Sunday, September 15, 2013

Movie Review: Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

Oh my goodness, if I never hear another banjo-picking, Southern hillbilly song again it'll be too soon. Gah, Hersch, that was painful. Thankfully the rest of Two Thousand Maniacs! was not. It is one of Lewis's earlier movies and the second in the so-called "Blood Trilogy" (bookended by Blood Feast and Color Me Blood Red - the next two movies on my watchlist). I don't know if it is my favorite yet, but I can definitely say that it is the most well-made and entertaining of what I've seen so far. So let's talk about it, shall we?

Two groups of travelers find themselves in the little town of Pleasant Valley, where they seem to be "special guests" for the town's centennial celebration. But the people of Pleasant Valley have some very gruesome events in store for their guests, as revenge for wrongs committed against their town during the Civil War.

One thing I'm really enjoying about Lewis's movies are the stories. With the exception maybe of The Gruesome Twosome, his films don't seem to be of the standard fare that would come in later decades - there's always something just a bit... off about them, or there's some kind of twist that is so weird but at the same time still works. I loved the concept behind The Wizard of Gore, and now Two Thousand Maniacs with its whole all-the-town-is-crazy-and-kills-these-people-in-awesome-ways things is really making love the man. The ending of this film could be seen as complete malarky to others but, dangit, I liked it. It gives the movie a sense of mystery that it might not really deserve and it sure makes a hell of a lot more interesting than it could have turned out to be.

Our victims are two different groups of young lovelies traveling the countryside in hot convertibles going... wherever the heck they're going. Two couples in one car and a woman and the man she picked up hitchhiking are in the other car - and six just happens to be the magic number that Pleasant Valley needs to carry out their evil deeds. You see, back during the war a bunch of soldiers rolled through the town and pretty much killed everybody just 'cause they could. So now one hundred years later the town is out for vengeance against whatever Yankees they can get. Our Yanks don't know any of this at first, of course, and prove to be excellent fodder for the townspeople because they are absolutely ridiculous to believe that they would be special guests for a random town's centennial. And they just completely put their plans on hold because they get put in a crappy hotel by some of the most annoying and creepy people ever? Pfft, they deserved what they got, I'm not sorry to say.

And what do they get? Well, those are the fun scenes! The people have come up with some impressive ways to kill their guests, obviously modeled after what was done to them a hundred years ago. First to go is the dumb blonde who goes off with one hillbilly only to have him cut off her thumb, and then later her arm which is then put on a spit during the festive "barbecue." The amputation is nicely done with the effects - a lot better than some of the stuff Lewis would do later. Next up is the little annoying drunk boy who would have gotten the coolest looking death of all if they had actually showed it to us. He gets his limbs torn from his body by four horses running in different directions but they cut from the good stuff - probably because they couldn't do it - so all we see is one severed leg. My favorite death comes next, when one of the other guys is put into a barrel with nails stuck into it all over and rolled down a hill. Not so sure that that would kill him so quickly but I was willing to overlook that because of the inventiveness. Lastly is the crushing by a huge boulder, made even more fun by the dunk tank-like way they rigged it up. A woman is laying on a platform underneath the boulder while hillbillies throw balls at the target that will make it fall on her. Of course it does, and spectacularly crushes her.

What the movie lacks in the blood and splatter department sometimes, it makes up for with all-around hilarity. The rednecks act just as nauseatingly cliche as you would expect them too, but the actors are so damn enthusiastic with all their roles that you can't help but love them. They are way more interesting than any of the travelers, even the two main ones, Terry and Tom, who are only a little bit smarter than their counterparts. Heck, even the kids get a chance to shine, and little Billy certainly takes advantage of it. Such a doll. Anyway, I couldn't stop laughing through most of this thing, whether it was at the acting or the dialogue or just the craziness that was going on.

Three Lewis movies down, and so far they're all winners in their own way. Can't help but be stoked about what's in store for me next (and hopefully I'll get them reviewed much sooner than I have been!) as I continue my strange and exciting journey through the works of Herschell Gordon Lewis. Stay tuned!


  1. I'm with you all the way! I first read about HGL in Fangoria magazine about a million years ago. They also advertised a cool book one of his later crew members had written about the man and his movies. I ordered it (at the outrageous sum of $14.95) and proceeded to wait what seemed like months to get the book. Then, out of nowhere - a letter arives from Fantaco - the publishing company. Seems the book is going to be delayed. OH NO! And the reason it's going to be delayed? Well, they suddenly decided to have the author (Daniel Krogh) and Herschell Gordon Lewis himself actually AUTOGRAPH EVERY COPY! Then there was an apology - and they actually offered a refund if you didn't like the delay - they would cancel your order for you!


    I of course put my letter away and patiently waited - and a few weeks later received my book - with beautiful felt tip signatures from both men! One of my proudest possessions, actually! And this was YEARS before I got to see any of the movies! It probably took another five or six years before I saw one. I saw a few on VHS, one (this movie - Two Thousand Maniacs!) projected in college - and own most of them on DVD now. A few are even on Blu-Ray (!) Cheers!

    1. Oh my gosh, what an awesome story! You sure got lucky there, friend!