This film is freaking weird.
Maniac follows Don Maxwell, a former vaudeville impersonator and an assistant to a mad scientist. The scientist, Doctor Meirschultz, is researching ways to resurrect the dead, and has even brought a woman back to life. when Meirschultz believes he has perfected his formula, he asks Maxwell to kill himself with a loaded pistol that Meirschultz provides. Maxwell makes the logical decision to shoot Meirschultz, and instead assumed his identity. From then, things get really weird, with the plot going off with on a really confusing plot that appears to be from a completely different film, with Maxwell (as Meirschultz) receiving notification from Maxwell’s wife that Maxwell has come into an inheritance, while Maxwell is also being blackmailed by the wife of one of Meirschultz’s patients who believes that Meirschultz has killed Maxwell.
Through all of this, like other exploitation films like Reefer Madness and I Accuse My Parents, Maniac tries to justify its existence by purporting to be an educational film. It frequently stops stone dead to show title cards showing various forms of mental illness that the filmmakers purport to claim are relevant to the plot, in only the most dubious way.
The film’s story is also horrifically structured, shot, and edited. The overall plot of the film feels, as mentioned earlier, like the scripts of two unrelated movies poorly duct-taped together. Potentially significant characters run headlong out of the film and are never seen again. The way the film is shot completely ignores the 180-degree rule – not in an artful deliberate way like Ozu or Kubrick did – but in a very clunky ham-fisted fashion. And let’s be clear, this is 1934 – the 180-degree rule had been laid out decades before this.
This film is not great – there is a Rifftrax for this film, and it’s probably the only way I’d recommend seeing this movie.