The Maniac directed by Michael Carreras
Up until recently, I had been aware of only two films with the title Maniac: the 1934 camp classic directed by Dwain Esper and the repugnant 1980 picture with Joe Spinell as a deranged mannequin lover. The existence of the British The Maniac, a 1963 product from the great Hammer Studios, thus came as a nice surprise for me.
Part of the Hammer “Icons of Suspense” six-film box set, the picture shares a DVD with the studio’s 1958 film The Snorkel, with which it shares many similarities. Both are finely crafted exercises in suspense, shot in beautiful B&W, written by Jimmy Sangster and taking place on the Mediterranean coast. In The Maniac, we meet a hunky-dude American artist, Geoff Farrell (appealingly played by Kerwin Matthews, who many viewers will recall from the Ray Harryhausen films The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver), who finds himself marooned in the wild southern region of France known as the Camargue after breaking up with his wealthy girlfriend (Justine Lord, known to this viewer best as Sonia, from my favorite episode of The Prisoner, “The Girl Who Was Death”). Staying at a small “pension,” he gets lustily involved with the attractive proprietress, Eve (Romanian actress Nadia Gray, who I’d only previously encountered in another Prisoner episode, “The Chimes of Big Ben”), AND her beautiful young stepdaughter, Annette (Liliane Brousse, who reminds this viewer a lot of the young Marianna Hill). Too bad, though, that the gals’ husband/father – a homicidal nutjob who had, four years earlier, grotesquely murdered a man with an acetylene blowtorch(!) – has escaped from his asylum and is now seeking new victims…
The Maniac is surely a film that will keep the viewer guessing, and has been cleverly plotted – perhaps overly plotted – by Sangster. Indeed, there are at least three plot twists in the film, one too many for this viewer, although the story does manage to cohere together. Personally, I preferred the simpler story line and greater suspense of The Snorkel, but that’s just me.
To his credit, director Michael Carreras does a fine, imaginative job here, exhibiting a shrewd sense of camera placement; he would go on to helm such Hammer entertainments as The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, the shlocky camp dud Prehistoric Women and The Lost Continent. Like The Snorkel again, Maniac features some beautiful nighttime photography, and its evocation of place is very well brought off, whether the film was shot in France or not (I don’t believe it was).
Matthews, as usual, makes for an enormously likable leading man, here playing a basically decent person who suddenly finds himself in way deep over his head. Viewers, by the way, might enjoy making a drinking game out of The Maniac, taking a shot every time Farrell does (I counted at least 10 such instances!).
The film features an unfortunately weak ending, taking place in what appears to be a deserted quarry of sorts, and, at the risk of belaboring a point, this denouement pales greatly in contrast to the supremely satisfying double ending to be found in The Snorkel. Still, the 1963 picture remains a perfectly acceptable and riveting entertainment, and easily the best exemplar of the filmmaking craft as compared to those other two Maniacs mentioned above!