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Two Thousand Maniacs!

With Blood Feast, the team of Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman had hit box-office gold. A follow-up was practically mandated. But the duo didn't immediately rush out and provide more of the same. Instead, they took advantage of the considerable profits in order to give their next production improved on-screen value.

The Blood Feast screenplay (by A. Louise Downe) had been little more than a joke--an excuse to string together a series of gruesome set-pieces. Even Lewis's so-called "novelization" of the film was an out-and-out lampoon, featuring characters (Officer "Bull" Schitt, anyone?) and incidents far removed from the actual film. But for the follow-up, Lewis wondered what would happen if the innovation of graphic gore was applied to a legitimately "good" film, which he would script (and again novelize) himself. On the strength of the previous work's success, Lewis and Friedman easily obtained the financing for the superior camera equipment, lab work, construction, etc. needed to realize this story--a story inspired by, of all things, the musical Brigadoon!

Two Thousand Maniacs! is set in the community of Pleasant Valley--a Confederate town wiped out by Yankee soldiers during a Civil War massacre. Like the mythical Brigadoon, Pleasant Valley can return to life once every hundred years. As the title song tells us, "...the South's gonna rise again!" The centennial celebration is about to begin, and the "guests of honor" will be any Northerners the citizens can manage to snare with a phony detour from a nearby highway. As it happens, they catch six unsuspecting Yanks--among them Blood Feast returnees Thomas Wood (William Kerwin) and Connie Mason. The annoyance of the travellers as they find themselves unable to leave Pleasant Valley gradually turns to apprehension, and once the festivities begin, it may be too late for them all...

There can be no question that Two Thousand Maniacs! features a far more detailed and involving storyline than Blood Feast. Lewis's approach to the gore sequences is also different. Rather than unleash the gore immediately, Lewis lets the film build for nearly a half-hour before springing the first shock on the audience--which occurs in the middle of a seemingly innocent "chat" scene: one character abruptly amputates the thumb of another with a jack-knife. Even viewers who had been bracing themselves all along found themselves surprised and aghast--and Lewis offered no respite here, either: the sequence culminates with a community barbecue, perversely set to the tune of "Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms!"

From this point on, the film can be seen to predict the popular "gimmick-murder" movement (best exemplified by the "Dr. Phibes" films starring Vincent Price). The centennial celebration includes a drawing-and-quartering by a team of horses, a "barrel roll" in which the barrel is studded with long nails--and the showstopper, inspired by producer Friedman's carnival days: "Old Teeterin' Rock" is stationed on an elevated platform, and the townie who throws the lucky softball (as at a carnival's dunking booth) will send this giant boulder crashing onto the victim secured below!

Two Thousand Maniacs! remains one of Lewis's personal favorite films. It's certainly the best film he worked on with Friedman. And although the movie's appeal is once again strictly limited to those with strong stomachs, it's not hard to understand why the movie has attracted a cult following. The improvements on Blood Feast can be seen in every department: the writing, the acting, the production values, and Lewis's own approach as a director. Still, the effect of the film remains difficult to describe in print. Much of the atmosphere is provided by the soundtrack. The "Pleasant Valley Boys" (created specifically for the film) break out the banjos for many a Southern folk song staple--not to mention the catchy, aforementioned theme, the main verses of which are intoned by Lewis himself. The film also benefits from the enthusiastic participation of the townspeople themselves. On the audio commentary track of Something Weird's DVD release of Two Thousand Maniacs!, Lewis and Friedman tell many stories regarding the cooperative citizens of St. Cloud, Florida (a town now engulfed by Walt Disney World) and the lengths they went to for the sake of the movie.

Something Weird's DVD features a bright, colorful transfer, but this one, unlike the other Lewis films offered by Something Weird, came from a European PAL source. While this decision was undoubtedly made in the interest of obtaining the best-looking master available, it results in the film playing at a slightly faster speed than it does in previous U.S. versions. Therefore the running time is slightly abbreviated (though nothing has been cut), and the pitch of the music seems a bit high. These considerations aren't likely to spoil the film for anyone, but they bear mentioning. Approximately sixteen minutes of silent outtake footage (scored with the film soundtrack) are included, but this footage contains few revelations. The DVD also contains the original theatrical trailer. Unique to this Lewis release is the option of a French language soundtrack, which is guaranteed to amuse!

Though successful, the second "gore" film by Lewis and Friedman wasn't quite the same box-office sensation as Blood Feast. Their next collaboration would scale things down a bit...and it would be their final film together.


Go to:
A Taste of Blood (book review)
Blood Feast
Two Thousand Maniacs
Color Me Blood Red
A Taste of Blood
Something Weird
The Gruesome Twosome
She-Devils on Wheels
The Wizard of Gore
The Gore Gore Girls