Maniac (1934)

Maniac DVD

Roadshow Attractions
 William Woods, Horace Carpenter, Ted Edwards
Directed by: Dwain Esper

Cat Out of the Bag Alert!  This review contains some spoilers for this film!

Synopsis: A truly bizarre early exploitation film which is part horror movie, part psychology lecture, part instructional film on how not to act, part Edgar Allan Poe rip-off and all wonderfully horrible filmmaking.

Featured Feline: There are many cats in the film but the most notable is the black cat named Satan which belongs to Dr. Meirschultz (Horace Carpenter), a truly deranged scientist who has the notion to bring people back from the dead by means of an injection (possibly inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s tale Re-Animator).

Maniac - black cat Satan on pillow

Satan becomes the bane of Don Maxwell (William Woods), a down and out actor and vaudeville impersonator who has been working as the doctor’s assistant.  When the doctor dies, Don takes his place and acts out most of the rest of the film as the doctor.

Maniac - black cat Satan on pillow

The plot is far too complicated and convoluted to get into here, but Don ends up hating the doctor’s black cat Satan.  Why?  Because Don had planned to use the regenerated heart in a jar which Dr. Meirschultz created before his death to bring the doctor back to life.  The only problem is Satan ate it.  (Well, actually, if you look closely you’ll see that the heart is simply tied to the cat’s collar.)

Maniac - black cat Satan with heart attached to collar

Don then decides to hide the doctor’s body in the cellar behind a brick wall.  This is when the movie follows Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Black Cat.  Don goes after Satan and chases the cat around the laboratory.

Maniac - black cat Satan running through lab

Kitty Carnage Warning! When Don catches the cat he squeezes its head.  In what is considered by many to be a controversial scene, mostly because some people feel it could be real, Don pokes the cat’s eye out.  Some film historians have stated that the cat was actually a one-eyed cat and that the eye was fake.  This appears to be true since the eye rolls so neatly away like a marble.  It’s also clear the cat used is not the black cat used in previous scenes, as it appears to be more gray.  But cat continuity is not this film’s strong point, as you will read below.  Consequently Don ends up eating the cat’s eye.  Yeah, this is one messed up movie!

Maniac - Don squeezing Satan cat's eye out

That’s not the end of Satan, because we see him jump up into the space with the doctor while Don is having a poorly timed freak out.

Maniac - black cat Satan jumps into bricked wall

This spoils the ending when the police inspector shows up and hears Satan meowing behind the wall and the doctor’s body is found.

Maniac - black cat Satan inside bricked up wall

Kitty Cameos: Earlier in the film are three truly bizarre scenes with cats.  In the first, the doctor has gone with Don to the morgue to find the body of someone who has committed suicide using gas.  We see a Maine Coon cat sitting in the dark of the morgue and chasing after a rat.

Maniac - Maine Coon cat chasing rat

But seconds later the rat is caught by the cat, only it’s a completely different breed and color!  The cat shown is an orange tabby and the rat can be seen laying off to the side.  Apparently we’re supposed to just accept that this is the same cat seen chasing the rat seconds before!

Maniac - orange tabby cat catches rat

Later Don goes to a funeral home to try to find another body.  When he enters there are two cats engaged in a major cat fight.  The cats are then seen jumping down from somewhere (or rather thrown down . . . all of the cats are thrown around very roughly in this film.)  One of the cats runs under Don’s legs and scares him and he runs from the place in fright.

Maniac - tabby cat runs beneath Don's legs

Don is then seen running down the street where another cat is being chased by and attacked by a dog!  The animals are seen fighting each other as Don runs away.  In all of these fight scenes it appears the animals are somehow tied together, as they end up jerking back towards their opponent while trying to run away.

Maniac - cat and dog fighting on dark street

Cat Cattle Call: But the weirdest part is yet to come!  There is the very bizarre neighbor character who comes looking for a couple of his cats in the middle of the picture (the actor playing this part has yet to be identified).  The character is a rube who thinks the doctor is stealing his cats for experiments.  So you figure he must be an animal lover, right?  Uh, not quite.  When a detective comes around asking question we see the rube neighbor has a bunch of cats in his backyard in cages.  He greets the detective while holding a white Persian cat.

Maniac - rube neighbor greets inspector holding white Angora cat

The rube shows the detective his cats and explains he has “thousands” of them.  The detective wonders if he has a rat problem and the rube explains he has thousands of rats as well.  Several shots of the cats in the cages are shown.

Maniac - white cats in cage

Maniac - gray long haired cat in cage

But the rube then explains that the cats are his business . . . he breeds them for their fur!  And as he explains the rats multiply faster than the cats and eat the cat’s carcasses and the cats eat the rats so somehow this is all supposed to make some kind of sense.  And the detective doesn’t bat an eye about any of this!

Maniac - short haired cat in cage

In short this film must go down in history as not only one of the weirdest movies ever made but certainly one of the most cat unfriendly films as well.

Maniac - rube neighbor behind cat in cage

Final Mewsings: I think we all know the true maniac here was the filmmaker.

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