AVAILABLE ON REGION 1 DVD
RUNNING TIME: 86 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
San Jerome in France’s Camargue region. A young woman is snatched from the road by a predatory creep who has his way with her, an act that riles up some of the locals, one of whom blowtorches the guy to death. Four years later, American artist Jeff Farrell arrives in the town on vacation. Having just split up with his girlfriend, he becomes attracted to both Eve Beynat, the owner of the inn where he’s staying at, and her daughter Annette, and both of them seem to want him too. Jeff seems to prefer Eve, causing great jealousy in Annette, but Eve is actually married, though her husband Georges is in an asylum. It was he who killed the child molester four years before and Annette was the victim. Jeff agrees to assist Eve in springing Georges from the asylum….
As I’ve probably said before, my general plan for these Hammer reviews was to only do full length reviews for the films which are of a macabre or fantastical nature, partly because it considerably reduced the work load. The previous two Jimmy Sangster-scripted twisty suspensers definitely merited the long treatment, but Maniac doesn’t have much horror content at all, so a short review will do. It doesn’t have much suspense and atmosphere either, and is overall a rather awkward and uneven affair, pedestrianly directed by Michael Carreras, though it’s certainly not devoid of interest and does entertain once it gets going. Unfortunately, after its really strong opening sequence which begins with a salivating old man looking on at an innocent teenager from behind some bushes and finishes with some brutal [if unexplicit] blowtorch action, the film seems to take forever to get started again as it focuses on the romantic complications of its hero, with not much attempt at building some tension at all and even the promise of a tense asylum escape sequence proving to be false, while it’s silly how both mother and daughter look a similar age and not at all like each other. Just after half way though, things do suddenly become really interesting and there’s a memorable Hitchcock-style climax set in the stone galleries at Les Baux-de-Provence, though the twists in the final feel come so quickly that there’s no time to digest everything and the final surprise is perhaps one too many, it all resulting in more bewilderment than shock.
The largely French locale is an interestingly bleak setting, though Carreras and cinematographer Wilkie Cooper don’t really make the most of it. A bigger problem is the total lack of chemistry between Kerwin Matthews and Nadia Gray which is obvious even if you aren’t aware that both performers were gay. At least Donald Houston has fun as the maniac of the title, though along with a couple of other cast members he was dubbed, while the variable variety of the French accents at least makes for an amusing listen. Nice to see George Pastell on the side of good as the chief cop investigating the goings-ons too. Maniac, which was originally intended to have been shot in 1960 starring Peter Cushing and George Sanders [which would have been interesting] but was delayed for reasons unclear, is not at all a bad movie, but it’s a distinctly run of the mill one, with only a few scattered moments here and there having the required edge. The ingredients for a really juicy thriller are present, but Sangster, who seems to have just dashed this one out, should have probably reworked his script a bit before it was ready for shooting.