An absolutely crazy display of vintage exploitation excess, this lurid, Depression-era feature was born from the twisted talents of roadshow circuit auteurs Dwain and Hildagarde Esper. There’s nudity and violence, of course, but that’s just the start of the madness. A cat’s eye is eaten, a reanimated corpse is sexually ravaged by a man who thinks he’s an orangutan, and two women rip at each other’s clothes while wielding hypodermic needles.
Unforgettably strange and ridiculous by any standard, the film is especially outrageous in that it was made during the era of the Production Code, which it violates completely. It also violates all the tenets of classical Hollywood filmmaking, so much so that it led film scholar Jeffrey Sconce to use Maniac as a case study in his article, “Esper, the Renunciator: Teaching ‘Bad’ Movies to Good Students.” In short, he argues undergraduate film courses don’t need the canon’s “greatest hits” in order to teach the basics of film construction. Instead, look to an obscure, “bad” movie that wears its sloppy seams like a straight jacket.