Retro Review – Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

People from all over the United States have a certain expectation of what they will see when they step south of the Mason Dixon line: women with big hair, pitchers of mint juleps, elaborate, home cooked meals. One of the biggest presumptions of the American South is that everyone they meet will lavish them with the sweet, honorable, chivalrous manners of Southern Hospitality. This was exactly what six Yankees traveling through the South expected when they made a pit stop in Two Thousand Maniacs’ Pleasant Valley after some car trouble. What they got instead was slightly…well, less friendly.

Filmed in St. Cloud, FL over 15 days in 1964, splatter film Two Thousand Maniacs! was the second movie in Hershell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Trilogy, right between Blood Feast (1963) and Color Me Blood Red (1965). Known as the Godfather of Gore, Lewis single-handedly established the splatter film subgenre of horror, creating films such as The Gruesome Twosome (1967), The Gore Gore Girls (1972) and Blood Feast 2: All You Can Eat (2002). To keep costs low for his already tiny movie budgets, Lewis not only directed his films but also wrote screenplays, produced, shot and scored many of them as well. Jerome Eden was the only actor to appear in all three films in the Blood Trilogy while 1963’s Playboy Playmate Connie Mason appeared in only the first two. Two Thousand Maniacs! was produced by frequent Lewis collaborator David Friedman. The two met after both deciding to get out of “nudie-cuties” and making a go at mainstream movies.

Inspired by the 1947 musical Brigadoon, this horror comedy begins as Tom (William Kerwin), Terry (Mason), John Miller (Eden) and his wife, Bea (Shelby Livingston), and David Wells (Michael Korb) and his own wife, Beverly (Yvonne Gilbert), get sidetracked while traveling through the South and get invited to be the guests of honor at Pleasant Valley’s Centennial Celebration. The citizens of Pleasant Valley certainly seem nice enough at first – maybe even too nice, as both Bea and John were coaxed off by their hormones to get them separated from the rest of the Yanks. As the stereotypical redneck townies get ready for their celebration with plenty of over the top banjo picking, straw hat and bandana wearing, square dancing and “Daggums,” the prim and proper Northerners soon realize that these people are a little too happy that they’ve got some extra company. The six travelers become both the food and entertainment for the Southerners as they realize that this is not a celebration of the town’s birthday but a remembrance of the day the Civil War ended and the damn Yankees beat the South. In the twisted minds of the Pleasant Valley natives, the only way to celebrate this day is to torture some prudish Northerners with demented games meant to main, mutilate and kill the guests, each death bloodier than the last.

This version was released on March 20, 1964, but was remade in 2005 as 2,001 Maniacs. The social ramifications of the film were two-fold – pissing off both people in the southern half of the country and those fighting in the current Civil Rights war, who took a film about the worship of the loss of the Civil War as a personal affront, channeling civil unrest into a splatter film of epic proportions. The original film was cut heavily by the MPAA, a change that made Two Thousand Maniacs! more palatable to audiences and allowed theatre owners free reign to screen the film across the country, making it a drive-in classic that is now considered to be the first of the body count films. It also kicked off the formulaic Southern gore genre, with upper class, prudish Northerners getting trapped in the South by simple yet violent rednecks.

Although the film itself is nothing spectacular – veteran Hershell Gordon Lewis film fans know not to expect anything approaching a good film on the technical sense – the amount of bloody, campy carnage is what draws in the masses; that, and the hilarious theme song during the opening credits by the fictitious Pleasant Valley Boys. This Southern fried cheesefest also has a slap-happy pace, keeping your interest without getting boring, and has been an inspiration for filmmakers for decades, including Tobe Hooper for Texas Chain Saw Massacre and James Wan’s Saw series. It was first released on VHS in the 1980s and then again on DVD by Something Weird Video in the late ‘90s.

For a relatively unknown film, Two Thousand Maniacs! has certainly made its mark on the horror genre. Hershell Gordon Lewis took a chance on making his cheesy, campy gorefests and that chance paid off, creating new horror subgenres and inspiring filmmakers for the next half century.

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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