A Town of Madmen Crazed for Carnage!
Six traveling northerners are tricked into taking a dangerous detour and find themselves the guests of honor at a special centennial celebration in the small southern town of Pleasant Valley. Little do these tourists suspect that on this 100 year anniversary of a Civil War massacre, the citizens are seeking vengeance against the Yankees. Brutal, bloody vengeance.
Herschel Gordon Lewis followed up his infamous BLOOD FEAST with this hicksploitation extravaganza. Although it has a better storyline than its predecessor, and features some pretty great banjo-pluckin’ bluegrass tunes, I didn’t find it quite as entertaining (though, admittedly, I am in the minority on that). Too many cuts tamper with the outrageous violence, and the over-the-top performances from the Pleasant Valley denizens teeter over the line from amusing to annoying. Still, it has its fun moments, and Lewis is as audacious as one would expect. There’s a reason that he’s known as The Godfather of Gore, after all.
After their BLOOD FEAST proved quite successful on the drive-in market, filmmaker Herschel Gordon Lewis and producer David F. Friedman realized that they had effectively tapped into the next exploitable element: gore. They quickly set to work on a follow-up piece that could do it all over again.
By applying their profits from their previous film to their next, Lewis and Friedman were able to up the production quality on TWO THOUSAND MANIACS significantly. It looks better, it sounds better (though not by much), and it plays better—and yet I still can’t help but feel it’s lost a little bit of charm. Or maybe that charm still exists, and I simply can’t hear it over the top volume cartoon accents that these bumpkin performers put on.
Make no mistake, there is still fun to be had. The death scenes don’t exactly come fast and furious, but when they happen, they are increasingly outrageous until settling into a carnival-like atmosphere. The best involves a giant boulder and the type of target practice typically associated with a dunk tank. The effects are a smidge better than you might expect, but still very much in that low-budget drive-in wheelhouse that we love so much. Anything more would be distracting.
The whole thing appears to be fun and games—and for the most part it is—but there’s also some degree of social commentary hidden beneath the surface. Whether the filmmakers intended it as such or not, you simply can not tackle subjects like the Civil War without racial topics existing on at least a subtextual level. It’s true that they seemed to almost purposefully avoid speaking of the topic, and none of the victims are people of color; but with the hundreds of Confederate flags being waved about by the murderous maniacs, “The south is gonna rise again” blaring on the soundtrack, and a young white boy stringing a noose around the neck of a black cat, well…just because you don’t speak the words doesn’t mean that you’re not saying something. Lewis and Friedman may not have made a protest picture, and the statement they’re making may be a simple one, but they have strong feelings about the South, and they don’t paint it in a very flattering light. I do wish that they had the foresight to cast a black character as one of the prospective victims, which would have given the events additional weight, but we should only judge the movie we saw…not the movie we wish we saw.
I also can’t help but be confused by some of the chronology. TWO THOUSAND MANIACS is (spoiler alert) something of a grindhouse BRIGADOON, and 100 years after they were slaughtered by Union soldiers, the citizens of Pleasant Valley return from beyond to wreak vengeance. That would be fine if we were lead to believe that this was the only time that they had come back, but there’s much talk of tradition and ritual that lead one to believe that it has happened before. The 100 year calendar means that would be impossible, however, so how have they already developed traditions and rituals their first time back?
Granted, these people also dress in modern clothing, and Mayor Buckman (soon-to-be Lewis regular Jeffrey Allen) knows how to make a paper airplane despite the fact that the Wright Brothers didn’t get off the ground until 47 years after he was murdered, so it’s quite possible that I’m thinking too hard about the whole thing.
Herschell Gordon Lewis wrote and directed this time around, and he would complete his so-called “Blood Trilogy” the following year with COLOR ME BLOOD RED. For what it’s worth, fans of BLOOD FEAST, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, and COLOR ME BLOOD RED should check out some of his other films, too—specifically A TASTE OF BLOOD (1967), THE GRUESOME TWOSOME (1967), THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970), and THE GORE GORE GIRLS (1972), which comprise something of an unofficial follow-up quadrilogy that rarely gets its due. He revisited the South in much less horrific terms in MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN (1964), THIS STUFF’LL KILL YA! (1971), and THE YEAR OF THE YAHOO (1972).
William Kerwin and his astoundingly-beautiful Playboy Playmate wife Connie Mason returned from BLOOD FEAST to play our primary protagonists, Tom and Terry, here. While she mostly went on to bit parts and occasional guest spots, he continued on in exploitation films, such as GOD’S BLOODY ACRE, which is discussed elsewhere.
Also appearing: Ben Moore (MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN , SHE FREAK , SUBURBAN ROULETTE , and a small part in THE MUTILATOR ); Jerome Eden (THE DEFILERS and COLOR ME BLOOD RED [both 1965]), Linda Cochran (THE DEFILERS, THE NOTORIOUS DAUGHTER OF FANNY HILL ), and Candi Conder (COLOR ME BLOOD RED ).
This movie was filmed in St. Cloud, Florida, which is somewhat fitting as it was formed as a retirement colony for Union veterans of the Civil War. The city was reportedly very supportive of the making of the film…and presumably exists at all times.