Two Thousand Maniacs

Studio: Arrow Video

Jun 07, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The late American filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis is credited for creating the first ever “splatter” horror films in the early 1960s, and amassing a body of work so bloodsoaked it earned him the moniker of the “Godfather of Gore”; though that title is often also credited (with good reason) to Italian director Lucio Fulci. Though Lewis’ work in horror and other exploitation genres would come to define his public portfolio, his primary career was actually in advertising; for which he built and ran his own firm, and instructing graduate school courses.

After teaching at Mississippi State College, working in advertising, and directing television commercials for several years in the late 1950s, Lewis would befriend film producer David F. Friedman, at the time responsible for the growing popularization of “nudie cutie” softcore pornography films. Their first collaboration would be the 1961 feature The Adventures of Lucky Pierre, earning distinction for being the first fully colorized nudie cutie. Though the film faired moderately well, the easily foreseeable audience fatigue for the genre brought on by swaths of fresh imitators, convinced the filmmaking duo to break new ground in 1963.

Scum of the Earth! would be the first of an increasingly savage and nihilistic subgenre counterpart to the nudie cuties: the “roughie”, where violence and tastelessness dictated the nature of the sexual content. They also (and more importantly) would release the ultra-low-budget schlockfest Blood Feast; a trainwreck of a narrative, but as Lewis and Friedman were marketing geniuses, it banked on one major untapped exploitive element: gore.

While the latter movie was destroyed completely by critics and industry figures, its brazen carnage and crude dismemberment became a massive hit with youthful drive-in audiences, spurred on by Friedman’s cheeky publicity stunts and Lewis’ successful ad campaign. Upon the film being a large financial triumph, the director-producer pair asked themselves, “what if we made a good one?” Well, it is highly subjective as to whether they accomplished this task, but out of this effort, Two Thousand Maniacs! was born.

Directly inspired by the 1947 musical Brigadoon, the second installment of Lewis’ Blood Trilogy (including Blood Feast and Color Me Blood Red, 1965) was brought to the screen in 1964. Equal parts torture stag reel and hicksploitation comedy, it focuses on a handful of northern vacationers being trapped in a small town of vengeful southerners sickly celebrating their centennial. It began an (eventual) exponentially increasing worldwide hunger for crazier and gorier stories. Often referred to as “one of the sickest movies ever made”, it is (with Blood Feast) regarded alongside Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku (1960) as one of the earliest progenitors of the modernly-known “torture porn” subgenre. This shift in horror would immediately inspire slews of independent films, most notoriously Richard S. Flink’s Love Goddesses of Blood Island (1964).

Though the severity of its initial reactions can be understood in context to the time it was released, the film is now laughably tame, and was even by the standards set the very next year (by Massimo Pupillo’s Bloody Pit of Horror, and Lewis’ own Color Me Blood Red). Scenes are dogged by warping audio levels (some actors sound like they’re shouting out from the bowels of hell), constant out-of-focus camerawork, and its cast is plagued by varied levels of enthusiasm. The gore is also considerably campy (and surprisingly minimal), and though it has generally higher production values than its predecessor Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs! feels considerably less explosive. Sure its story is more coherent, but that isn't the element we’re here to see exploited, gents.

Arrow Video has re-released this southern hospitality horror on a special Blu-ray double feature with Lewis’ other 1964 hicksploitation feature, Moonshine Mountain (featuring several of the same cast, and originally released with a tie-in paperback novel that is out-of-print and considerably rare). Two Thousand Maniacs! is equipped with a humorous and nostalgic introduction and commentary by Lewis and several others who worked on the film. The single-disc release is buttressed by a handful of short documentaries on the filmmakers and the cultural effects the film has had through the subsequent decades. Lewis also shares his general standards for selling movies in Herschell’s Art of Advertising, aiding and abetting the next (or veteran) generations of independent filmmakers in selling their product. Rounded out with a helping of quirky outtakes and original promotional trailers, the reversible Blu-ray case sleeve also features wacky alternative artwork by The Twins of Evil.

This release is absolutely a must-have for any horror aficionados worth their salt, though it will repel the more casual or contemporary fans of the genre, due to the films’ hamfisted delivery and stark inability to age objectively all that well.


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