Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
Cast: Connie Mason, Thomas Wood, Jeffrey Allen
Extras: Commentary track, Photo gallery, Rare outtakes
I have to admit I was not consciously familiar with H. G. Lewis’ works until I got the opportunity to review this disc, and now that I have seen "Two Thousand Maniacs!" I am left with a weird feeling. Let me explain. Most of you, like myself, have probably never heard of "Two Thousand Maniacs!" unless you are a true gorehound who has wandered the realms of some of the most obscure and bizarre horror films of the past. That is the category I would put this movie in, but at the same time I have to admit that despite its being bizarre and utterly morbid, the movie has a visceral impact and the ability to seriously unsettle. Ultimately this is what we all look for in a good horror and exploitation movie.
The film starts out quite innocently and since I refused to read the synopsis on the disc’s packaging, I was not exactly sure what to expect. It almost feels like a campy screwball comedy as you watch two funny looking guys setting up a phony detour on a small country road. They select cars from a distance based on their license plates, and purposely divert two of them to a small town nearby. Once that is done, they remove the detour and return to town themselves. Here we find the entire community of Pleasant Valley gathered in a ceremonial mood to welcome their guests.
Quickly it becomes obvious that something is terribly wrong with these seemingly innocent townspeople. They are a little too energetic and ecstatic about the fact that someone came to visit their little hometown, and soon enough the evil that emanates from these people becomes more palpable. Without further exposition, all of a sudden the horror explodes in the viewer’s face, as the townspeople begin to cut one of the visitors into pieces accompanied by raunchy comments and insane laughter. It sets the terrifying mood for the rest of the film, as the visitors who thought they were the honorary guests of the town’s 100th Civil War Anniversary fall victim to the deranged and freakish townspeople who get ready to prepare them for their barbecue. It is these Southerner’s way to pay back the outcome of the Civil War by having the Yankees butchered, roasted and devoured by Confederate zombies.
Despite its age – the film was originally released in 1964 – "Two Thousand Maniacs!" is positively not for the squeamish. Its macabre display of violence, gore and mutilation in what appears to be a harmonious and safe little town has quite a dramatic – if not traumatic – impact on viewers. Director H. G. Lewis paints the screen red with blood and the graphic violence reaches level that is unexpected and raw. It is very obvious from the movie, that the focus of the production was not so much on technical aspects, but more on the shocks and the blood-crazed escapades, very much in the vein of the Grand Guignol. To fully understand where the film comes from, one must understand the importance of drive-in theaters in the 50s and 60s, where teenagers spend much of their time just trying to have a blast, and in such an environment, a film like "Two Thousand Maniacs!" is successful on its dare-to-watch-merits alone.
As a result of this radical approach, the framing of the pictures is off-balance many times and shows a weird in-your-face attitude that has undoubtedly superbly worked within the context of drive-in theaters. With edits that are just as wacky as the story sometimes, the film has a very unique flair, but the cast appears inexperienced and oftentimes unable to deliver the lines in the context. Even the lighting and the sound recording of the film shows the ineptitude of the filmmakers, and yet, "Two Thousand Maniacs!" achieves something many horror films fail at, it makes an impact. Whether the viewer’s response is disgust, joy, entertainment, or plain fear, I am sure "Two Thousand Maniacs" makes a lasting impression on every viewer, although its impact given the current cinema culture is quite different that its original perception in the 60s.
The image quality of "Two Thousand Maniacs" on this DVD is a mixed bag. The main problem is the quality of the source material. The film is presented in a <$PS,fullframe> aspect ratio as it was originally shot and exhibits quite some grain, speckles and scratches. Given the low budget of the movie and its circulation as a cult film, the level of deterioration is hardly surprising. The transfer itself shows muted colors and appears washed out at times losing some of the definition in its edge delineation. Nonetheless, the transfer has a good reproduction of contrast. Blacks are deep for the most part and highlights are bold and balanced. Given the rather low quality of the source material the compression on this DVD is surprisingly good. Although artifacts, mostly in the form of ringing and <$pixelation,pixelation> are evident, they do not deteriorate the image quality noticeably and given DVD’s general increase in picture clarity and definition, I am sure "Two Thousand Maniacs!" has never looked better before – if you were at all able to find this obscure film anywhere.
"Two Thousand Maniacs!" is presented in a monaural <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track that is rather poor in quality. Inconsistent in its volume and ambiance, the track exhibits dramatic changes in quality from one second to the other in mid-scene. The problem seems to come from inadequate miking on the set and the fact that the entire dialogue track did never go through a post-production stage for improvement, leaving the audio track as it was originally recorded on the set. As a result the French audio track that is also part of this DVD and for obvious reasons entirely dubbed, has a much better continuity, dynamics, clarity and frequency response.
The disc also features a <$commentary,commentary track> with director Hershell Gordon Lewis whose macabre fantasies have long been outpaced by reality – unfortunately. Together with producer David Friedman and "Something Weird Video" owners Mike Vraney and Jimmy Maslon on the commentary, the entire group gives valuable in insight into the mechanics of the movie. Spiced up with nice and entertaining anecdotes the commentary is quite informative and a great addition to the release.
I found it interesting how many events and technical details are still in the filmmakers’ memories which enhances the value of the <$commentary,commentary track> quite a bit. Too bad only, that once again the miking of the track is rather poor, leaving two of the commentators almost inaudibly in the background with booming reverbs, while the other two members of the group are by comparison overly ’present.’
The DVD packaging carries the "Something Weird Video" company logo at the top of the cover, and there is certainly a lot of truth to it. "Two Thousand Maniacs!" is weird, bizarre, morbid and brutal.
It is not for everyone and it is a movie that clearly started out as an attempt to accumulate the grossest and most sadistic things auteur H. G. Lewis could think of at the time. It is a shocking movie despite its age, but if you are interested in something really weird, this DVD of "Two Thousand Maniacs!" is exploitation in its infancy, but at the same time at its most inventive and original.