Ladies and gentlemen, the search is over. I have discovered the worst film ever made. This atrocity from 1934 is only 51 minutes long, but there is so, so much to talk about I hardly know where to begin. The sheer impossibility of this film actually makes it important, however. Maniac is essentially the grand-daddy of all exploitation movies, but this goes way beyond simple exploitation. It is paramount that we assign the blame for this movie where it is due: producer/director Dwayne Esper. palmed this film off as an actual study of mental illness-throughout the movie, we are occasionally presented with place cards detailing the types of mental illness our educational movie is about to illustrate. I can't believe this was actually released in the 1930s; there's even some partial nudity in this thing (though, of course, no glimpse of the evil belly button forbade by the infamous Hayes Code). Apparently, Esper made his educational entertainment films outside of Hollywood and thus avoided the type of censorship being practiced in Tinsel Town.
The movie begins in the lab of Dr. Meirshultz (Horace Carpenter), a mad scientist obsessed with restoring life to corpses. He needs a dead body, of course, and he orders his assistant Don Maxwell (Bill Woods) to get him into the morgue. Maxwell is a former vaudeville entertainer and impersonator, so he passes himself off as the coroner and gets the good doctor inside the morgue (somehow fooling two incompetent and quite possibly inebriated morgue workers). Doc gives the lucky, female stiff a couple of jabs from his huge hypo, and after a few minutes of intense arm rubbing, she begins to stir. The boys hurry home gleefully with their prize. Not content to reanimate one measly corpse in one day, Meirshultz now insists on reanimating someone with a "shattered" heart. Did I mention that we are treated with random scenes of dogs, cats, and mice running around attacking each other throughout the film? Anyway, a couple of fighting cats scare Maxwell out of the undertaker's office, and he runs all the way home. Doc is furious that he failed him and naturally comes up with the idea of using Maxwell as the victim whom he will revive with his pulsating artificial heart in a jar. Rather than shoot him himself, he gives the gun to Maxwell and gives him the incredible opportunity of killing himself in the name of science. Guess who ends up with a bullet in him? Maxwell now comes up with the idea of impersonating the doctor and almost immediately finds a patient at his door. Mrs. Buckley (played by Phyllis Diller, but not THAT Phyllis Diller) has brought in her husband for further treatment. Mr. Buckley (Ted Edwards) thinks he is the orangutan from Edgar Allen Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Maxwell decides to give him a shot filled with water to get rid of him but accidentally jabs him with the great big hypo of super-adrenaline. It is at this point that you should pause the movie, call your friends, and prepare yourself for one of the most unforgettably over the top, hammiest scenes ever filmed-you have to see it to believe it, and even then you might not believe it. Eventually, Buckley grabs the newly reanimated young lady, runs off into the night with her (actually, it's a completely different actress than we saw before, but you're not supposed to notice), rips off her gown, and presumably doesn't stop there.
Back to the lab: Maxwell decides he must revive Dr. Meirshultz, but the darned cat eats the artificial heart. It is about this time that Maxwell starts jabbering on and on about "the gleam" and commences to get hold of Satan (that's the cat's name) and pop one of his eyes out-yes, I know this is rather gross, but rest assured that the prop used not only doesn't look like a real cat, it is not even the same color as Satan). Now, I know you're wondering: does he eat the cat eyeball? Well, of course he does; this movie is called Maniac for a reason. He's still got this dead body to dispose of, so he takes it down in the basement and exploits another one of Poe's short stories by bricking up the corpse. Now things start to get weird. We are suddenly taken to a hotel room full of four young women prancing around in their skivvies. One of these is Maxwell's wife, we learn, and she reads in the newspaper that her estranged husband has just inherited gobs of money. Naturally, she suddenly yearns to be reconciled with her dear sweet hubby. Eventually, we end up with Mrs. Maxwell and Mrs. Buckley locked up in the basement in a bonafide knock-down, drag-out catfight while Maxwell continues to demonstrate every facet of mental illness upstairs. The police eventually arrive and finally succeed at ending this atrocious movie.
I wish I could tell you more in the space of this review; I encourage you to do some Internet searches and read some of the detailed (and hilarious) information cult movie fans have written about this strong contender for worst movie ever made. I am really in a quandary when it comes to giving this movie a rating. It more than deserves the lowest rating possible because it is truly an atrocious movie, yet it is so weird and unbelievable (especially for its time) that it has become a cult classic that lovers of atrociously bad cinema, particularly of the horror variety, simply must experience. Quite reluctantly, I'm giving it five stars for having gone where no bad movie has gone before , but please heed my warning-if you don't love bad horror movies, you will absolutely abhor this film.