Maniac (Dwain Esper / U.S., 1934):
(Sex Maniac)

A Poverty Row banner year for Poe, though whereas Ulmer's The Black Cat is elegantly somnambulist, Dwain Esper's stupefying parody is spastically hopped-up. In both cases, Edgar A. is stunningly served. The Tell-Tale Heart figures here, pulsating in a jar, but cats are Esper's babies, hissing in abrupt inserts, pouncing on mice or on each other in vérité shots, and peeking from behind bars in a fur-farm while their yahoo-owner gives an overview of the universe: "The rats eat the cats, the cats eat the rats... and I get the skins." As lucid as anything in the screenplay by Hildegarde Stadie, Esper's wife and fellow pop huckster and avant-gardist, designed to cram as much lurid detail up the crevasses of the medical-loon narrative as possible (or legal) in 1934. Thus, a corpse (female and shapely, duh) gets revived into zombiedom, only to be carried away to a different movie by a crackpot believing himself the killer orangutan from Murders in the Rue Morgue, although sane enough to rip her top off for the camera before ravaging her. An ocular close-up is from Buñuel, of course, but the bungled examination of apeshit Ted Edwards is kept in medium-shot, the better to record the body and soul contortions of an inspired performer, understood by Renoir circa Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier. Going backwards, the comely stiff got revived by experimental serum and shoulder massages, administered by mad-as-a-hatter scientist Horace B. Carpenter and fugitive vaudevillian Bill Woods, his tremulous lackey, as a couple of morgue helpers, frozen somewhere off the frame, provide running commentary. Woods shoots Carpenter and takes over his role, pondering his insanity while demonic bits (culled from German silents) are superimposed over the image, Esper's montage of existing texts -- is it an accident that Woods resembles Eisenstein? "Primitive tendencies" run amok, along with cheesecake, fun with syringes, a feline eye popped and ingested, medical definitions between scenes, gals-gone-wild fighting in the basement, and the hero soliloquizing the Esper-Stadie disjunctive statement: "Our defense against a world which is not of our making or our liking." With Thea Ramsey, and Phyllis Diller. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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