Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

God, I love Herschell Gordon Lewis films. I think it's the sixties aesthetic combined with the proto-splatter-movie gore (and we're talking cheap gore here) that just does it for me. This is one of my favorites, probably because of the ever-present bluegrass music provided by the The Pleasant Valley Boys, which permeates the entire proceedings. I would doubt that you'd ever forget their theme song. It's even the sixties American cars, for Heaven's sakes, driving around the scenes. They're gorgeous! Still, enough of my car enthusiasm, you're here to read a movie review. Let's drop in on Pleasant Valley and its Maniacs for a good old-fashioned hoedown.

In the United States, a travelling group of four yankees, (two couples) get detoured into a southern town called Pleasant Valley, which seems to be celebrating some sort of "centennial" event. The townsfolk act kind of over-enthusiastic, especially the manic Mayor Buckman (Jeffrey Allen) but the four decide to stay. Soon after, Terry Adams (Ex-Playboy Playmate Connie Mason, right after her first role in Lewis's Blood Feast) picks up stranded motorist Tom White (William Kerwin) and is forced to make the same detour into Pleasant Valley. After some jolly festivities, we soon see what maniacs these townsfolk truly are.

The first victim Bea Miller (Shelby Livington), habitually unfaithful to her husband John (Jerome Eden), is seduced by a hick-like local, but at the point of the clinch, Bea has first her thumb cut off by the lunatic. After being carted into the Mayor's rooms screaming, by a group of ole boys, she has her whole arm chopped off with an axe! This is probably the film's most brutal, horrifying scene, even though the "arm" is clearly taken from a shop manniquin. The arm is then barbequed as the townsfolk listen to the mellow tunes of the Pleasant Valley Boys again. Lothario John is dragged to bits by four horses after being made drunk by his own seductress Besty (a cute Linda Cochrane). The other two, David and Beverly Wells (Yvonne Gilbert and Michael Korb) meet their own gruesome fates. David is rolled down a hill in a nail-studded barrel which shreds him to bits, Beverly has a boulder dropped on her, crushing her to a gruesome mess, in a hit-the-target with a ball competition. This scene goes on forever, with quite a few misses with the ball!

Terry and Tom realise they have to escape, as all Tom's attempts to reach the outside world are confounded by Mayor Buckman and his cronies. Finding a hidden historical monument, they discover the truth of Pleasant Valley, which was wiped out, every man, woman and child, one hundred years ago by rogue yankees in the civil war. Now, their ghosts, (indeed the ghost of the town itself) have risen again to wreak bloody revenge on any yankees they can trap. Can Terry and Tom escape, and will anyone believe them even if they can make it out alive?

It's hard to be affected at all by the violence and gore of this film. It's so fake-looking, really just red paint thrown over the prone, motionless actors. The first murder of Bea is a bit startling, probably because of the bloody lead-up with the thumb-amputation and the chopping with the axe by the giggling psychos. After that though, it's just played for laughs. Although, for some strange reason, Lewis decided to add a brief scene where, after John is torn to bits by the horses, all the townsfolk present look sad and depressed, and have to be forced to sing, and get back into the spirit by a more strident "maniac". I guess the director wanted to inject a slight touch of pathos but it doesn't really work. The acting in general is completely over the top (except Mason and Kerwin, who seem to be from another, serious movie, and Connie Mason is just plain wooden) and the whole film plays as a comedy of sorts. Just watch Mayor Buckman and I have a feeling you'll agree with me. I just have to admire Herschell Gordon Lewis's pioneer approach to the splatter genre. Two Thousand Maniacs is roughly hewn - look at the point-of-view shot of one character looking through a set of binoculars - clearly viewing through a binocular-shaped piece of cardboard. Come on, Herschell - even a 1964 audience wouldn't have been fooled. The sound quality is appalling at times, and even the placing of the actors within a given shot is way out, on more than one occasion.

However, none of the technical deficiencies matter one bit. Even though lacking the sex and nudity of later sleaze epics - although the femal characters are certainly sexual - Herschell Gordon Lewis films have a certain Guerilla quality that more polished Hollywood products lack. They're classics of extreme cinema, and let's face it, popular cinema in 2005 is getting so bland and made by committee, that watching these little gore-fests is truly a breath of fresh air. I'm glad Lewis is still making movies after all these years!

© Boris Lugosi 2005.


Review written: 04/28/2005 22:13:18