Maniac

Hammer and horror, it’s hard to think of one and not the other. I guess this is fair enough as the studio made its name, and maintains its own corner within popular of culture as a result of this automatic association. Late night TV screenings of the famous Gothic horrors and their spin-offs also helped cement this image in our consciousness. Still, despite being an integral and influential part of the studio’s output, it was not the exclusive focus. There were also crime movies, Sci-Fi, fantasy,  swashbucklers, and of course thrillers. The increasing number of DVD and Blu-ray releases over the years has highlighted this range with recent packages from Powerhouse/Indicator, including the set with Maniac (1963), demonstrating just how attractive these films can look.

A French schoolgirl, Annette Beynat (Liliane Brousse), is on her way home when she is forced into a car and then assaulted. This ordeal is witnessed by youngster who alerts the girl’s father. Enraged by this, he attacks the culprit and hauls him unconscious back to his workshop, where he then kills him with a welding torch. This is pretty strong stuff but, mercifully, nothing graphic is actually shown on screen, all of the shocking and grisly elements being left to the viewers’ imagination. That’s the setup. We then leap ahead four years to the bar run by Annette and her stepmother Eve (Nadia Gray), and the arrival in their midst of an American painter, Jeff Farrell (Kerwin Mathews) who has been drifting around the south of France. He represents a new source of heat in an already hot spot and arouses the interests of both the women. Soon though, he sets his sights on the more experienced Eve and embarks on a relationship which draws Annette’s ire and also leads to a plan that puts many lives in danger. Eve wants out of her marriage and her husband wants out of the asylum where he has been confined. So a plot is hatched to give everyone what, on the surface anyway, they seem to desire. Of course, in such a tale nothing and nobody is ever quite what they seem…

After the somewhat brutal opening it’s clear enough that this isn’t a Hammer Gothic, although what follows looks for a time like it intends to develop into a Southern Gothic of the Tennessee Williams variety, with a hot and sweaty Kerwin Mathews generating friction and causing the emotional temperature of the Camargue to climb. However, in a picture where the tone and ground are forever shifting, the touch of writer Jimmy Sangster soon steers the kind of convoluted course that ought to be familiar to anyone who’s seen any of his mini-Hitchcock thrillers. It reveals itself as a twisty and absorbing thriller with deception and betrayal at its core. I tend to think (with good reason given how many credits he racked up in that role) of Michael Carreras as a producer first and foremost, although he did direct a number of features too. He makes good use of the French locations in this one and the scope frame both highlights the scenery and, when employed at low angles, gives an unexpectedly claustrophobic feel to some of the interiors.

Nadia Gray is probably the pick of the performers as the passionate bar owner at the center of an increasingly complex web. Mathews is fine too as the lead, a man who thinks he knows exactly what he’s doing but we always have the idea someone is manipulating him very skillfully. Liliane Brousse is very charming and Donald Houston, especially when seen behind dark glasses, provides a hulking and threatening presence.

A word now about the presentation of the Indicator Blu-ray, currently only available as part of this limited edition box set.  The black and white scope image looks very crisp and clear, a super transfer. As usual with this company’s releases, the supplements are first-rate including specially commissioned booklets and on disc features such as a short, original documentary  on the film, another feature on Nadia Gray and yet another with reminiscences of the shooting from surviving crew members.  All told, we’re looking at a really attractive package here that gives the movie its due, and then some.

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36 thoughts on “Maniac

  1. Great review Colin. I am a total sucker for the Sangster suspense yarns and, once you get past the blowtorch nastiness, this is a nicely twisting yarn that is not really as unpleadant as the advertising suggested. Not got the Powerhouse box but clearly I must. Remember liking Gray a lot in THE PRISONER episode “Chimes of Big Ben”

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    • Yes, and none of that nastiness is ever actually shown, which I’m grateful for.
      The film is a good suspense thriller in essence and does twist and deceive successfully, and it just looks really good too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A nice compliment to your recent excellent diversion into vintage British B Thrillers,now leading us into (for RTHC) a rare journey into Hammer territory.
    Cannot argue with anything you say in your fine review and you are totally on target about the films strong points. Arguably the best of Carreras’ work as a director who had a diverse list of credits to say the least.
    Round about the same time Carreras and Sangster formed an outfit called Capricorn Films with the intention of making a series of Westerns filmed in Europe-well Spain,actually. This short lived foray only resulted in one film THE SAVAGE GUNS but at least the duo were ahead of the game somewhat as THE SAVAGE GUNS is arguably the first Euro Western. Interestingly the film had not one but three American leads Richard Basehart,Don Taylor and Alex Nicol all who had previous Hammer credits.
    Another virtually “lost” Carreras Hammer project was the War Movie THE STEEL BAYONET a United Artists release. To my knowledge THE STEEL BAYONET has not even had a DVD release.
    I must admit,for economic and space saving reasons I have the Mill Creek version of MANIAC and it’s an excellent transfer. The film is double billed with DIE,DIE MY DARLING-the film is OK but the transfer is stellar. MANIAC was double billed with THE DAMNED in the UK and I understand Indicator have Losey’s excellent film on their release schedule. There are other Indicator box set Hammers that I want as hopefully, Mill Creek double bills, especially THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY; for the reasons stated above,especially with these days of the ever decreasing pound since the Brexit disaster.

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    • I’d love to see The Steel Bayonet as it’s one of those films I’ve only ever heard about.
      More Hammer on the way shortly, John – a title you’ve mentioned here as it happens…

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  3. Nice selection. Looking forward to a re-watch. Been years and I have that box set you’re referring too as well as the other two sets they did on Hammer titles. Can’t help myself when it comes to the studios output and I’m very quickly learning indicator is doing a wonderful job on most anything they issue. Hopefully another hammer set to follow. Also eyeing up that Scott boetticher set.

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  4. A good review of a lesser known twisty Hammer thriller, Colin. I have the old R1 ‘Hammer Films Icons of Suspense Collection’ dvd set which also includes STOP ME BEFORE I KILL!, CASH ON DEMAND, THE SNORKEL, NEVER TAKE CANDY FROM A STRANGER and THESE ARE THE DAMNED. The Indicator set sounds tempting with all the extras but I don’t feel I can justify another double dip just yet, especially since I recently bought the Boetticher/Scott set.

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    • I know exactly what you mean, Ian. It’s simply not possible to buy everything again and I find I limit myself, more and more these days as money gets ever tighter, to films I “must” have in HD, those which I reckon will benefit most from the improved presentation, or those where i was dissatisfied with they way they looked in earlier editions. I think we all know what works best for us and, indeed, there are lots of times when I say to myself what I have gives me plenty of pleasure and therefore will do.

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  5. Interesting that Ian raises some more Hammer titles as I have watched two of them very recently – “THE SNORKEL” & “CASH ON DEMAND”, both good but the latter especially. A progammer certainly but some excellent work here, Peter Cushing superb in particular.

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  6. The Indicator NIGHT OF THE DEMON a must have and 4 versions on a 2xBlu Ray set.
    It’s hard to knock Indicator for the splendid work that they do but I do find their packaging excessive in the box sets-as one person described as “the Brick” I do wish they would use slimline cases for the discs at least. I’ll stick to the Mill Creek Castles which I’m totally happy with- superb picture quality I thought-at least on the HOMICIDAL/MR SARDONICUS double. 13 GHOSTS and 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS minor Castle that I can live without. I will get the Mill Creek STRAIGHT JACKET/BERSERK double..at that price how can I resist..plus the space saving factor. I do recall,I think,on Home Theatre Forum, Colin you classed BERSERK as a “guilty pleasure” if my memory serves me well.
    Regarding THE STEEL BAYONET I recall seeing it back in the 1960’s and thought it pretty good especially in Black & White ‘scope. I’m sure it will turn up on Blu Ray eventually-it’s one of the few Hammer films distributed by United Artists. Great that you seem to be on a “Hammer” vibe at the moment.

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    • I just dispose of packaging nowadays and everything goes in binders – I just don’t have the space, and it’s easier for me to locate stuff this way.

      The HTF? That’s possible, John, but it must be a while back as I’ve not visited that place for a good few years – sadly, a few run-ins with a couple of bumptious members told me I didn’t need to spend a lot of time there.

      Seeing as we’re talking Castle, I watched The Night Walker the other day. I hadn’t seen it for years and enjoyed it a lot – another “guilty pleasure” in a way.

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  7. Colin, when you say you dispose of packaging I hope
    it does not get thrown away…..?
    Binders sounds intriguing to say the least.
    The HFT thing was ages ago-well before I started
    “invading” RTHC…I don’t go there either these days.
    THE NIGHT WALKER top drawer Castle IMHO.

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    • I’m afraid the packaging, aside from booklets and the like, does get ditched, John. I’ve had to make a few moves in recent years and there just wasn’t any other way.
      The binders? I have a number assigned to each title, and then synced with DVD Profiler, which I have sorted alphabetically. It means all I have to do to find a title is look at the database (you can see my online numbered collection here) to get the number and then retrieve the corresponding number from the relevant binder/file. A new disc just gets assigned the next number and then is sorted alphabetically in the database. Easy.

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      • Well, that’s impressive; I presume the DVD Profiler programme gives you all the film details, DVD sleeve, cast etc.Or is that a job for you?
        Regarding HTF, they always seem to be falling out over there. I guess if we haven’t got a 60 inch TV with expensive surround system, then we’re unworthy.

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        • I was a pretty regular to the HTF once upon a time, but it’s been an absolute age since my last visit. There was usually plenty of useful info shared, and probably still is, but I just got fed up with some of the other stuff.

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  8. Thanks for the link,Colin and a wonderful
    introduction to your vast film collection.
    Luddite that I am I don’t even know what a DVD Profiler is
    but I think that I get the drift.
    The link is something that I will return to time & time again
    it’s all too much to absorb in one hit!
    A question,and possibly a dumb one-but for each film do you
    have to manually enter all of the credits-both of the actors involved
    and the tech credits-bearing in mind I’m a hardcore Luddite and
    it’s some kind of miracle that I am actually on-line at all.

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    • It’s an online, user-maintained database, John, so no, the credits of an already added title are usually complete. In some cases, where a film isn’t commercially available you end up adding it in locally and then adding as much or as few info as you want. For anything already contributed, the UPC alone should be enough to enough to being up a film’s profile.

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  9. Those binders are useful for space-saving but I love the cases and the artwork too much. I guess we all have this particular problem. I’m into ‘overspill’ now.

    BTW, the dust having had time to settle, what IS the consensus now about the Scott set from Indicator/Powerhouse? Is the quality worth the bucks or not? I know there were a few question marks about “THE TALL T” in particular. I was somewhat put off buying so far.
    All advice appreciated…….

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    • Jerry, I bought the Indicator Scott/Boetticher set and THE TALL T was fine though the credits at the beginning were very grainy like the previous R1 dvd . The picture quality is an improvement but not a huge one but the extras are definitely worth it. My TV set only has a 32″ screen so there is not such a great difference from a good quality dvd against a blu ray. I certainly won’t be replacing all my old dvds if I’m happy with the prints and restrict myself to upgrading a few favourites.

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      • Ian, your approach here is similar to my own. When it comes to replacing material, factors such as screen size, quality of what I already have and how satisfied I am with it all get taken into account. Those with enormous screens or more likely those who project are going to be using different criteria.

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        • I’ve just had a look through your collection of dvds and blu rays, Colin, and all I can say is wow! I thought I had a big collection but you make me look like a beginner. I can see why you don’t have space for packaging any more. The other thing that struck me was how similar our tastes are, not just in films but also TV series.

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          • Great minds, Ian, great minds. 😀

            My buying has dropped off dramatically in recent times since there is so much I already have – plenty unwatched too – and I can’t easily justify adding more to the pile. I still get the odd item that interests me but not at anything like the rate I once did. And yes, the point came when the packaging vs storage issue had to be tackled head-on.

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          • Ian, thanks so much for your thoughts on that Scott/Boetticher set. I found them very helpful and will now probably ask for Mr. Scott for my birthday in October!

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  10. Hi Jerry,
    There has been much discussion over at Toby’s regarding
    the Boetticher set,which I am sure you have read.
    As you know various people have given positive/negative
    comments regarding the various films.
    Ian is quiet right about THE TALL T once you get past the
    grainy credits the film is fine.
    For me the weakest film quality wise is DECISION AT SUNDOWN
    but it’s still a vast improvement over the DVD.
    COMANCHE STATION is from the same master as the Explosive
    Germany release which was outstanding.
    I’m keeping the Explosive release because it has a great
    Q & A session with Budd in English and it’s not on the
    Powerhouse set.
    BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE is also outstanding especially
    those lovely Old Tucson locations which shine in high def.
    I was expecting more from the 2K restoration of
    RIDE LONESOME but others have raved about it-
    it comes down what the viewer’s idea is of a great transfer.
    Jerry-if you are comparing any of these films against “off air”
    versions as opposed to DVD versions then the upgrade in quality
    is going to be vast,to say the least.
    As a huge Scott fan Jerry, that I know you are, then the Indicator
    Boetticher is a must for top of your Birthday list.
    Bearing in mind this set is a limited edition-it will not be around forever
    so when deleted you will have a real collector’s item on your hands.

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  11. Very many thanks, John, your assessment is MOST welcome. You’re right – I did read all the comments at the time and it was that that left me somewhat undecided at the time.
    I see it is available currently at £42.99 from Amazon and I probably should snap it up now.

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  12. Colin…..firstly enlighten me…what’s a UPC ?? Well I did say that I’m a Luddite.
    Like yourself,and indeed many of us,my buying has reduced vastly recently with the vastly weakened pound. There are however films that sneak into the “must have” definition.
    These are mainly films that do not have stellar DVD versions or have not been remastered/restored. Three films that come to mind straight away are Kino’s
    forthcoming A MAN ALONE which Toby informs us is outstanding, and besides, only pallid bootleg versions are available.
    Explosive’s THE FAR COUNTRY from a 4K restoration is also a must as I collect key Anthony Mann in high definition-I sincerely hope that the rumoured Criterion restoration of THE NAKED SPUR is happening as that more or less completes my set. Finally the restored version of THE NAKED AND THE DEAD is also a must have.
    I’m pretty much there with Delmer Daves and John Sturges but I would most certainly go for a Blu Ray of LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL. There are other titles greatly in need of a Blu Ray release like SEVEN MEN FROM NOW to name but one and I’m sure they all will happen over time.

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    • You know, as soon as I typed that I found myself thinking “why didn’t I just say bar code instead of UPC?”

      I agree there are always some titles that I’m happy to add. Like you, I’m very much looking forward to the release of A Man Alone, even more so after hearing Toby’s enthusiasm about the transfer.

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  13. Great stuff Colin. Despite the usual ‘so many movies, too little time’ mantra I am tempted to once again work through Hammer’s old black and white, psychological thrillers, in many ways superior to their horror output and with many available on the ICONS OF SUSPENSE set. I remember MANIAC as a very good roller-coaster ride of a movie; sure the twists as the mount in its closing acts start to take on a contrived and mountingly preposterous bent, but it’s such good fun in getting there, and the prospect of dropping a matinee idol like Kerwin Matthews in on two sultry ladies in the south of France makes for sparks flying entertainment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike, I like the variety of Hammer’s output and it’s great to see how their thrillers, which never seemed to be as celebrated, have gone up in the estimation of a lot of people. When I first became aware of the studio as a youngster I know I was taken with the Gothic horrors and only later did I come to appreciate the black and white thrillers, and Sci-Fi too. I guess the thrillers do have that tendency to descend into the kind of twistiness that lives next door to contrived but I think you’re right to say that much of the fun comes from the ride we enjoy along the way.

      Liked by 1 person

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