2017.54: Maniac (1963)
Hammer is remembered these days as a horror studio, but they made all sorts of films back in the day- Maniac being one of its noir/psychological b&w thrillers. Set in France with some impressive widescreen photography out on location, Maniac is quite a surprise when one considers Hammer’s mostly studio-based Gothic horrors, with their constantly familiar sets. Maniac looks different; bigger, more sophisticated visually.
It is of course, almost at odds with the ambitious location shooting, a pulpish thriller that doesn’t stray too far from what one would expect, but it does start with a very unnerving sequence in which a girl returning from school is picked up and attacked. It’s really quite a brutal sequence, more from what is inferred happening off-screen and our own imaginations, and the film starts confounding our genre expectations from the start- the girl’s rapist is not the maniac of the films title at all. Instead, we see the girl’s father taking justice into his own hands when he catches the rapist and viciously murders him with a welding torch. What is this, a Tarantino movie?
Its funny watching ‘old’ films like this for the first time with modern eyes and different social attitudes. The hero of the film is Geoff Farrell, an American painter played by Kerwin Matthews, Sinbad himself, no less. Farrell is an utter bastard, a self-preoccupied narcist on the bounce from a failed relationship with a rich girlfriend who latches first onto Annette, the girl who was raped five years earlier in the films aforementioned prologue, and then when those overtures seem thwarted, has an affair with her mother, Eve (Nadia Gray). By the time all the twists and turns have resulted in Eve being arrested by the police, Farrell then latches onto Annette again. Really, it had me thinking that Annette would have been safer with the maniac. It’s not that the character of Farrell does anything particularly bad from the point of view of 1950s/1960s society, but it does look damned questionable from the perspective of 2017. It rather lends this formulaic, if surprisingly effective thriller with an extra layer of grubbiness and sense of distaste, with some questionable sexual objectification of women in general.
In anycase, it’s a great little pulp thriller which suggests there was far more to Hammer than just those gothic horrors we are more familiar with. If you could smell a film, Maniac would be thick with the slightly mouldering odour of old paperback pulp potboilers sitting out on bookstore racks in the old days. It is what it is, and pretty glorious for that.
Maniac can currently be found on Indicator’s recent Hammer vol.1 boxset- slipping fairly obscure (Hammer purists will no doubt take me to task for that) films like this in boxsets such as this is a great move, as I doubt many would purchase Maniac on disc on its own merits. As it is, the film can be a very pleasant surprise for those like me who are unfamiliar with it. The picture quality is pretty great in HD, especially considering how badly some of those more popular gothic horors have fared in comparison. Indicator even supply a fantastic booklet and plenty of on-disc extras, surely going the extra mile for a film that wouldn’t ordinarily be on the receiving end of such attention. More please, Indicator!