Sex Madness (1938)

Sex Madness Sex Madness Poster
Directed by Dwain Esper
Written by Joseph Seiden and Vincent Valentini
Cinema Service Corp.

First viewing/Netflix rental


First title card: Down through the ages, has rushed a menace more dangerous than the worst criminal. Syphilis. Let us seize this monster and stamp out forever its horrible influence.

King of Schlock Dwain Esper brings us another abysmal “educational” exploitation film, this time about the scourge of syphilis.

The story begins with a reformer giving a rant about syphilis and the “sex industry”.  His son complains that his father is not up with the times and leaves to “see a friend”.  He winds up at the most chaste burlesque show on record.  The audience is full of leering horn dogs, however.  Meanwhile, a girl laments her boring job in the reformer’s office.  Her clearly lesbian co-worker encourages her to become a stripper and takes the girl to the same burlesque show where she makes a pass.  This prelude has little relation to the remaining story which concerns one of the burlesque dancers, Millicent.

Sex Madness 2

Poor Millicent is deeply in love with her small town boyfriend Wendall.  But Millicent foolishly left for Sin City (New York) after winning a beauty contest intent on winning fame and fortune.  The only job she can get is as a “party girl”.  At her first party, she is given a few sips of champagne and “gives herself” to a man.  She immediately falls ill with syphilis from this one indiscretion.  She must seek work in the burlesque show.  Millicent gets help from a kindly doctor who says after a few months of treatment she can go home but must continue treatment until she is fully cleared before she can marry Wendall.  He warns against quacks who promise quick cures for big bucks.

But Wendall can hardly wait to get married and Millicent finds a doctor who tells her for $100 she will be cured within a month.  After the “cure” the couple marries, but in about a year the baby gets sick and Wendall is having problems with his eyes ….

Sex Madness 3

Anyone who attended this masterpiece expecting erotic thrills was sorely disappointed. Anyone who expected acting was a fool.  This is bad, bad stuff.  Still, I got several big laughs out of some of the really ludicrous situations so all was not lost.  The ending must be seen to be believed.



4 thoughts on “Sex Madness (1938)

  1. Dwain Esper stands right up there with the great Ed Wood…..making the best worst movies of all time. Exploitation films are particular favorites of mine just because they are so totally ridiculous and have no connection with reality. But they made money for the directors even though, as you say, they are pretty tame. I have always figured that people went to see them to get a glimpse of a little nudity or sex which seldom, if ever, appeared in these films. They are basically ignored in the overall history of film but were a very significant part of what you could do to get an audience.

    • It seems like Esper started applying some sort of “Code” to himself later on. 1934’s Maniac actually contains flashes of full-frontal nudity. The raciest this film gets is the burlesque dance, which is to say not too racy.

      • I earlier put Esper and Ed Wood in the same category but that really isn’t exactly true. Wood did not make exploitation films…..the poor man, who had no talent , was deadly serious about his films and they did not necessarily take on “social problems as a whole.

        Esper, on the other hand, knew exactly what he was doing and all his films were of the exploitation genre. They were cheap and horrible but he was not looking to be a great director, as was Wood…..he was just trying to make money. Exploitation film fits very snugly into that category….Ed Wood’s films are a category of their own!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *