2000 severed thumbs up
As Two Thousand Maniacs begins, some tourists and a schoolteacher, motoring south to Atlanta, are detoured to Pleasant Valley, where they find themselves guests of honor at the town’s centennial celebration. Although suspicious as to why six Yankees should be so honored, most of them are won over by Southern hospitality.
Only Bill Kerwin smells a rat, especially when he learns that Pleasant Valley had been the site of a massacre by a group of renegade Union army soldiers one hundred years before – a massacre which caused the local folk to swear eternal vengeance.
Even he doesn’t realize the true horror of their situation – that they’ve been lured there to be victims of ritual slaughter and cannibalism. One by one, they are dismembered by the bloodthirsty populace in ever more gruesome and sadistic games of carnage. A woman gets her arm cut off, which is then barbecued and fed to her unsuspecting comrades. Her philandering boyfriend gets drawn and quartered. How has such a hearty thirst for vengeance been kept alive for one hundred years? And how do the people of Pleasant Valley expect to get away with these outrageous crimes?
After the tremendous success of their groundbreaking horror hit Blood Feast, director Herschell Gordon Lewis and producer Dave Friedman knew they had to follow it with something quick. Their reasoning: if we can make this much money with a shlocky gore picture, imagine how much we’d make with a good one!
Friedman had just seen the Broadway production “Brigadoon” and was raving about the show.
Lewis thought, “Why don’t we make the same thing, only with gore?”
They decided to take the opportunity to capture the flavor of the Old South before it could fade, and give their picture the kind of production value they couldn’t afford with Blood Feast.
They found the perfect location in St. Cloud, Florida. Here you can see what this little village looked like before Disney took over and made it a suburb of their theme park. It was so small they had to change the title from Five Thousand Maniacs.
Though not what could be described as a big budget production, it’s still obviously on a higher plane than Blood Feast. For one thing, the performances are much more professional – even the actual residents St. Cloud, recruited as extras, are more believable.
Moreover, the script and direction are better thought out, with many small touches that make a world of difference. For example, there’s much more coverage – Lewis cuts to interesting angles more often. There’s just more of an overall sense of the loving care that went into the project, from the in-camera special effects to the lively theme song (sung by Lewis himself).
Two Thousand Maniacs proved that Friedman and Lewis’ success was more than a fluke. It was evidence for the ages that they were two of the craftiest and most intelligent showmen in cinema history.
The commentrak gives further evidence, revealing that just about every virtue of the film was put there deliberately. I also found out how much I can get for my Two Thousand Maniacs paperback novel on eBay. A third audio track has the French dub of the film. However, they don’t answer one question I’ve always had about the film: was Pleasant Valley named after cannibal killer Ed Gein’s home town of Pleasantville, Wisconsin?
The disc also includes the same “Gallery of Exploitation Art” as the other two Blood Trilogy DVDs, and 16 minutes of rare outtakes. This footage is a bit dull, but shows that Lewis and Friedman may have got just a bit more Southern hospitality out of the citizens of St. Cloud by shooting the picture under the more agreeable title Centennial.