Written by: Chris Kobin and Tim Sullivan
Directed by: Tim Sullivan
Starring: Robert Englund, Lin Shaye, Giuseppe Andrews, and Marla Malcolm
Reviewed by: Brett G.
The theme song to Herschell Gordonís Lewisís 1964 film Two Thousand Maniacs! promised that the south would rise again. 40 years later, the south did just that in the form of writer/director Tim Sullivanís re-imagining of Lewisís drive-in classic. Along the way the town of Pleasant Valley added one more citizen, and 2001 Maniacs was unleashed upon the world. Starring genre favorite Robert Englund, the film promised a host of hillbilly debauchery that isnít seen often unless you make it down to the local Opry in my hometown.
Anderson, Corey, and Nelson are your usual college students: they party on a regular basis, get drunk, and write history papers entitled ďGeneral Sherman: Badass.Ē Itís no wonder theyíre flunking history, but thatís the farthest thing from their minds right now because itís spring break, and theyíre headed down south to Daytona. To get there, however, theyíll have to traverse through the back roads of the south. One of these roads leads to Pleasant Valley, where the guys have arrived just in time for the annual ďGuts and Glory Jubilee.Ē Mayor Buckman and the townsfolk designate our boys as ďguests of honor,Ē and theyíre soon joined by three more college students and a pair of bikers--a black guy and his ďChinamanĒ girlfriend (just imagine the looks these two get from the townspeople). It doesnít take long for the celebration to take a sharp and deadly turn, as the visitors themselves end up on the menu!
This one has everything youíd expect from the south: sweet tea, sheep-cornholing, banjo-picking, kissing cousins, you name it--and itís all wrapped up in some good-old fashioned southern hospitality. In theory, 2001 Maniacs is a perfect remake because it remains faithful to the irreverent tone of the original while managing to be its own thing by telling its own story. With the exception for a few recycled gags, this is a completely different experience. That said, it totally feels like the type of film Lewis himself would have made if he ever set out to make a sequel to the original film. Itís no doubt a better made film than Lewisís original (which isnít saying much, of course), but it still feels very much the same in spirit. A gore-soaked romp throughout, it makes no bones about being a purely entertainment splatterfest that aims to have you squirming in your seat more so than jumping out of it.
One of the biggest departures from the original is the use of college kids as protagonists, but this works well because it leads to some teen comedy-inspired hijinx thatís right in line with this type of film. The protagonists are your usual type in that theyíre mostly just there to fill out the body count, but Marla Malcolm kind of stands out as a sweet little thing you can root for. However, the antagonists are where the real meat is at. The always delightful Englund is pitch-perfect as the Antebellum-tinged Mayor Bruckman; heís obviously having a good time in an over-the-top and demented role. OTH-favorite Lin Shaye is Granny Boone, the town matriarch who is devilishly sweet until she gets a hatchet in her hands. Thereís also a couple of cameos from producer Eli Roth (who seems to be reprising his role from Cabin Fever because Dr. Mambo is in tow) and Kane Hodder, who makes an appearance as one of the town yokels. No town is complete without its share of eye candy, and Pleasant Valley doesnít disappoint in this respect, as thereís no shortage of southern belles willing to show their skin.
The carnage that the citizens of Pleasant Valley enact is just as satisfying. Their victims are hacked up in a variety of ways before being served on a silver platter. I think Lewis himself would enjoy how delightfully demented this film is, as the kids are dismembered, disemboweled, and even literally skewered. While the film doesnít have anything as immediately memorable as the barrel roll and the teetering rock from the original, itís still very gruesome and even more grotesque than the original. The effects are generally well done and not too obviously fake, and some are downright convincing. Though the film doesnít take itself too seriously, the gore effects are serious business and are pretty much the centerpiece of the film.
Otherwise, Sullivanís direction is as good as it gets for this type of film. Itís a pretty average-looking film overall, but it isnít without a few stylish flairs here and there, particularly during the filmís climax. Itís at this point where the film (and the jubilee) reaches a frenzied peak, and itís all handled pretty nicely. The film isnít without a decent denouement either, as the filmís creepy epilogue has a twist thatís in line with the original film. Overall, this one feels not only like a modern update of that film, but a loving tribute to it, as it has a couple of nice references, including the original theme song itself (here sung in the town by a ZZ Top-esque duo). In the grand scheme of the horde of remakes during the past decade, this is one thatís left out of the conversation (most likely due to the fact that no one is even aware that it is one). While I canít say it stands with the best the remake trend has had to offer, itís a solid little number thatís entertaining as hell.
As a native of the south, the film is even a bit better for me because it lampoons so much of the crazy stuff weíre known for around these parts. Imagine Deliverance amped up to 11 and infused with a sleazy drive-in/exploitation ethos, and youíve got 2001 Maniacs in a nutshell. Lions Gate released the film straight-to-DVD, and itís a decent release. The A/V presentation is solid, particularly the engaging and aggressive soundtrack. Special features include commentaries with Sullivan and Englund, a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes, an some trailers for other Lions Gate releases. Witty, gross, deranged, and full of splatter, 2001 Maniacs is a worthy update of the original film and proves that itís impossible to quell that old rebel yell. Yeehaw! Buy it!
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