Cinophile: TWO THOUSAND MANIACS

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[column size=one_half position=first ]There is no pretense here. These country yokels are up to no good.

The movie had scarcely begun, powered by a rousing bluegrass song about how the South will rise again, and we see two men engage in a bit of subterfuge: diverting cars from the main road with ‘detour’ signs. They are specifically looking for cars with northern (US) state number plates, aka. yankees. After netting two cars of unsuspecting travellers, things are about to get ugly.

Thus starts Two Thousand Maniacs, the second notorious movie in Herschell Gordon Lewis’ unofficial trilogy of blood. Lewis is often called the Godfather of Gore and many consider his movie previous to this, Blood Feast, as the first splatter film.

But while Two Thousand Maniacs was not the first, it set the bar for the future of horror. The plot is quite simple: the small town of Pleasant Valley and its 2,000 inhabitants are celebrating a centenary related to the American civil war, so they lure in a few northerners to torture and kill as part of a revenge pact. In total six people arrive in the town and it doesn’t take long before things go bad.

By today’s standards Two Thousand Maniacs seems tame and even ridiculous. But for 1964 it was a huge shocker. Ironically it wasn’t the gore. Blood Feast, Lewis’ first horror, is significantly bloodier. But that was pretty much all it had going for it, plodding along an incomprehensible plot.

Two Thousand Maniacs has a story and a sense of continuity. The anticipation of what will happen with a character is almost as bad as when it does happen to them. That is something that the best extreme horrors share and they all got the idea from this ancestor of the cinematic shocker.

Quite a lot of horror films are the offspring of Two Thousand Maniacs, particularly torture porn and hillbilly horror. So, basically everything from Hostel to Wrong Turn and even Saw.

This film was a video nasty long before such things existed. Its combination of violence and folklore laid the road for a giant part of the movie horror world. All the movie really lacks is a chainsaw or hockey mask…

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Shot in 14 days, Two Thousand Maniacs was created by Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman, two pioneers of exploitation cinema. they started their career creating comedies and softcore ‘skin’ flicks before trying out the horror market. The pair were legendary for working on tight budgets and negotiating with cinema and drive-in owners, bypassing the studio system. The exploitation boom of the sixties and seventies would borrow heavily from their playbook.
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The movie’s soundtrack is quite catchy, especially the strange title song that was written and performed by Lewis himself. The multi-talented director scored the entire movie. He also wrote a novel tie-in with the film – thus pioneering another movie industry habit. Today the soundtrack LP and novel are sought-after collectors items.
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A sequel starring Robert Englund was released in 2005 to mixed reviews and a completely avoidable second sequel appeared in 2010. The movie also inspired the name of the band 10,000 Maniacs. The movie was broadly inspired by the musical Brigadier, but that was a romance and not a horror.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: January 19, 2015

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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