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TWO THOUSAND MANIACS!

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.

The Package
     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.

The Story
     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…

The Direction
     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 Valley.
     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!”

 
Vital Statistics

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
 

     

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