Maniac (1934 film)

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Sex Maniac (1934 film) poster.jpg
Sex Maniac one-sheet
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
Hollywood Producers and Distributors
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 1843 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. Maniac has received negative reception since its release and is an oft-cited example of pornographic films.


Don Maxwell is a former vaudeville impersonator who's 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/mannerisms. In the process, he slowly goes insane.

The "doctor" treats a mental patient, Buckley, but accidentally injects him with adrenaline, which causes the man 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 for turning her husband into a zombie. The ersatz doctor turns the tables on her by manipulating the woman 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]


  • 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 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.
Another poster

The film was shot on a minuscule 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, while bricking his victim inside a wall, were from the 1922 Danish film Häxan.


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 89% based on 9 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 6.8/10. Many reviewers praise it as being "so bad it's good", such as Rob Gonsalves of, who called it "A true trash masterpiece."[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] Danny Peary believes that Maniac is the worst film ever made.[10] Chicago Tribune critic Michael Wilmington, in a review for the 2005 Dominion film Chaos, wrote: "I wouldn't say Chaos is the worst movie I've ever seen. There are some voyages into ineptitude, like Dwain Esper's anti-classic Maniac, that defy all reason."[11] A Rotten Tomatoes editorial by Michael Adams placed the film on a list of 25 movies so bad they're unmissable,[12] and the Italian Vanity Fair included it on its list of the 20 worst movies ever.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maniac on IMDb
  2. ^ a b c d Maniac at AllMovie
  3. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Peary, Danny (2014). Cult Midnight Movies: Discover the 37 Best Weird, Sleazy, Sexy, and Crazy Good Cinema Classics. Workman Publishing Company. ISBN 9780761181699.
  11. ^ Wilmington, Michael (August 12, 2005). "`Chaos' a loathsome exercise in horror". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  12. ^ "25 Movies So Bad They're Unmissable". Rotten Tomatoes. January 30, 2010. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  13. ^ Pellegrini, Francesca (25 February 2018). "I 20 film più brutti di sempre". Vanity Fair (in Italian). Retrieved January 29, 2019.

External links[edit]