Dwain Esper

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Dwain Esper
Dwain Atkins Esper

(1894-10-07)October 7, 1894
DiedOctober 18, 1982(1982-10-18) (aged 88)
OccupationFilmmaker, producer
Hildagarde Stadie
(m. 1920)

Dwain Atkins Esper (October 7, 1894 – October 18, 1982) was an American film director and producer of exploitation films.



A veteran of World War I, Esper worked as a building contractor before switching to the film business in the mid-1920s. He produced and directed inexpensive pictures with titles like Sex Maniac , Marihuana , and How to Undress in Front of Your Husband . To enhance the appeal of these low-budget features, he included scenes containing gratuitous nudity and violence that led some to label him the "father of modern exploitation." [1]

Esper's wife, Hildagarde Stadie, wrote many of the scripts for his films. [2] They employed extravagant promotional techniques that included exhibiting the mummified body of notorious Oklahoma outlaw Elmer McCurdy before it was acquired by Dan Sonney. [3]

Maniac (1934)

Maniac , also known as Sex Maniac, an exploitation/horror film directed by Esper, is a loose adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story "The Black Cat" and follows a vaudeville impersonator who becomes an assistant to a mad scientist.

It is considered by many film critics and historians to be the worst film of all time. Danny Peary believes that Maniac is the worst film made, Charlie Jane Anders of Gawker Media 's io9 described it as "possibly the worst movie in history" and Chicago Tribune critic Michael Wilmington wrote that it may be the worst film he had seen, writing: "There are some voyages into ineptitude, like Dwain Esper's anti-classic Maniac, that defy all reason." [4] [5] [6] Rotten Tomatoes placed Maniac on its list of movies "So Bad They're Unmissable", [7] the Italian Vanity Fair included the film on its list of the 20 worst movies, and it is featured in The Official Razzie Movie Guide . [8]

Esper died in San Diego, California at the age of 88. [9] He and Hildagarde had two childrenL Dwain Jr. and Millicent.


Director credits

Marihuana: The Devil's Weed, 1936 opening title Marihuana (1936) Dwain Esper.PNG
Marihuana: The Devil's Weed, 1936 opening title
a.k.a. Sins of Love (US: reissue title)
a.k.a. The 7th Commandment (US: poster title)
a.k.a. Narcotic Racket (US: reissue title)
a.k.a. Narcotic! (US: promotional title)
a.k.a. Narcotic: As Interpreted by Dwain Esper (US: closing credits title)
a.k.a. Sex Maniac
a.k.a. Marihuana, the Devil's Weed
a.k.a. Marihuana, the Weed with Roots in Hell!
a.k.a. Human Wreckage (US: reissue title)
a.k.a. They Must Be Told (US: reissue title)
a.k.a. Love Life of Adolph Hitler (US: reissue title)
a.k.a. The Strange Love Life of Adolf Hitler (US: reissue title)
a.k.a. The Strange Loves of Adolf Hitler (US: reissue title)

Producer credits

Excluding films Esper directed.
a.k.a. Beyond Shanghai (UK)
a.k.a. Forbidden Adventure (US: informal reissue title)
a.k.a. Forbidden Adventure in Angkor (US: reissue title, 1937)


a.k.a. Hell-o-Vision (US)
  • Man's Way with Women
  • Freaks (uncredited) as Forbidden Love, and later Natures Mistakes with Sam Alexander providing a live appearance with some disfigured members of his 'troupe'
  • Cain: Aventures des mers exotiques
a.k.a. Cain

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  1. Senn, Bryan (2006). Golden Horrors: An Illustrated Critical Filmography of Terror Cinema, 1931-1939. McFarland & Company. p. 263. ISBN   978-0786427246.
  2. Cline, John; Weiner, Robert G., eds. (2010). From the Arthouse to the Grindhouse: Highbrow and Lowbrow Transgression in Cinema's First Century. Scarecrow Press. p. 42. ISBN   978-0810876545.
  3. Schaefer, Eric (1999). Bold! Daring! Shocking! True: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959. Duke University Press. p. 122. ISBN   978-0822323747.
  4. Peary, Danny (2014). Cult Midnight Movies: Discover the 37 Best Weird, Sleazy, Sexy, and Crazy Good Cinema Classics. Workman Publishing Company. ISBN   9780761181699.
  5. Anders, Charlie Jane (February 26, 2009). "Did The Worst Movie of All Time Come Out 75 Years Ago?". io9 . Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  6. Wilmington, Michael (August 12, 2005). "`Chaos' a loathsome exercise in horror". Chicago Tribune . Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  7. "25 Movies So Bad They're Unmissable". Rotten Tomatoes . January 30, 2010. Retrieved January 25, 2015.
  8. Pellegrini, Francesca (25 February 2018). "I 20 film più brutti di sempre". Vanity Fair (in Italian). Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  9. "Dwain Esper Obituary". Variety . 27 October 1982. ISSN   0042-2738.