Plot: A former vaudeville actor works as a lab assistant to a scientist attempting to bring the dead back to life. Following the accidental murder of his boss, he steals his identity but is slowly driven obscene. Then, he eats a cat eye.
This Dwain Esper madness is well worth checking out for fans of bad cinema or just weirdo outsider art. Esper allegedly stumbled upon film equipment in a foreclosed property and then made his little movies outside of Hollywood which is apparently why he could show nipples in 1934. There's so much weirdness here, and it's not just because of a really odd scene where the main character eats a cat's eye after a short monologue in which he says it can't be much different than a grape or an olive.
No, the weirdness and main draw here is the acting which is truly some of the worst you'll ever see. The early-30's aren't exactly known for the best acting performances, but I'm not sure where they found some of these people or why Esper decided they needed to display their talents on film. In any other movie, the best-worst would be Horace B. Carpenter who plays the mad scientist with this wacky German accent and out-of-control eyebrows. But then, you're just given bad performance after bad performance. The pair of morticians, the strange cat fur guy, the quartet of lingerie-clad broads and especially the one with the worst movie voice I've heard in years. And Ted Edwards who plays Phyllis Diller's (!) husband Buckley. Watching his scene where he's injected with something that transforms him into a psychotic rapist, I can't decide if it's the worst acting I've ever seen or the greatest acting I've ever seen. Bill Woods, our protagonist, isn't great, but his impersonation of Carpenter doing what he thinks is a German mad scientist is spot on. It's all wacky stuff though.
The best performance might be from the cat--Satan.
Also adding to the strangeness is that Esper tried inject some educational value into what was obviously just an excuse to show some boobs. Dryly, title screens tell the viewer all about miscellaneous psychoses. There are also scenes where Woods has scenes from 1920's horror movies (Haxan maybe?) swimming around him, I guess to show us that he is losing his mind. Add to that Esper's ripping off of a Poe story (and trust me, it's more ripping off than it is an adaptation despite what the poster or dvd box says up there) and more extraneous scenes than you'll ever see in a 50-minute movie and there's more than enough to confuse the average viewer.
There are loads of movies that are so bad that they're entertaining. Only a handful--your Ed Woods or Manos: The Hands of Fates or Beasts of Yucca Flats--are so bizarrely bad that there almost seems to be some insane genius at play. Maniac belongs in that category of bad filmmaking.