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An Amazing DVD for an Audacious Filmmaker
on September 2, 2003
I am starting to achieve a grudging admiration for the cinematic wonders produced by Herschell Gordon Lewis. Lovingly referred to by horror fans as the Godfather of Gore, Lewis, along with producer David Friedman, created a series of ultra low budget schlockfests throughout the 1960s that ushered in the age of the gore flick. Starting off with his 1963 classic "Blood Feast" and moving on from there, Lewis never expressed qualms about bad acting, cheesy special effects, plodding pacing, and gutter level production values. Lewis's films went on to great success at drive-in theaters across the country, but with the advent of DVD all of his classics have received the royal treatment so that new generations of brave explorers can enjoy his masterpieces. You need a pretty strong stomach to survive an H.G. Lewis film: it's not the unrealistic gore that makes you sick, but the sheer shock that anyone would conceive such atrocious acts and present them as entertainment. Even more shocking is that his films ARE entertaining, which makes you wonder about your own state of mind.
Having just told you about the gore in his films, "Two Thousand Maniacs" is not the goriest H.G. Lewis film; in fact, it isn't even close. For the ultimate in Lewis gore you need to watch "The Wizard of Gore" or his latest film, "Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat." Those films are truly revolting in their grim depictions of onscreen carnage. No, "Two Thousand Maniacs" is a subtler Lewis at work. There are still numerous scenes of bloody violence throughout the film, most noticeably some nasty hatchet work, a drawing and quartering, a rock crushing, and a barrel rolling "contest" that looks amazingly, painfully realistic (a degree of realism being a first for Lewis). But the violence takes a backseat to the story, as well as to the brain numbing dramatic skills of Playboy model Connie Mason. I quickly discovered that if you can survive watching Connie Mason, you could make it through anything life throws at you. The rest of the cast isn't much better, but compared to Mason's theatrical dexterity they look like graduates of the Royal Shakespearean Theater.
"Two Thousand Maniacs" is the story of a little southern town named Pleasant Valley and its centennial celebration. In order to appreciate fully the festivities, the townspeople lure in two carloads of Yankees with trick road signs. This is the first indication that something fishy is going on, although the travelers have no inkling that they are about to suffer a fate worse than one could possibly imagine. The strangers, one of whom is the inestimable Connie Mason, express bewilderment as the entire town turns out to greet them with waving Confederate flags and cheers of joy. The town mayor, who certainly ranks as one of the most amusing characters in the annals of film history, insists they stay in a local hotel in order to celebrate with the townspeople. He even assures his guests that the hotel bill is on him, in case the travelers feel burdened by the awesome responsibility of staying over for a few days. The group of carpetbaggers grudgingly acquiesces, with only Tom (a teacher heading to a convention in Georgia) questioning why a southern town celebrates the anniversary of the end of the Civil War. Lewis doesn't waste too much time getting into the gore, and the whole story plays out amidst banjo music, waving flags, and lots of rebel yells. The conclusion even attempts a surprising twist for a movie of this caliber, as the viewer discovers the secrets of Pleasant Valley and its gruesome celebrations.
"Two Thousand Maniacs" aims for the funny bone as well as the churning stomach. Just look for the two hayseeds (named, appropriately enough, Rufe and Lester) that do most of the legwork getting the Yankees into town. Both take their roles so over the top that it's easy to write it off as prejudice against the South on the part of the filmmakers. In fact, many stereotypes in this film are downright offensive. Even still, the whole thing is great fun. Lewis filmed the picture in St. Cloud, Florida in roughly two weeks, and most of the people seen in the background shots actually lived in that town. The residents of St. Cloud went out of their way to accomdate Lewis during the shooting schedule, and many of these people saw the finished product and expressed their enjoyment of the film. The rest of the South apparently saw something in this film, as Lewis states on the commentary track that "Two Thousand Maniacs" was a big hit at drive-ins throughout the South.
This DVD release has gobs of extras, including numerous outtakes (a lot of which show Connie Mason brushing her hair), tons of stills, and a gallery of promotional material associated with the release of the film. The best extra is the commentary track with Lewis and Friedman. This commentary is easily one of the best I have ever heard on a DVD, and it is one of the funniest as well. By listening to the comments about the film, you learn that Connie Mason was a terrible driver, that Lewis performed the title track to the movie, and that softballs thrown during the shooting of the rock crushing scene damaged parked cars just beyond the range of the camera. Friedman and Lewis get so chummy here that I wondered if doing these commentaries led to the making of "Blood Feast 2." Whatever the case, you cannot go wrong with this DVD. The picture quality is AMAZING for a film of this age and budget. "Two Thousand Maniacs" is a great introduction into the grotesque world of H.G. Lewis.