sooner or later!

COP: Maybe you're right!

WOMAN: I know I am. Why, I even heard a shot up there last night!

COP: Why didn't you notify the police?

WOMAN: (going back to her sweeping) That's their business, not mine!

The cop then questions the guy with the cats, and the neighbor reveals that the Doc's been taking his cats for experiments. It turns out that the guy breeds cats for their fur, and one of the most idiotic exchanges I've ever heard takes place. I'll spare you that.

Another card comes up and we find out that not only is Maxwell married, but his wife has forgotten about him until:

We cut to a scene with four sleazy women (one of whom is Alice, Maxwell's wife, and another of whom talks like Betty Boop) parading around in their underwear, taking baths ("Aw, lemme alone! I may not be decent, but I'm sure gonna be clean!"), working out with one of those vibrating belt machines, showing off underwear, and talking about rich and crazy men. (I think. I've listened to this scene three times, and I still can't figure out what the hell they're talking about.) It turns out that Maxwell has inherited a fortune, so the chunky blonde he's married to, Alice (Theo Ramsey) goes to the Doctor's office and tells Maxwell (who she of course doesn't recognize) about the money.

Still another card comes up, this one talking about Manic-Depressive Psychoses, pointing out that people who have it are able to commit sex offenses.

Another couple of topless scenes follow as Maxwell continues his experiments on semi-clothed women. During another monologue in which he talks about "the gleam", he figures that he has to kill his wife. He recruits Mrs. Buckley to help him, giving her a syringe to jab his wife with. He gets his wife back to the lab and confesses his deception, then tells her that there's a crazy woman (Mrs. Buckley) in the other room, and that he needs help with her. He gives his wife a syringe and locks both of them in the basement, leading to another cat fight while Maxwell laughs insanely and the hands are supered over him again. Some guy we've never seen before who's looking in the window must call the cops, because suddenly there're about 12 cars of them pulling up to the house. In the basement, the two women are pretty much killing each other, and when the cops drag Maxwell down there and break up the fight, they hear the cat yowling behind the wall. When they break it down, the Doc's body falls out.

After a crawl containing more psychobabble claptrap, we see Maxwell in jail, whining about "the gleam", how he's not appreciated and how the women tried to trick him in some way in addition to how Dr. Meirschultz was his "supreme impersonation". The end.

If you think this was painful to read, imagine watching it. Luckily, I have Eraserhead at the end of this tape, so I was able to watch something that made sense afterwards. I believe the supered shots of the hands were lifted from DANTE'S INFERNO (1924).








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