Maniac (1934 film)

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Maniac filmposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDwain Esper
Produced byDwain Esper
Louis Sonney
Hildagarde Stadie
Written byHildagarde Stadie
Based on"The Black Cat"
by Edgar Allan Poe
StarringWilliam Woods
Horace B. Carpenter
CinematographyWilliam C. Thompson
Edited byWilliam Austin
Distributed byRoadshow Attractions
Release date
  • September 11, 1934 (1934-09-11)
Running time
51 minutes
CountryUnited States
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). 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.


Don Maxwell is a former vaudeville impersonator who is working as the lab assistant to Dr. Meirschultz, 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, but accidentally injects him with adrenaline, which causes him to go into violent fits. In one of these fits, Buckley kidnaps a woman, tears her clothes off, and rapes her. Buckley's wife 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, Alice Maxwell, 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][4]


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 actress who doubled for Altura in the brief nude scene 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][5]
  • This is only film that Bill Woods performed in. He later became a makeup artist, working in film and television until 1968.[6]
  • 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.
  • Celia Jiminez, billed under her married name of Celia McCann, was also a Spanish-language voice artist, having the Spanish-language voice for Minnie Mouse and other female cartoon characters. Her daughter, also named Celia McCann, is a movie extra, and her granddaughter is comedian Julie Brown.[citation needed]


Typical of the exploitation films of Dwain Esper, Maniac contains gratuitous scenes of women lounging around in their lingerie.

The film was shot on a miniscule budget of $7,500, according to the son of the man who financed the production, and like many of director Dwain Esper’s films was self-distributed on the exploitation roadshow circuit. After initial disappointing returns (and no reviews in the media of the time), Esper retitled the film “Sex Maniac” with great success. It became notorious for a scene in which one character strangles a cat and then eats its eyeball [7]

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]


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 89% based on 9 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 6.8/10.[8] Leonard Maltin awarded the film the lowest rating of BOMB, calling it "[a] Typically delirious Esper Schlockfest— filmed mostly in somebody's basement".[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maniac on IMDb
  2. ^ a b c d e Maniac at AllMovie
  3. ^ a b Maniac at the TCM Movie Database
  4. ^ Scott, Chris and Elorm Kojo Ntumy (August 7, 2014). "5 Old-Timey Movies Way Too Disturbing for Modern Theaters". Cracked. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  5. ^ Horace B. Carpenter on IMDb
  6. ^ William Woods on IMDb
  7. ^ Senn, Bryan (2006). Golden Horrors: An Illustrated Critical Filmography of Terror Cinema, 1931-1939. McFarland & Company. p. 258. ISBN 978-0786427246.
  8. ^ "Maniac (1934) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  9. ^ Leonard Maltin (2015). Classic Movie Guide: From the Silent Era Through 1965. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 427. ISBN 978-0-14-751682-4.

External links[edit]