Cast: Kerwin Mathews, Nadia Gray, Donald Houston, Liliane Brousse, Justin Lord, George Pastell
Director: Michael Carreras
Nutshell: twisting tale of conniving minds, lust, double cross and murder with picturesque Southern France as the scene.
Maniac was molded as another of Hammer’s new wave of psycho thrillers to emerge in the 1960s heavily motivated by profit and highly influenced by Les Diaboliques and Psycho two modestly budgeted thrillers that had raked in huge profits in an era increasingly dominated by technicolor spectacle. Hammer was just one of many studios falling over themselves to somehow try to cash in on the publics increasing appetite for bloodthirsty, twist laden shockers in the style of Psycho. And so, we had the legendary master of the quick “cash-in” William Castle releasing the delightful Homicidal in 1961 and Roman Polanski’s Repulsion hit screens in 1965. Joan Crawford starred in Berserk! There was Psychomania, Pyro and also Fanatic and Hysteria and more to follow. The dollar was the motivating factor as studios rush released their low budget shockers in the hope that they too would reap the stupendous rewards that Psycho had done.
Maniac is shot in what was then known as “mega scope” which today would translate to “widescreen” or cinemascope even. The action takes place in the south of France by the vineyards and some of the location work looks quite excellent; beautifully shot and lit to perfection lending a rare touch of lavish visual sense to the otherwise fairly economical production. If that had been the intention of the producers it certainly works elevating the visual “class” of the movie beyond its modest realm and its frugal production costs. Indicator, a recently formed Blu Ray company have issued Maniac and other films from the Hammer/Columbia collaboration which look absolutely stunning; probably better than they have ever previously appeared. Scanned in High Definition from the original negatives, the films are a delight even if there is obvious grain which should not be a surprise for a film shot as long ago as Maniac was. In no way does the element of grain detract from what is a quite beautiful transfer and delicious visual treat.
The film features a ghastly incident where a pedophile assaults a young woman and the girls father than takes a blow torch to the pervert for retribution but then gets put away in an asylum for his brutal blow-torching of the rapist!
A few short years on, the young girl has blossomed into a shapely beauty and a visiting playboy-gigolo type of wastrel American starts sniffing around her, trying to woo her with some sexy dancing and is making good headway when the step-mother makes an intervention with designs of her own. The American appears to have no issues with trying to woo either the step mother or the young nymph; if he can’t have one he is willing to have the other, or perhaps both. The step daughter is disgusted at her mother’s brazen behavior especially as she is still married to her incarcerated father. The stepmother cavorts around with the American sleaze without a care in the world.
Then the plot starts to head in a direction that you yearned and knew that it would! A plot is hatched by the helpless bar-lady stepmother cougar so that she can be with her new man and forge a new life with her fresh young lover away from the clutches of her demented husband. But in order to do so she has to get a divorce from the “Maniac” and only then will she be free. She has to go to see the ogre in the nuthouse every month and she returns heavy hearted and depressed because she cannot be rid of him.
An agreement is reached between the three; the husband and wife and her lover. If they help him spring out of jail and make good his escape then in return he will allow them to live happily ever after and settle far away somewhere else where he will send for his daughter as well.
For the opportunistic American it seems like a pretty solid plan, he gets to keep the lusty wife and her pub room and board business and all her wealth and can also make further advances in the direction of her step daughter if the need may arise. So, the “maniac” is sprung from jail but sure enough he doesn’t stick to his word and soon terrible complications start to arise. An accomplices body shows up in the boot of the adulterous couple’s car even after it has been dispensed of in the river reminiscent of the body in Diaboliques.
The “Maniac” re-appears to take revenge on the American for having dared to lay hands on his wife while he was away and once again the dreaded Blow Torch is fueled up to the maximum for some vigorous use ahead. Horrendous events take place and much flesh is charred before a nefarious twist is revealed but as the film reaches its conclusion in a quite stunning backdrop will the nefarious schemers get away with murder or is there yet another twist in the tail to go?
The film is beautifully shot and sumptuously presented and the acting for the most part is pretty solid including the less than likeable lead male character, the American opportunist rat. Maniac is never dull and moves along briskly to its twist laden conclusion rather deftly. The background music is often jarring and inappropriate but generally the film holds together fairly well without ever reaching anything like the resonance or power of Psycho or the seedy atmospheric sleaze and intrigue of Les Diaboliques either and yet holds its own as a fairly entertaining Psycho clone.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the film is that there is no Maniac at all and an audience has some right to feel slightly cheated at this fact. The villain is a perfectly sane, cold hearted, calculating man, but not by any stretch of imagination is he psychotic or a maniac of any sort. The fact is that there is no such Maniac at all other than a pedophile at the start of the film.
For genre fans and those who have a particular interest in the often-glorious history of Hammer Studios, the film is essential viewing and is a well-crafted and expertly shot. Its also features some fine performances especially from the two leading ladies and is entertaining enough to warrant a look in. Once again, Indicator have done a sterling job in issuing this film and their effort in making it look as good as it does has more than paid off. A decent and interesting genre entry and a fabulous Blu-ray release from Indicator.