Blu-Ray Review: The Maniac (1963).

Directed by Michael Carreras
Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster
Director of Photography: Wilkie Cooper
Music by Stanley Black
Film Editor: Tom Simpson

Cast: Kerwin Mathews (Paul Farrell), Nadia Gray (Eve Beynat), Norman Bird (Salon), Liliane Brousse (Annette Beynat), Arnold Diamond (Janiello), Donald Houston (George)

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(The) Maniac (1963) contains many of the things I love about 60s movies. It’s black and white ‘Scope, with some really cool camera stuff every once in a while. It wallows in what they could now put on the more-permissive screen — such as death by blowtorch, though they do it without actually putting it on the screen. It’s got a terrific jazzy score by Stanley Black. I could go on.

Being that Maniac is a Hammer film, none of this should come as a big surprise. In their hey-day, they pushed the envelope big time. What is a surprise is just how good this post-Psycho psychological horror picture really is — and how it holds up today. As a kid, I was cheesed off that it had no Frankenstein or Dracula. Now it’s creepy, lurid and downright cool.

So here’s the story. A young woman is assaulted by a man in a small town in the South of France. Her father kills the guy with a blowtorch and is sent to an insane asylum. An American artist (Kerwin Mathews) comes to town and is attracted to the girl, now a pretty young lady (Liliane Brousse), and her mother Eve (Nadia Gray). Mathews begins an affair with Eve, and they devise a plot to spring dad from the nuthouse. He says he’s give Eve a divorce if she’ll help him. From there on, nothing is as it seems.

Aside from the psycho freak (Donald Houston) wielding a blowtorch, what really strikes me about Manic is what a slimeball Mathews is in it. To see Sinbad himself hitting on both a teenager and her stepmother, dumping a body into the bay and pounding gallons of brandy, is a little jarring. The previous year, he’d been in Hammer’s Pirates of Blood River (1962). Of course, Nadia Gray will forever be known for her stripping scene in that Fellini thing La Dolce Vita (1960).

Michael Carreras’ direction tends to be a bit flat, but this is his best picture. He was a much better producer or writer than a director — his dad ran Hammer. Jimmy Sangster’s script offers up some unexpected turns here and there. But what the picture really has going for it is DP Wilkie Cooper’s black and white Megascope photography. He gives the picture real flair, but pours on the shadows when needed. The whole thing is total claptrap, but it’s so well put together, who cares?

Cooper’s work is served very well on Blu-Ray by Mill Creek Entertainment. Maniac is paired with Die! Die! My Darling! (1965; UK title: Fanatic), and both look like a million bucks. Black and white tends to take on a lot of depth in high definition, and with Mill Creek’s incredible price point on these things, this thing’s a must.

The other Hammer double feature pairs up Scream Of Fear (1960) with Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960). It’s every bit as nice as this set.

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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Mill Creek

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