The best, and certainly the most enjoyable, of Herschell Gordon
Lewis’ early 1960s gore epics, with real production value and gore
scenes that (mostly) still startle.
This 1964 film was the second of writer-director H.G.
Lewis and producer David F. Friedman’s fabled gore trilogy (which began
with BLOOD FEAST
and concluded with COLOR ME BLOOD RED). Inspired by BRIGADOON, TWO
THOUSAND MANIACS! can be viewed as the true (if unacknowledged)
inspiration for DELIVERANCE, which more-or-less replicates this film,
down to the early musical number, sparse score and unsettled finale.
TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! was lensed over the course of
fourteen days (a mighty extravagant schedule by traditional
Friedman/Lewis standards) in the “Beautiful and picturesque” retirement
village of St. Cloud, Florida, whose locals appeared in the film--and
which, like the movie’s fictional Pleasant Valley, no longer exists.
It’s now apparently the heart of Disneyworld.
Sometime in 1965, four clueless Chicagoans--David
Welles, his wife Beverly and their neighbors John and Bea Miller--are
driving through backwoods Georgia, where they’re fooled by a fake
“Detour” sign. They wind up in the town of Pleasant Valley, where a
young boy named Billy is busy strangling a cat.
David, Beverly, John and Bea are roped into taking part
in a centennial by the town’s irrepressible mayor Earl Buckman, together
with Rufe, the “general Chairman” of the celebration, and Lester, its
“program chairman.” Also coerced into taking part are two more yankees,
Terry Adams and her hitchhiker companion Tom White, who arrive shortly
after the Chicagoans.
Ensconced in the town’s “luxury” hotel, David, Beverly,
John, Bea, Terry and Tom grow understandably suspicious about their
situation. After all, the centennial harkens back to 1865, the year the
south lost the Civil War, so why would Pleasant Valley’s redneck
citizenry be celebrating that fact?
Some dastardly machinations by Rufe and Lester lure
John away from Bea. As for Bea, R&L’s evil henchman Harper takes her
into the woods and callously slices off one of her thumbs. He then takes
her back to Buckman’s office, where Lester chops off her thumbless arm
with an axe.
During the centennial Tom shows Terry a plaque
promising vengeance for the citizens of Pleasant Valley, who were
apparently massacred by union soldiers. John, meanwhile, is dragged to a
“horse race” in which he’s drawn and quartered by four horses.
The next day David is conned into crawling into the
object of a “barrel roll.” Several nails are driven through the wood,
prior to the spiked barrel being rolled down a hill with David inside.
Next Beverly is taken to a tower with a large rock atop it. She’s
immobilized at the base of the tower and the rock is dropped on her.
Tom and Terry decide to escape from Pleasant Valley.
They talk young Billy (who strangled the cat early on) into showing them
to the garage where Terry’s car is stashed. Tome and Terry succeed in
escaping, but there’s a surprise in store when they visit a highway
patrol station, where they’re informed about the truth of Pleasant
Valley, which doesn’t actually exist…
A lively funhouse atmosphere pervades this picture,
which is entirely appropriate to the subject matter and sun-baked
backwoods locations. The high-spirited banjo score is a contributing
factor to the film’s very un-horror movie-like up-tempo aura. That,
however, doesn’t change the fact that the gore scenes, including a
startlingly bloody arm chopping and the justifiably famous spiked barrel
sequence, remain quite startling (although the bit with the rock dropped
on the woman could frankly have been far better, especially in contrast
with the equivalent passage in Lewis’
TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! novelization).
As in BLOOD FEAST, Lewis favors wide shots, often with
numerous people packed into them (albeit far from the two thousand
promised by the title), although here, unlike BLOOD FEAST, the visuals
are properly filled out with reaction shots and close-ups. The acting,
in another divergence between this and the earlier film, is at least
semi-competent, and in some cases--notably Jeffrey Allen as the demented
mayor and Vincent Santo as the young cat-killer Billy--actually
above-average. Unfortunately the film, it must be said, loses its focus
in the meandering and frankly pretty dull ten minute-plus coda, in which
Tom and Terry take their time figuring out the truth about Pleasant
But there are quite a few classic elements here,
including an unforgettable close-up of the psychotic grin on a woman’s
face one of the yankees gets it, little Billy’s eminently quotable
refrain as the heroes escape (“Ah didn’t even get
mah candy!”) and the irresistible theme song by H.G. Lewis
himself, with its catchy refrain “Yeeeeeeeeee Haaaaaaaaw! Oh the
south’s gonna ri-hise again!”
TWO THOUSAND MANIACS!
Box Office Spectaculars, Inc.
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Producer: David F. Friedman
Screenplay: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Cinematography: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Editing: Robert Sinise
Cast: Connie Mason, Thomas Wood, Jeffrey Allen, Shelby Livingston, Ben
Moore, Jerome Eden, Gary Bakeman, Michael Korb, Yvonne Gilbert, Mark
Douglas, Linda Cochran, Vincent Santo, Andy Wilson