July 27, 2007
Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
It was in 1963 when director Herschell Gordon Lewis and producer David F. Friedman decided to leave the production of nudist films and opted for making horror movies. In those years, independent cinema was on the rise and the two filmmakers took advantage of being out of the studio system to push the envelope further and give their audiences more in terms of violence and sexuality. With the release of "Blood Feast", Lewis and Friedman introduced graphic gore to American horror and inaugurated the "splatter" sub-genre, beginning a new style of horror that would become a staple of the drive-in theater market. While honestly "Blood Feast" wasn't really a well done film, it was only the beginning for Lewis, as 1964's "Two Thousand Maniacs!", Lewis' next venture in the horror genre, proved that there was real talent in the savvy businessman.
In "Two Thousand Maniacs!", Tom White (William Kerwin) and Terry Adams (Connie Mason) are traveling through the American south heading to Atlanta when suddenly they are lured into the small town of Pleasant Ville by the citizens, who want them to be the guests of honor in the celebration of the centennial of an important event in the history of their town. In Pleasant Ville, they find another two young couples who were also lured by the villagers, the Millers (Jerome Eden and Shelby Livingston) and the Wells (Michael Korb and Yvonne Gilbert). Together, the six guests are invited to participate in the town's festivities without any information about what exactly is the town celebrating, however, they find themselves seduced by the charm of the southern townspeople. But they don't know that as guests of honor, they'll become the victims of a town made up of two thousand maniacs.
As usual, the film's plot was conceived by H.G. Lewis, but this time he was also responsible of the screenplay, making "Two Thousand Maniacs!" probably a more personal job. As a writer, Lewis has certainly improved after his previous movie, as not only "Two Thousand Maniacs!" has a truly interesting and fascinating concept at its core, the whole development of the story is actually remarkable, with Lewis genuinely playing with suspense in a honest attempt to deliver something more than scenes of violence. Once again, Lewis adds a good healthy dose of his trademark style of black humor to the plot, which works perfectly when contrasted with the demented nature of the characters, and successfully plays with the typical southern stereotypes and the idea of the clash between urban society and rural society. Of course, everything is done in that campy over-the-top tone that makes the story extremely funny despite its macabre themes.
It seems that filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis not only improved his skills as a writer this time, as his work as a director is also considerably superior to what he did in "Blood Feast" too. While the movie is still done on a extremely low-budget and doesn't really have the most realistic effects in the world, Lewis manages to make everything work nicely by keeping the film moving at a fast pace as he balances comedy and horror with great skill. Using a raw style of cinematography due to budgetary reasons actually helps the film, as it gives it a gritty look that adds to the film's "southern charm". One thing that really stands out in the film is the way Lewis handled his actors this time, as while it is obvious that few of them are professionals, Lewis gets good performances out of them by keeping a lighthearted tone through the film and never taking the movie too seriously.
As written above, the cast delivers good performances considering their apparent lack of experience, as while obviously playing caricatures and stereotypes, they all seem to have good fun with it and that ultimately makes the movie look better. Lewis' regular collaborators William Kerwin and Connie Mason appear as the film's main characters, and both make good a job in their role. Kerwin always was the most talented of Lewis' troupe, and once again his talent gets shown. After her awful performance in "Blood Feast", it was good to see Mason improving her acting a bit in the film, giving a performance that if not good it's at least better than her last one. As the main "villians" we find Jeffrey Allen playing the mayor and Ben Moore and Gary Bakeman as his trusted henchmen; the three making the best of their comedic roles as the leaders of a town full of sociopath rednecks.
As a result of being made with an extremely low budget, "Two Thousand Maniacs!" has a lot of problems in terms of visual look and special effects. What I mean is that the movie looks certainly cheap and unrealistic as the production values weren't exactly high. However, those apparent "flaws" can be easily ignored as Lewsis manages to used them for the film's benefit, as the grittiness of the film adds lot of charm to the movie, fitting nicely in the campy tone Lewis uses in the movie. While "Two Thousand Maniacs!" is not exactly a scary movie in the typical way (it's more black comedy), there is a certain touch of malice that helps to make some scenes really suspenseful, that together with the grittiness of the cinematography makes the movie feel almost like a direct predecessor of 70s classics like "The Texas Chain saw Massacre" and "The Wicker Man".
Maybe due to Lewis reputation as maker of low-budget films, "Two Thousand Maniacs!" doesn't get the respect it really deserves, as this is truly an excellent movie that mixes horror and comedy in a perfect way. Like "Blood Feast", this movie would create the bloody path that future horror filmmakers would follow in terms of gory imagery. While often considered more a businessman than a filmmaker, "Two Thousand Maniacs!" proves that there was real talent in the hands of director H.G. Lewis, the Godfather of Gore!
Buy "Two Thousand Maniacs!" (1964)