Blowtorch Killer

It’s easy to look at actor Donald Houston’s deranged eyes and see the killer. Armed with a blowtorch to burn his victims, Houston nearly joins the screen’s serial killer elite. He’s for show. In reality, it’s Eve (Nadia Gray) who earns the audience’s fear.

In an affair with the visiting Jeff (Kerwin Mathews), Eve shares an intimate chat. Jeff replies, “I want your problems to be my problems,” and Eve’s eyes relay the deceit, a look that can only suggest her villainy. Houston murders people directly; Eve strings them along, gives them false hope, and lies as she abrasively engages in sin.

… much as Maniac builds some greater mystery, when revealed, the shock isn’t there

Maniac adores how quaint and beautiful this all is. The open French air leads to beach side horseback rides and preserved ruins host romantic picnics. There’s an inescapable sense something is sinister, even as the sun sets. Nothing is this perfect, and maybe that’s cynical, but this is a Hammer thriller/horror movie. Trapped amid this miserable, deceptive love affair is a teenager Annette (Liliane Brousse), Eve’s step daughter, who accosts Eve for being so salacious. Other than the rarely seen police inspector, Annette is Maniac’s only source of pure, unaffected right. Her being carried and manipulated through this murder saga veers the story into tragedy.

Although flooded in the final act with twists and Maniac favors a slow burn approach, it’s a disarming movie. What begins in the lush countryside leads to a gruesome rape off screen, immediately tearing away a sense of safety. While the ‘50s carried their own fears, come the ‘60s, suddenly those dangers seemed more personal. A nuke is frightening in its scale; a killer moving about unchecked always feels near.

Away from Eve, the cast isn’t much. Mathews is fine. Brousse brings slight emotion to one of her last screen roles, her casting undoubtedly based on looks given the contrast between her blonde and her step mother’s brunette hair. And, much as Maniac builds some greater mystery, when revealed, the shock isn’t there. It’s too much, deflating the sexual energy, challenging plausibility, and rushing to a conclusion. Plus the staging isn’t effective, even if the location is. Where everything in the village is pristine, Eve tries escaping from nearby ruins as killers chase her down. Removed from scenic perfection, she’s no longer in a familiar place or with familiar people, her entire world crumbling like those centuries old bricks.

Video

Near flawless. What’s clearly a high resolution scan shows the full potential in this film stock. Marvelous clarity resolves the tiny details, notable for the facial definition, but also signage, which even at distance, remains totally legible. Location cinematography brings out fidelity in gobs, including the sandy beaches and overgrown shrubbery. Not a second of Maniac looks its age. This is ready made for the HD era.

No print damage intrudes. Scratches, dust, dirt; it’s nearly all cleared away. Filtering tools stay turned off. Only Mill Creek’s compression draws concern, slightly – ever so slightly – introducing digital artifacts into an otherwise commendable, film-like image. Mostly, the cause is smoke (or other such debris) in the frame, complicating things. Although sharing disc space with The Snorkel, there’s enough room for the pair.

Contrast provides strength to give Maniac awesome dimensionality. Gray scale makes for a showpiece of how to properly handle such things, varied and rich. Potent black levels brush against strengthened contrast, making the most of this B&W feature.

Audio

Bass strings vibrantly push out from this mono track. Their clarity and depth excel beyond usual mono constraints, giving the subwoofer something to monitor. It’s fantastic given the age.

It’s the other end lacking the same. Treble wobbles at the peak, or worse, screeches into existence. Dialog clarity fares better, only inconsistent at the source where dubbing and other differences stick out.

Extras

Nothing.

Maniac (1963)
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A killer with a blowtorch is overshadowed by his sinister lover in Hammer Studios’ Maniac, a movie undone by the closing act.

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