(1965) Written and directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis; Starring: Connie Mason, William Kerwin, Jeffrey Allen, Shelby Livingston, Jerome Eden, Gary Bakeman; Available on Blu-ray and DVD
“They couldn’t tell what we were. We were outlaws in a sense, and yet we were making so much money out of these pictures, no one could understand it. With this picture we legitimized the genre movies, and that may have been the reason that subsequent to Two Thousand Maniacs, the flood began.” – Herschell Gordon Lewis (from DVD commentary)
Thanks to Rebecca Deniston from Taking Up Room for hosting the So Bad It’s Good Blogathon, featuring bad movies and the bloggers that love them. Like frozen custard or fried foods, many of us gravitate toward stuff that can’t possibly be good for us, but we’re powerless to resist. Such is the case with the filmography of Herschell Gordon Lewis, showman extraordinaire and purveyor of such fine cinematic achievements as Scum of the Earth (1963), Something Weird (1967) and The Wizard of Gore (1970). Two Thousand Maniacs!* is the second in Herschell Gordon Lewis’ notorious “Blood” trilogy (which started with Blood Feast and ended with Color Me Blood Red), filled with shocks, thrills, dubious acting and drenched in gallons of fake blood.
* Fun Fact #1: The group 10,000 Maniacs took their name from the film’s title.
The film cribs its basic premise from Brigadoon, with a town that springs to life for a celebration, then vanishes into nothingness. Since this is H.G. Lewis after all, and not Vincente Minnelli, instead of singing and dancing on the Scottish Highlands, there’s murderous Civil War-era hillbillies in the southern backwoods. The small town of St. Cloud, Florida stood in for the fictional burg of Pleasant Valley, Georgia, population 2,000,* and shooting wrapped in 14 days on a budget of $62,000 (three times the production cost of Blood Feast).
* Fun Fact #2: According to Lewis, the original title was Five Thousand Maniacs, but due to the diminutive population of St. Cloud, it was revised.
Six travelers on a road trip follow a detour off the main highway, and wind up in the sleepy southern town of Pleasant Valley, where it happens to be their centennial celebration. The strangers are the guests of honor, but it’s all one big set-up. We learn that the town’s denizens are commemorating an incident in 1865, when the population of Pleasant Valley was wiped out by Union soldiers. It becomes an opportunity to settle the score by singling out and exacting revenge on the six unlucky northerners. Why only six? Who knows? If you’ve seen or heard about Blood Feast, then you know some of the characters are fated to die in a variety of gory ways. One is drawn and quartered, another is rolled down a hill in a barrel studded on the inside with nails, while yet another unfortunate individual becomes the victim of a precariously balanced boulder made of papier-mâché. The gore effects are suitably cartoonish and over the top, which only adds to the entertainment value.
If you’re expecting meticulous attention to period detail, this isn’t that kind of movie. Two Thousand Maniacs! sports enough anachronisms to make you dizzy. Essentially, the locals showed up in whatever they were wearing, and called it day. Most of them appear in 1960s era garb: dresses and colorful button-up shirts with jeans and loafers. The 1865-era residents also seem casual about modern inventions such as telephones and automobiles. In one scene, the locals pursue two survivors in an old pickup truck – never mind that the truck didn’t exist in their era. Similarly, the motel where the guests reside features telephones from the 1920s. Lewis never addresses these inconsistencies in his DVD commentary, so I’m assuming he didn’t think audiences would care.
The acting ranges from awful to surprisingly good, with the usual bunch of semi-professionals (from local theater groups) and non-actors you’d expect from an H.G. Lewis film. The worst offender is Gary Bakeman for his non-stop mugging as one of the town’s co-conspirators, Rufe. On the other end of the spectrum, the movie’s best performance belongs to Jeffrey Allen as Mayor Buckman. He’s convivial and welcoming one moment, and badgering and abusive the next. His genteel charm is a front for his bloodthirsty intentions. Somewhere in the middle is former Playboy model Connie Mason (a returnee from Blood Feast) as northerner Terry Adams.
The music by The Pleasant Valley Boys will test the limits of your appreciation for bluegrass (it doesn’t take much in my case), especially the infectious main tune (and I mean infectious), “Rebel Yell” * which is about as welcome as an STD. The song’s “message” is heard, loud, clear and stupid, reminding us in the chorus that, “The South’s gonna rise again” (Let’s hope not). If that’s not enough to make you cringe, gratuitous Confederate flags abound in virtually every scene. The art direction must have been: “when in doubt, add more flags.” Another cringe-worthy element is an early scene where some sadistic brats torture cats for fun (thankfully off-screen). Their ringleader, Billy (Vincent Santo) has a comeuppance of sorts when he falls for one of the oldest tricks in the book – two of the escaped northerners promise him candy if he helps find their car keys.
* Fun Fact #3: H.G. Lewis had the dubious honor of singing/reciting the main vocals for the song, mainly because he didn’t want to pay anyone. The cast and crew provided the “yee-haw”s.
Two Thousand Maniacs! fits neatly into the sub-genre of rednecksploitation, imagining the horrors that might occur when 1865-era Confederacy sympathizers clash with 1960s Northerners. It’s wish fulfillment for some and a nightmare for most. How you react to this, I imagine, depends on what side of the Mason-Dixon line you hail from. It’s no surprise that it did solid box office in the South,* although its generous use of stereotypes doesn’t do the South any favors. If nothing else, the movie capsulized suspicion and ire toward the North, while avoiding some of the more volatile issues regarding the Civil War (i.e., there’s not a single African American in the film). While H.G. Lewis’ film still packs a punch, it opened the door for gorier, more disturbing fare in the 1970s. It’s absurd, offensive and certain to make you think twice about taking that next road trip. It might not be everyone’s jug of moonshine, but if you’re into cartoonish redneck shenanigans, you can’t go wrong with Two Thousand Maniacs.
* Lewis was quick to point out in his commentary that the film also performed well in Canada.