Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2010-07-05 17:49
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Written and Directed by: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Starring: Connie Mason, William Kerwin, and Jeffrey Allen


Reviewed by: Brett G.








ďThereĎs a story you should know from a hundred years ago
and a hundred years weĎve waited now to tell.
Now the Yankees come along and theyĎll listen to this song
And theyĎll quake in fear to hear this rebel yell!Ē


Some grudges run long and deep. As a native of the American south, I can testify that many of my fellow southerners still havenít gotten over that nasty Civil War business (or, as itís known around these parts, ďThe War of Northern AggressionĒ). Here especially in the 8th state of the Union (and the first to secede), many of the natives donít take kindly to those damn Yankees. I can only imagine that such sentiment was even stronger 40 years ago when Herschell Gordon Lewis made Two Thousand Maniacs!. Released right in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, the film channeled southern unrest into a splatter film for the ages. While I canít even pretend the film had any sort of political undertones, the timing was just a bit too coincidental. At any rate, the film would go on to be a drive-in classic and still stands as one of Lewisís finest efforts.

Itís 1965, and six Yankee tourists are lured to Pleasant Valley, an unassuming southern town that seems to be full of good people. In fact, theyíre so hospitable that they designate their Northern visitors ďguests of honorĒ for their upcoming Centennial celebration. Everything seems fine until some of them begin to disappear and the townspeople wonít let them leave. The guests soon begin to piece together that itís the Centennial celebration of the end of the Civil War, and this valley isnít so pleasant for yankees. The town doesnít just want to have them over for dinner--they want them to be dinner after a day of demented celebrations that aim to maim and mutilate the guests!

Any Lewis film always comes with a bit of a qualifier. The initiated know not to expect anything approaching a good film in a technical sense. Acting is poor, the direction is non-descript, and the whole thing just has the air of camp. Itís hard to expect otherwise from a no-budget film that was shot in about 2 weeks. That said, I do think this effort is a bit better than most of Lewisís films. The pacing is actually good because interesting happens throughout for the most part; plus, Gordonís signature, mono-tone score actually works pretty well here, and this is not to mention the hilariously awesome opening credits theme song. Itís still no masterpiece, but I think itís as good as it gets for Lewis; in fact, Two Thousand Maniacs! is my favorite from him to date.

Of course, no one is going into a Lewis film looking to judge it on its technical merits. Instead, itís all about the gore, and this one doesnít disappoint in the least. Though Blood Feast is usually hailed as the most influential in Lewisís canon, itís arguable that Two Thousand Maniacs! is even more so. Body count films have always been predicated on not only their death scenes, but the creativity behind said scenes. As the sub-genre grew, so too did the elaborate nature of the on-screen carnage. If Lewis is the Godfather of Gore, then this film is possibly the birth of the body count film. Victims here are dismembered in a number of ways that are presented in the context of carnival games. For example, the ďhorse raceĒ involves one of them being drawn and quartered, while the ďbarrel rollĒ sees another being impaled to death. My personal favorite involves a huge bolder teetering above a helpless young lady thatíll be crushed to death if any of the rednecks can hit the dunk-tank style mechanism. These scenes are an obvious precursor to the creative ways weíd see people get offed in later splatter films, with the influence possibly extending all the way to films like Saw.

The film also exhibits Lewisís demented sense of camp. The cast of characters is especially colorful on the redneck side of things, and Lewis captures that sense of southern charm perfectly, right down to the weird little kid that likes to torture animals. Most little kids would be content to terrorize the neighborhood cat with a slingshot, but little Billy here prefers nooses instead! Jeffry Allen is spot-on in his performance of Mayor Buckman; if thereís one thing you can legitimately praise Gordon for, itís his ability to create memorable madmen, and in this case, itís an entire town. The way the charming southern hospitality clashes with the demented violence is good stuff, especially when you throw in the prim and proper northern antagonists. Two Thousand Maniacs! also has a legitimately creepy atmosphere due to the isolated locales, and itís aided nicely by a final twist that changes the nature of the film a bit, but it still works.

And really, Two Thousand Maniacs! works well as a whole, despite all of its shortcomings. Itís pretty much just a gorefest at heart, but itís still engaging and even suspenseful at times. As far as low-budget, campy drive-in classics go, itís hard to top this band of yokels. Something Weird Video released the film both individually and as part of The Blood Trilogy collection, the latter of which also includes Blood Feast and Color Me Blood Red. Iím guessing the movie hasnít looked this good since its drive-in days, but even so, itís not exactly stellar given its production values as a whole. The audio similarly is just adequate enough, and thereís a few special features, including director and producer commentaries, behind-the-scenes footages, outtakes, and the filmís theatrical trailer. Itís a good set for a minor cult classic, and itís one that fans shouldn't be without. And from Brett G.Ďs lips, there came an awful sound: Buy it! Yeehaw!



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