What do you get when you combine B-movie acting, a demented town, a legendary director, some southern hospitality, and a bunch of classic bluegrass? Two Thousand Maniacs, that’s what!
Note: despite the nature of this film, all of the pictures used in this review are safe for work.
Two Thousand Maniacs, directed by legendary filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis, is a classic amongst gore aficionados and film buffs alike. Released back in 1964, it examines what happens when a southern town celebrates a centennial. Using some overexcited arm gestures and some road sign trickery, the town of Pleasant Valley lures in some yankees that are passing through. The town convinces the yanks to stay by making them the honorary guests of their centennial celebration, showering them with attention, admiration, and “the finest rooms at the inn!” The town is a little TOO welcoming, however, and the yanks are suspicious, especially of the oft-mentioned barbeque they will play a big role in. After all, “without them, there won’t be no bar-bee-cue!” What follows is a whole lot of southern hospitality, punctuated by shocking acts of violence, bookended by a heaping helping of crazy.
While the special effects are decidedly low-budget, the gore scenes are filmed in such a way as to maximize their impact. Editing and camera angles ratchet up the tension effectively, and despite the low-budget violence, there were obviously some talented special effects people that worked on this film. The gore scenes themselves are nothing you haven’t seen, and are mostly mild by today’s standard, but all of them really do maximize what the filmmakers had to work with. Allow me to describe one of the more painful scenes for you: a barrel is held on its side at the top of a hill. A man is held in the barrel, as nails are hammered through the outside. He then gets pushed down the hill in the barrel, repeatedly jamming into the nails. The barrel coasts to the bottom, and we see the punctured and limp body of the guy get hauled away.
Somewhat surprisingly, there’s no cannibalism, rape, or psychological torture as one might expect in a movie with this kind of setting. The people in the town seem to be genuinely crazy, and that’s pretty much the only excuse they need to do what they do. There are portions of the story that explain why all of this is happening, but it’s so lame you won’t really care; it seems like the kind of thing they came up with at the last minute because they weren’t sure how to wrap it up. That doesn’t really matter though…let’s face it, you aren’t going to watch a movie called “Two Thousand Maniacs” for its narrative contributions. The violent scenes don’t dissapoint, and each one of them will make you cringe at the idea of what’s happening, if not because of what you’re visually being shown.
Luckily, gore isn’t all this movie has going for it. The town itself is an interesting place: a stereotypical main street cuts through the middle, with old-style wooden buildings flanking each side. Butchers, an inn, a saloon, a general store…everything you would expect to see in such a place is represented. The people are stereotypically white southerners, almost offensively so. Their speech, their movement, their interests…almost everything about them is a generlization. Rebel flags appear everywhere, and kids run around twirling miniature nooses (neese?) A movie like this would be highly offensive to many people, were it not for its comical presentation and obvious self-awareness.
Two Thousand Maniacs is a true classic. Clocking in at just over an hour and twenty minutes, it can be watched relatively quickly, and makes for a great companion to a more serious film. it also serves as a decent introduction to splatter films, as the violence is savage yet still hokey. Highly recommended! Be sure to also check out the remake, which starred Robert Englund of Freddy Krueger fame.