Maniac (1934 film)

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Maniac filmposter.jpg
Directed by Dwain Esper
Produced by Dwain Esper
Louis Sonney
Hildagarde Stadie
Written by Hildagarde Stadie
Based on "The Black Cat"
by Edgar Allan Poe
Starring William Woods
Horace B. Carpenter
Cinematography William C. Thompson
Edited by William Austin
Distributed by Roadshow Attractions
Release dates
  • September 11, 1934 (1934-09-11)
Running time
51 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5,000 (estimated)[1]

Maniac, also known as Sex Maniac, is a 1934 black-and-white exploitation/horror film, directed by Dwain Esper and written by Hildagarde Stadie, Esper's wife, as a loose adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story "The Black Cat", with references to his "Murders in the Rue Morgue".[2] Esper and Stadie also made the 1936 exploitation film Marihuana.

The film, which was advertised with the tagline "He menaced women with his weird desires!", is in the public domain. A restored version was made available in 1999, as part of a double feature with another Dwain Esper film, Narcotic! (1933). A full length RiffTrax for the movie was released on November 25, 2009, with commentary by Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame. John Wilson, the founder of the Golden Raspberry Award, named Maniac as one of the "100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made" in his book The Official Razzie Movie Guide.


Close-up of Bill Woods as "Don Maxwell" pretending to be "Dr. Meirschultz"

Don Maxwell (William Woods) is a former vaudeville impersonator who is working as the lab assistant to Dr. Meirschultz (Horace B. Carpenter), a mad scientist attempting to bring the dead back to life. When Don kills Meirschultz, he attempts to hide his crime by "becoming" the doctor, taking over his work and copying his appearance and manner. In the process, he slowly goes insane.

The "doctor" treats a mental patient, Buckley (Ted Edwards), but accidentally injects him with adrenaline, which causes him to go into violent fits. Buckley's wife (Phyllis Diller) discovers the body of the real doctor, and blackmails Don into turning her husband into a zombie. The ersatz doctor turns the tables on her by manipulating her into fighting with his estranged wife (Thea Ramsey), a former showgirl. When the cat-breeding neighbor Goof sees what's going on, he calls the police, who stop the fight and, following the sound of Satan the cat, find the body of the real doctor hidden behind a brick wall.[2][3]


Typical of the exploitation films of Dwain Esper, Maniac contains gratuitous scenes of women lounging around in their lingerie.
  • Bill Woods as Don Maxwell
  • Horace B. Carpenter as Dr. Meirschultz
  • Ted Edwards as Buckley
  • Phyllis Diller as Mrs. Buckley
  • Thea Ramsey as Alice Maxwell
  • Jenny Dark as Maizie
  • Marvel Andre as Marvel
  • Celia McCann as Jo
  • John P. Wade as Embalmer
  • Marian Blackton as Neighbor

Cast notes
  • Several key cast members in the film are uncredited, most notably the cat-farming neighbor "Goof", the detective and Maria Altura, the woman who Dr. Meirschultz brings back to life. The identities of the actress who doubles for Altura for scenes that require nudity has also not been identified.
  • Horace B. Carpenter was a producer, director and actor from the silent era who generally portrayed whitehaired characters in Westerns once sound came in.[2][4]
  • This is only film that Bill Woods performed in. He later became a makeup artist, working in film and television until 1968.[5]
  • Marian Blackton is sometimes reported, incorrectly, as appearing in male drag as the neighbor who catches and breeds cats. She plays a female neighbor who is questioned by the detective. The male actor who plays Goof has not been identified. Blackton was the sister of Maniac's assistant director and daughter of J. Stuart Blackton, founder of Vitagraph Studios and the father of American animation.[2]
  • The actress named Phyllis Diller in this film is no relation to the comedian Phyllis Diller.
Mad scientist Dr. Meirschultz, played by Horace B. Carpenter.
The fake doctor prepares to give a half-clothed patient an injection.


The footage that is superimposed over the scenes where the actor, having shot the mad scientist, is descending into madness, and while he is bricking the mad scientist into the wall, were from the 1920 Swedish film Witchcraft Through the Ages by Benjamin Christensen and Siegfried, a 1923 silent film by Fritz Lang.[2][3]

Several key cast members in the film are uncredited and their identities remain unknown, most notably the cat-farming neighbor, "Goof", as well as the detective, and Maria Altura, the woman who Dr. Meirschultz brings back to life. The identities of the actress who doubles for Altura for scenes that require nudity has also not been identified.[1] In the scene where a cat's head is squeezed and its eyeball pops out, the cat actually only had one eye; a glass eye was inserted into the empty socket before filming, and that was what popped out.[1]

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