October 3rd, 2012
|03:07 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Two Thousand Maniacs!|
You know the awkward feeling you get when you're supposed to like something, but you don't? That's how I feel about Herschell Gordon Lewis. I've seen several of his films, and none of them is so bad that I'd never sit through it again, but when I'm around fans of horror cinema and I mention that I'm not big on HGL, everybody goes quiet, and somebody says, "really?"
Herschell Gordon Lewis, for what it's worth, is known to his fans as "The Godfather of Gore." He was born in 1929, and began his film career directing softcore porn in the early '60s, before releasing Blood Feast, which is widely considered to be the first splatter film. From there, Lewis became most famous for graphic, on-screen depictions of gore, but he dabbled in all kinds of exploitation films -- his subjects included birth control, polyamory, juvenile delinquency, and so on. He even made a couple of films for children. By the early '70s, Lewis felt that his style had devolved into self-parody, so he got out of filmmaking and started writing books on salesmanship.
While I can't seriously recommend any of Lewis' movies, it's good, I suppose, to appreciate your roots. One way or another somebody would have been The Godfather of Gore, but Lewis got there first, and he was plenty influential. Peter Jackson, George Romero, John Waters, Rob Zombie, Quentin Tarantino, Diablo Cody, Eli Roth, and the jerks behind the Saw movies? All HGL fans, for better or worse.
Anyway, enough digressing. On Tuesday nights, I get together with a few friends to watch movies, and last night the group settled on Two Thousand Maniacs! (yeah, I'm doing this one a day late. What of it?)
Two Thousand Maniacs! is one of the better Herschell Gordon Lewis films, which isn't saying much. Filmed over two weeks in 1964, 2KManiacs! (an abbreviation I'm too embarrassed to use again) follows six tourists who follow a highway detour and wind up in the small town of Pleasant Valley, GA. The affable Mayor Buckman explains that the town is celebrating the centennial, and is pleased to receive the bewildered Yankees as guests of honor. The tourists are confused and more than a little weirded out, but they're also too polite to decline.
Over the next 24 hours, the Yankees are separated from each other and brutally murdered. One woman is dismembered and roasted over a barbecue. Her boyfriend is drawn and quartered. A third man is rolled down a hill in a barrel embedded with nails, and a fourth woman is crushed under a boulder. The remaining two, sensing that something is wrong, go poking around town and discover a historical plaque denoting this as the spot where the town of Pleasant Valley once stood, before Union soldiers invaded and killed all the residents. This, then, is the centennial of that event, and the two tourists realize that they're going to be sacrificed in retribution. They retrieve their car and make a break, pursued by a gang of rednecks in a jalopy. They evade the rednecks, bring back the local sheriff, and discover that the town has vanished without a trace. The film ends with two of the townspeople speculating on how things will be different for the the bicentennial celebration in 2065.
Yes, that's right, Two Thousand Maniacs! is basically a remake of Brigadoon, but with less-endearing accents, more blood, and much, much worse music.
Oh, God, you've no idea about the music.
The whole thing is messily executed, which is a theme in Lewis' movies (see: The Wizard of Gore (actually, don't see it)). Pleasant Valley, which presumably existed in limbo between 1895 and 1965, has telephone service, modern electric lighting, and an auto mechanic. We're not supposed to be scrutinizing the anachronisms, but it's difficult not to. It's an extremely low-budget affair, which doesn't have to mean low-quality, but Lewis's style is flat and artless. One of the things I find interesting about Two Thousand Maniacs! is that the gore, which was pretty extreme in 1965, is now laugh-inducing rather than stomach-churning. The tagline on the poster is "GRUESOMELY STAINED IN BLOOD COLOR!", but I think a better one would be "FILMED IN VIBRANT COLOR (MOSTLY RED)!"
The performers are about as professional as high school students on their first read-through, with the exception of Jeffrey Allen as Mayor Buckman, who appears to be overcompensating for everybody else. His horrendous overacting reminds me of the zany characters that used to populate the TV commercials of my childhood (remember the Hubba Bubba Kid?). Lewis had the good sense to work with him a few more times. Also of note is Playboy Playmate Connie Mason, who plays one of the two survivors. This was her acting debut, and it launched a modest (but long) film career; she last acted in 2002's Chronicles of a Madman, which I've never heard of, either. The film was shot in St. Cloud, Florida, and the population of the town appeared as extras. I wonder how Lewis pitched that? "I can't pay you, but I can get your face on screen in a movie you'll never want to show anybody."
In 2005, this movie was remade as 2001 Maniacs starring Robert Englund in the role of Mayor Buckman. It's not my kind of horror movie, but it's a much better take on the same story.
Anyway, the theme song is on YouTube, but seriously, DO NOT CLICK HERE.
Instead, here's the trailer.