Ask people to name the best movie of all time and you’re going to hear a lot of answers. Ask them to name the worst and the list shrinks to a few titles. Plan 9 From Outer Space. Manos, the Hands of Fate. The Phantom Menace. Bad, yes, but all Oscar-bait compared to the cinematic trainwreck that is Maniac.

Produced in 1934 by Dwain Esper of Reefer Madness fame, Maniac (originally “Sex Maniac”) was a roadshow film – too lurid to be shown in reputable theaters, screened only in sideshow tents and burlesque houses. Today it is remarkable mostly for its stunning lack of production values and a gaping deep-space vacuum of talent on either side of the camera.

When I say this film is worse than Plan 9 from Outer Space, I’m not just whistling in the wind — Plan 9 scores a lofty 3.5 rating on IMDB, compared to 2.6 for Maniac.  That’s a whopping 25 percent less good than the film many believe to be the least good ever made.

Though it’s ostensibly “based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe,” I don’t recall any Poe stories about Frankenstein-like mad scientists reanimating corpses, then being murdered by their ham-actor assistants, who in turn impersonate the mad scientist, and suck the eyeballs out of cats, and, well, other stuff that makes even less sense. if I were the moldering corpse of Poe I would sue!

As bad as the writing is, the acting is worse. If the scenery’s not being chewed to a soggy mess by some wild-eyed, over-gesticulating thespian, it’s being gummed to death by an inarticulate troglodyte who reads every line as “Rar-rar-rar.” Or two snarling b-girls having a cat-fight with hypodermic needles.

As bad as the acting is, the directing is worse. Not content to make one bad movie, Esper seems to have made three or four, and spliced them together randomly: a low-budget Frankenstein rip-off, intercut with images from a silent film about witches and devil worship, intercut with text from an old psychology book (endless title boards describing various mental conditions in obsolete terms, i.e. Dementia Praecox), intercut with a nudie reel, intercut with random scenes of animal violence.

As bad as the directing is, the cinematography is worse. Seriously, if there is a special circle of Hell for crappy filmmaking, this guy should be up to his ears in lava. Low light, bad light, no light – there are scenes that look like two crows fighting at the bottom of a well. Actors shot from behind, actors blocking each other, actors totally obscured by scenery and props.

I have seen a lot of bad movies, but this is it: the unholy grail of bad movies, the bottom of the bottom, the worst of the worst. Rar-rar-rar! Zero stars. Stu-Bob says check it out.



One Response to Maniac

  1. erik/geekboy says:

    I was there, and I can attest to the accuracy of Stu’s report. But I think you left out one key aspect of the badness of the film that is key to its holding the title of worst use of film stock ever. This movie had the drunkest actors I have ever seen. And I don’t mean pretend drunken acting. I mean plainly obvious full bore 5th day of a bender blind drunken stupor drunk.

    The rar-rar-rar guy may not have been actually delivering lines from the script and once his rar-rar-ranting would finish his head would swivel loosely away from the action in what looks like a motion toward heavy hose vomiting. Although that would have been an addition that would have improved the overall mood of the film.

    The other sparkling drunk performance was the “cat/rat guy”. Let’s see if I can get it right. “The cats eat the rats. The rats eat the cats. And I gets the skins.” Yeah, I think those were the lines. Every one thoroughly slurred.

    The biggest mystery of the film, other than how they suckered anyone into letting them use a camera for this unholy film, is which one was Phyllis Diller? Her name is in the credits and I am pretty sure she is old enough to have been old enough to be around at the time it was filmed. But you can’t really figure it out because none of the women in the film really looked like her. I just don’t want to believe there can be more than one Phyllis Diller.

    For what it’s worth, the film gets points for grainy, out of focus, poorly lit, exposed breasts. It seriously improves its chances of being screened at your local Bad Movie Night.

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