2,000 Maniacs (1964)
By Kurly Tlapoyawa
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Cast: Connie Mason, William Kerwin
If you have ever sat in wide-eyed wonder as images of brutal decapitations and fountains of blood spat across your television screen, you owe a special debt of gratitude to Herschell Gordon Lewis. Known as “the Guru of Gore,” Lewis created the gore film genre in 1963 with his legendary classic Blood Feast. While Lewis often downplays the significance of this film, its influence on movies for generations is undeniable.
In 1964, Lewis followed up Blood Feast with 2,000 Maniacs, a film which many consider to be the perfect drive-in movie, and for good reason. The film opens with Lester and Rufe, two lovable hillbillies who use a combination of roadblocks and fake detour signs to lure yankee tourists off the highway and into their quaint little town of Pleasant Valley. Ahh, sweet Pleasant Valley—just the type of town you can take the whole family to for a weekend getaway. Unless of course the town happens to be inhabited by 2,000 maniacs (and it is)!
You see, our pair of good ol' boys are diverting yanks into their town because they need “guests of honor” for their Confederate centennial celebration. Unfortunately for these tourists, the title “guests of honor” is redneck code-talk for “poor dead bastards.”
After being duped off the highway, a handful of northerners pull into the main square where the entire town has gathered to welcome their hapless victims with much fanfare. Grinning like jackasses eating yellowjackets, the townsfolk dub them “guests of honor” of the town's Confederate celebration. And faster than you can skin a rabbit, our unwitting travelers are imprisoned in the local motel where they wait for the weekend festivities to begin.
Once the “guests of honor” have been confined to their motel rooms, the townsfolk of Pleasant Valley begin luring them out individually so they can participate in the wackiest county fair to ever grace the screen. One by one, each clueless victim meets their gruesome demise via some of the most inventive death scenes ever put to film. Death by axe mutilation, the good ol' draw and quarter and being rolled down a hill in a barrel lined with nails are among the most notable methods of “southern hospitality” employed.
Eventually, two of the guests (played by Lewis regulars Connie Mason and Thomas Wood) catch on to the situation and decide they wanna get the hell outta dodge. Of course, we have to wonder why they didn't catch on sooner, considering the very nature of their unwanted stop-over. “Say, why would southerners want us to be guests of honor at their Confederate cen ... D'oh!!” But before they can escape, our wily rednecks discover them missing and a race for survival ensues.
While the majority of the film contains sheer brutality backed by campy hillbilly antics, the final getaway sequence manages to deliver some genuine dramatic tension. (Damn it you little redneck kid, just get 'em the friggin keys!) And if the sheer violence and endearing hillbillies aren't enough, the film's clever twist at the end smacks of a redneck homage to Brigadoon. Not only that, but we also get the best banjo-pickin' soundtrack this side of Deliverance, featuring songs written by ol' H. G. Lewis himself. You will believe the south can rise. Yee-haw! (Something Wierd Video)
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