Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things: 2000 Maniacs!

Denez McAdoo

2000 Maniacs!1964Director – H.G. Lewis”An Entire Town Bathed In Pulsing Human Blood! Madmen Crazed For Carnage!”88 min. – unrated

“The South is gonna rise again!” Never have those words sounded so laughably meek and so ghastly horrifying all at the same time. You see this film was made in the years before a Halloween or a Night of the Living Dead set some sort of artistic precedent for horror filmmakers to shamelessly ape in the name of quickly turning out a proven, yet painfully mediocre product just to make a fast buck. No, back in the tender year of 1964 when “godfather of gore” z-rate splatter film auteur Herschell Gordon Lewis released the film 2000 Maniacs on the unsuspecting drive-in circuit audience, there was no play-by-the-numbers blueprint for making this brand of gross out blood cinema. So instead he was left to his own devices and produced this meaty slice of Southern fried carnage.

What results is the sordid tale of a group of six pigeon-toed Yanks (other wise know as spineless Northern liberals, also known as 98 percent of the UMass population) who are misguided on their joy ride through the south and end up in a small town somewhere below the Mason-Dixon line. There they are met with a generous helping of some good ol’ fashioned Southern hospitality and the town mayor of Pleasant Valley (pop. 2000!) personally invites them to the town’s centennial feast celebration extravaganza. Too bad the Northerners didn’t bother to ask what was on the menu, because when one of their friends from doesn’t show up to the quaint little feast, unbeknownst to them, there is something fishy going on with that obviously human arm looking thing that roasting over the open fire.

The deal is that these seemingly hospitable Good Old Boys and Southern Belles are in fact the reanimated dead who have restlessly been roaming the earth awaiting their chance to rectify their demise at the hands of the Union army who brutally slaughtered the whole town way back during the Civil War. So here we are, “the South is gonna rise again!” or you know, just massacre six Yankees-which ever comes first.

Apparently after creating his first no-budget blockbuster and first ever straight up gore film, 1963’s Blood Feast, H.G. Lewis concluded that if he could make a hit off spending so little money, then if he invested some actual loot into creating his next splatter massacre, he would hit bank. Well sometimes things don’t work out the way you planned and 2000 Maniacs didn’t quite generate the instant success that Blood Feast had. Perhaps it was because for all the reported capital Lewis was granted for the making of this film it hardly shows in the finished product. Sure, a car chase scene and a few aerial shots probably stretched out the budget a bit, but I suspect most of this money went to booze. The acting is still stiff and amateurish (Playboy Playmate Connie Mason plays one of the only surviving characters), the lighting is awkward and misplaced, the sets bare and hollow, the blood still looks like globs of red paint. Apparently, the filming was shot in an actual town in Florida that is now demolished and paved over with a Disney World parking lot.

But when it comes down to it, it’s the ingenious set-piece death scenes that really make this film. One Yank is coerced into taking part in a barrel roll down a hill when at the last minute those crafty undead red necks plug the barrel with some four inch nail spikes and send him a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ down the bumpy incline. Another sorry lass is crushed under a gigantic boulder in a sort of dunk tank to the death.

It is noted that this film was intended to be called 5000 Maniacs but old H.G. couldn’t pull together the loot. Oh well, not too long ago a remake was in production called 2001 Maniacs. Frankly, how impressive the addition of one more maniac is stands to be seen, as the film is yet to see its official release. Though Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Englund, is slated to play the role of the Mayor.