A scientist, Dr. Meirschultz, is in the process of learning the secrets to regenerating dead tissue. Once everything is locked in place he hands his assistant, Maxwell, a gun and insists that he kill himself in order for them to properly test their new reagent. Without haste the apprentice shoots the doc, and promises to revive him via their secret formula. Of course he has no intention of giving new life to a man who just asked him to take his own, so Maxwell buries him behind a brick wall with a cat (yes, yes, Poe’s “The Black Cat”).
Maxwell, freshly turned murderer, disguises himself as his former employer and carries on with the experiments. In his Meirschultz get-up (a fright wig and a beard) Maxwell steals his experimental animals from a local cat rancher, and just for fun he pops their eyes out and eats them. Maxwell’s girlfriend visits, and informs him of a great amount of money that he is about to inherit. In his stark, raving mad mind he concocts the notion that she is going to kill him for his dough, and so he orchestrates a cat-fight between her and another female. He lures them into the basement (both armed with hypos), and they tear into one another kicking, punching, screaming and stabbing each other with needles.
As good as this may seem (and it is good) this wasn’t the point of this film at all. When “Maniac” was originally released it bombed miserably. Dwain Esper, a road-showman, took the film and re-edited it. While he was at it he added an all-girl pajama party, then a few flashes of naked breasts, and the film became a smash.
The road-showman were much like the carnival-come-to-town for seekers of the cinematic unknown. Folks like Esper, Kroger Babb, Dan Sonney or Dave Friedman would roll in with an old, worn out, piece of s**t movie, and tout it as the hottest thing around. Usually, the film in question was older than dirt, but the showmen (dubbed the Forty Thieves) would spice it up a bit with nudity of sort kind or another. Also, depending on the territories, the film could be racier, or perhaps less so. The more progressive the area, the more skin they could show, and of course the uptight, conservative parts of the country got little to no undress.
“Maniac” was also known as “Sex Maniac”. Vintage Movie Classics released this under the banner “Psychotic Connections” with two other features: “Wes Craven’s Chiller” and “Gothic”. “Maniac” gets 4 stars not for the quality of the print or even the movie itself, but mostly for its historical value and importance. This was one of the first “psychotronic” films to come about. Esper was also responsible for “Tell Your Children”, better known as “Reefer Madness”.