Friday, October 21, 2011

Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

I think it would be dishonest to claim that Two Thousand Maniacs! is a 'scary' film, or that it holds up to scrutiny almost 50 years post-release, but for what it's worth, Herschell Gordon Lewis' cult creature was a solid early example of the campy gore and exploitation that was well worth its budget for the time. Having already helmed Blood Feast the year before (1963), a film many avid viewers consider to be the inaugural 'gore' or 'splatter' horror film of its genre, he decided to shift focus away from a solitary killer to...well, a whole lot of them, and the film is certainly one of the forerunners in that entire 'tourists or travelers off the beaten track catch their deaths' niche that has since hatched hundreds of kindred plots.

Without spoiling the story for those that have yet to see it, let's just say that a pair of Yankee strangers, having freshly met on a Southern road trip, are diverted to a small, off the map town called 'Pleasant Valley', along with two younger couples, half of whom do not seem to hold much faith in monogamy. It turns out that they're just in time for a celebration, held for the first time in a century, for which they are the honored guests... By this point, you can probably guess what's going to happen, but let me assure you that Two Thousand Maniacs! goes a little further story-wise than one might expect, to the point that it gets admittedly strange and doesn't really make a whole lotta sense...

*Golly, here come those spoilers I wasn't going to give you*

So, yeah, 'Pleasant Valley' is actually a mass spiritual vendetta against a group of Union soldiers who butchered the inhabitants during the Civil War (100 years prior), being exacted against a handful of innocents who just happen along. I assume it's 'spiritual' since the town disappears once the leads escape a ghastly execution at the hands of the local folk, and several of the hicks hint that they'd be appearing again in the following century when there might be space ships. So, the problem here is why are the ghosts so 'current' to the 20th century? They've got telephone booths and cars, and they dress to the times. How do they know what people are wearing if they are just suddenly manifesting? How are they able to transform the town to look like a quaint and rural Southern local town? Are they reading the tourists' minds of how they should appear?

These questions just aren't answered through the film, and it leaves the impression of a hack job.

*End spoilers*

Fortunately, this 'hack job' obeys one of the fundamental necessities of a good slasher or horror flick: thou must not skimp on the gore. Sure, the poster advertises it as far bloodier than it really is, but for a drive-thru flick in the 60s? Films that merely 'imply' dread and violence are in all honesty bullshit. SHOW us the things we need to be afraid of. EXPOSE us to the butchery and perversion of twisted, carnal minds. How else will we learn to really fear it? To this extent, I can imagine Two Thousand Maniacs! must have solicited a fairly strong reaction from its audience. Limbs are cut, blood pools, and various other executions are meted out on the unsuspecting travelers, including one that...well, without giving too much up, let's just say that I'll never see a barrel or keg in quite the same light again. So, Lewis at least got this right, even if it's not nearly the goriest film you're going to experience.

As for the technical details, Two Thousand Maniacs! comes up predictably short. Like a lot of earlier, low budget flicks, the sound production is hardly top notch, so a lot of the actors feel like they are yelling out most of their lines. This works for the creepy townsfolk, who give off a very New Orleans-like impression, but not so much for our unwilling victims. The camera work is also not top notch, but it gets the job done, and I did enjoy the film's Florida location, but there is no question that this thing feels dated right from the get go. The music is appropriately rustic and light-hearted, providing an appropriate contrast to the bloodshed, and of course, Connie Mason, the lead actress who also appeared in Lewis' Blood Feast, is easy upon the eyes.

Today, Two Thousand Maniacs! serves more as a cult curiosity than a film of tangible qualities. This is not like a Hammer Horror classic, or some timeless b/w monster flick in that you can appreciate hundreds of times and pass onto your children and their children. But to those who are interested in the vintage gore that would later saturate Western slashers, shockers and giallo flicks of the ensuing decades, it might be worth a gander. A lot has been made over the years of analyzing this film's play and influence upon Southern stereotypes and post-Confederate hostility towards the North, but who gives a shit: it's just a fucking movie! And lastly, please, please, heed this advice: if you come across a DETOUR sign that looks hand-drawn or unprofessional, do not for the love of any Gods you venerate take the FUCKING DETOUR!

That tip's on me. Everybody gets one.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

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