Maniac, 1963. 6.5/10

Weird premise for this chiller/thriller. Not so much because a drifter (Kerwin Matthews as Jeff) wants to help an attractive lady (Nadia Gray as Eve) spring her husband Georges from prison. But because of the interesting method to Georges’ madness.

Georges’ daughter (Eve’s stepdaughter Annette, Liliane Brousse) was a victim of a sexual assault; dad killed the perpetrator–with a blowtorch. After figuring out which woman is more available, the plot gets twisty for Jeff as well.

Rounding out the cast are the mysterious prison guard Henri (Donald Huston), Police Inspector Etienne (George Pastel), and Jeff’s cast-off girlfriend Grace (Justine Lord).

We’re introduced to the Camargue region in France, where weirdo-in-the-bushes rapist gives Annette a ride in his truck–to the nearest hideout. A friend gets her dad to drive out to the scene–the creep kidnapper’s brought back to the dad’s lair–and torched.

Scene shift to a river in the Camargue, where Jeff is frustrated because the ferry is inoperable; he gets a drink from the bar that Annette tends. He’s definitely a jerk; Grace pops in, she ain’t so lovely either. At least she has a car. She buzzes off, leaving him stranded in St. Jerome. He announces to the gendarme that he’s a “confirmed misogynist.”

Anyway, when Eve gets back, he rents a room from them. Then he enlists Annette to show him around; Jeff being an artist and all. He’s already had a couple of cognacs, a beer, and a pile of smokes. That night in the bar it’s pretty much smokin’ too. Annette doing the twists with Jeff. As others have noted, the jukebox is better than most sci-fi alien robots, tre chic!

The place really has a country-western feel; obviously the hillbilly area of France. Suddenly, Jeff becomes charming. Probably because of Annette; stepmom, though, has an agenda. From his room, Jeff sees someone suspicious lurking about; what he finds is Annette, slinky dress and all. Time for another cognac. Now they’re playing dice. And close to making out–until Eve sends her off to bed.

Next day, they get their bucolic picnic, but only Eve shows. Nice arrid mountain crags and such. “More wine?” No?! What, he passed up a drink? Anyway, they actually talk family history “the acetylene killer,” i.e., dad. He’s in an asylum near Lyon.

Jeff says he’s waiting for inspiration… actually, I think he’s waiting for Annette. Speaking of Grace: “Are we in love, or are we lovers?” He means the latter. Dude, he wants to paint Annette. Not so fast, big boy, stepmom wants to go play horsey with you.

So far, this isn’t a bad romance story. The first scene belongs in a different movie. Down at the beach, Eve can’t keep her clothes on. When they come back, Annette is upset. No wonder, he tells stepmom, “Darling I love you!” What? He’s going soft. Get a couple of cognacs for the old mysoginst. But, because he’s basically thrown in with her, he offers to go with her to visit her husband. Well, to the town anyway.

They check into the Provence Hotel with a plan. To spring Georges, that is. As many have noted, this is where the plot starts to run aground. Jeff’s supposedly in love with a married woman. It can work well, as Georges’ locked up; why would Jeff want him out? If Annette had come up with the idea, it would make sense. That would score Jeff points with both Annette and dad.

“We are breaking the law!” Right. But “He won’t give you up unless we help him escape” No way! What’s the point of getting out only to have a random foreigner take your wife away? Apparently, there’s already a set-up. Annette will go with dad; correctly, though, Annette upbraids Eve and Jeff for carrying on.

Here’s the Bette Davis angle: Eve’s gonna sell their joint and split with Jeff after the asylum job…but…Shazam! While they talk in the car,p here’s Georges in the backseat. He says to go to Marseilles. So, mission accomplished. “Good bye Georges” Not so fast– here’s the Inspector to interview the two plotters about “a dangerous man.” Here’s a tidbit: another guy’s escaped, or gone AWOL. That would be Henri.

They don’t flinch at that news. Then, hey, dude! Jeff gets a surprise when he goes to stuff the farmer’s market loot in the car trunk: dead body. So, that’s our second escapee I guess. They drive off quickly. The roadside viewing doesn’t really explain if it’s indeed Henri, or the ‘real’ Georges. They hustle back to be old workshop of acetylene fame.

That’s where bad stuff gets done in these here parts. A local comes to deliver acetylene! They correctly surmise that Georges might naturally seek revenge on both of them–thus the supply of–dangerous product. Time to dump the body–the river’s nice this time of night.

“This makes us as guilty as he is.” Annette’s awakened by the light and sound of welding. She goes to investigate…the torch is set into a vice, burning into a metal plate. All three look on. Next day, the Inspector is back. (He looks like Telly Savalas).

He thinks Georges is coming back. The three ‘family’ members argue about Annette wanting to leave. Finally, the two women go, Jeff stays to keep the bar. Annette and Eve arrive at a bullring in the middle of the night; to rendevous with…Georges? Back home who’s this setting the torch on again? Georges, of course.

Seems he lured the other two away so it would be easier to ambush Jeff. Luckily Jeff’s just tied up in the shop. Georges “arranges” for his death: by dredging up Henri and planning to torch the place. Jeff and corpse included. “Two men missing from the asylum, and two bodies found here.” Sounds good.

Evil laugh…evil flame…evil corpse burning. Would’ve gotten a lot worse had a local not peeped in. Next thing we know, the place is in flames; cops, and fire crews. The Inspector says enigmatically that one is badly burned but alive; but he doesn’t know which it is.

I don’t get why Eve thinks that Jeff is the injured one. The denouement comes as she tells him that she and Georges plotted to frame Jeff for the escape plot; and then use him as a stand-in for Georges’ ‘death’. It looks as if Annette, feeling guilty, convinces Eve that they’ve got to go to the cops with the escape plan info. Nonetheless, Annette has no qualms at all when Eve instead tells her that they’ll go to Marseilles to find dad.

Not very suprisingly, here’s Jeff, not at all crispy, at the Inspector’s office. We’ve got to assume thatTthathewas rescued from the burning building. discussing Georges’ bungled plan. Aha! It was Jeff, wrapped in bandages in the hospital (but he had escaped, and so isn’t injured). It’s part of the Inspector’s plan to implicate Eve (she’d pulls the blood supply to ‘kill’ Jeff).

Further twist has the very alive Georges threaten to kill Annette, thanks to Eve’s betrayal. “Eve and I had the whole thing planned.” What? She was gonna run off with Henri? Whatever. Pretty spooky noirish entrapment for Annette in a cavernous quarry. Even though she cornered on a cliff, he’s clumsy and falls to his death. The cops arrive; Jeff saves Annette. Good. Didn’t like that conniving stepmom anyway. The end.

We know when a movie attains a a nebulous cult status by the number of wise-cracker bloggers attack the cinematic carcass (e.g., a ‘skin scale’ and a ‘blood scale’ on Brett Gallman’s Oh, the Horror!) with their snarky reviews (on IMDb). After snacking on some of those choice morsels I felt the urge to devour this tantalizing movie wholesale.

Well, the raw materials (ingredients?) of the plot have some rough spots. On the other hand, the romantic triangle isn’t at all bad; I disagree with those who say that Matthews and Gray don’t have chemistry. I do think that he and Brousse make a better couple, though. Nevertheless, the decent subplot is undermined by the criminal/’maniac’ plot.

Huston has no chemistry with anyone, and hardly looks menacing. The problems aren’t so much the performances or roles–but rather it’s the premise doesn’t add up, and so then, the plot gets more illogical. I’m still not clear, for example if Henri is Georges; I guess he has to be, since Annette recognizes him as her father.

But, if that’s the case, who’s the mysterious second asylum escapee? When they find the body in the back of Eve’s car, she certainly gives no sign of recognizing him. I had it sorted out up until the climactic quarry scene: why would Georges want to kill his daughter? After all, he’d been sent to the asylum for defending her.

He’s already married to Eve; so, unlike Jeff, he made his choice already. His only motive for killing Annette would be to prevent her confessing the escape business to the cops. I can see that from his selfish point of view; but that begs the question–why did he kill Henri?

And, so, we’re also expected to grasp that Eve doesn’t care if Georges kills in cold blood? (Absolutely different circumstances than his first ‘job). In any case, the entire plot (after the first scene) starts unraveling quickly. This is entertaining, but gets nuttier than the ‘maniac’ himself. 6.5/10

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