Maniac Becomes Monster

“Maniac” or also known as “Sex Maniac” is a film directed by Dwain Esper an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat”. The film is about a mad scientist, Dr. Meirshultz, who is attempting to reanimate dead corpses. His has an ex-vaudeville assistant Maxwell. Dr. Meirshultz is in the process of reanimating a dead woman and he instructs Maxwell to kill someone for him to reanimate in an experiment. After this failure and a very angry scolding from the Dr., he then instructs Maxwell to kill himself so that he can revive him. Maxwell takes the gun and shoots the Dr. He then impersonates the Dr. and hides him in the walls of a chimney, much like the narrator in Poe’s “The Black Cat”. After the murder of Dr. Meirshultz, the film shows Maxwell’s descent into “insanity.”

The film is set to exhibit the different characteristics of “General paresis of the insane” including sourcing of The Chicago Institute of Research and Diagnosis. I feel that it is what was believed at the time, as an educational analysis of “insanity.” The “insanity” that they actually reference is a later stage of Syphilis. The symptoms are actually that of a loss of cortical functioning and dementia.

Most of the scenes started with some symptoms of the illness and shape how Esper wanted the audience to interpret the story. Maxwell decides to turn himself into Dr. Meirshultz, his final performance. Through this process, he becomes overly obsessed with becoming Dr. Meirshultz and “goes crazy”. He tries to treat a patient, Buckley who has hallucinations and injects him with something that worsens his condition and turns him even crazier who runs off and eventually steals and rapes the dead woman who was in the process of being revived earlier in the movie.

There is a cat from the beginning of the movie that Maxwell literally calls Satan and throughout the movie he becomes more and more stuck on the idea that ‘Satan’ has a gleam that is following him and is always followed by “demonic” imagery. For him, these triggers are the driving force that motivates him to continue to do wrong. Eventually he captures ‘Satan’ who seems to be following and tormenting him and pops out his eyeball and eats it- consuming “the gleam” paralleling Poe’s narrator who also rips out the cat’s (that also torments him) eye. After a visit from his wife requesting to speak to Maxwell and an increasing fear of Buckley’s wife and her alerting the police he pins them against each other. He tells one that the other is a mental patient and to stab the other to sedate them and they end up fighting and a neighbor alerts the police who eventually come and search the house. Upon entering the basement there is meow heard from within the walls where they uncover the body of Dr. Meirshultz with Satan sitting on his head.  

Cohen’s Monster Theory is being depicted throughout the movie. Firstly, Maxwell himself becomes a monster as he goes insane with being Dr. Meirshultz and behaves increasingly more crazed. The first theory of Monster Theory says that the “monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and projection, the monster exists only to be read.” Maxwell himself after talking to Buckley’s (the man with hallucination) wife says, “ Meirshultz would be missed, Maxwell never would.” The movie takes place during the great depression, a time where we all know there was immense poverty and general misfortune. The psyche of the American people could not be a positive one. A general sense of inadequacy and consequently isolation because of their depression was showcased during this time. Maxwell, an ex vaudeville actor-perhaps couldn’t continue his career because of the depression. The entertainment industry like everything else suffered substantially. He clearly felt that he was inadequate as his wife had left him and he was unhappy with his life, like many other Americans.  Maxwell projected these feelings into manifesting into the “crazy” Dr. Meirshultz to become someone else.

The gleam that Maxwell continuously mentions seeing either in Satan the cat, Buckley’s wife later or the look his wife gives talking to Dr. Meirshultz is a constant reminder of the acts he has committed. Not only of the murder of Dr. Meirshultz, but of Maxwell’s failures in general. The first time that “Satan” is depicted is when Maxwell goes out to look for someone for the Dr. to ‘reanimate.’ The cat is fighting with another cat.

There are many other subjects that could be discussed such as the dehumanization of the mentally ill and society’s depiction of them. Overall most of the themes, I felt, were statements about society and mental health, but interestingly enough this movie was not marketed that way. The taglines are “strange love exposed, a subject seldom exposed” and within the advertisement it is sure to say “adults only” making it seem much more scandalous than it really is. There is a scene of mild nudity, but that’s about it. I would argue that the movie has nothing at all to do with romance for that matter, I don’t quite understand why it was marketed in this way.


The movie did not seem to do very well, I can imagine in part because of the advertising. It made the movie seem like something entirely different from what it really was. I can imagine during this time in watching movies was not something that the general American public could afford to do.
Film Information:

Film: “Maniac”

Director: Dwain Esper

Writer: Hildegarde Stadie

Cast: Bill Woods, Horace B. Carpenter,  Ted Diller, Phyllis Diller, Thea Ramsey, Jenny Dark, Marvelle Andre, Cella McCann