Sunday, May 25, 2008

2001 Maniacs (2005)

In 1963, Herschell Gordon Lewis created the splatter film genre with the outrageously violent Blood Feast. It delivered plenty of on screen gore, but as an actual film it was a little rough around the edges (to put it mildly). After Blood Feast's amazing success, Lewis returned to the genre a year later with Two Thousand Maniacs! and the minds of a millions young horror fans were permanently warped. With its rather bizarre blend of comedy and extreme violence, Two Thousand Maniacs! was a big step up in entertainment value from the static limp style of Blood Feast. Lewis' films went on to influence a whole generation of filmmakers, who gave him the nickname of The Godfather Of Gore.

Tim Sullivan began his career as a production assistant on Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn, and has worked peripherally in the horror field since. After finding some success writing the Kiss-centric comedy Detroit Rock City, he decided to make his directing debut a love-letter to H.G. Lewis and the genre of films he enjoys most. 2001 Maniacs is less a sequel to Lewis' film and more a re-imagining of the concept, with a few modern elements thrown in for good measure.

Heading to Florida for spring break, three friends take a detour and find themselves (along with another trio of spring-breakers, and a biker and his girlfriend) in the Georgia town of Southern Valley. Initially welcomed by the town as guests of honor, and particularly by the eye-patch wearing Mayor Buckman (Robert Englund), things soon turn sour when the friends are dispatched in inventively gory ways by the citizens. It turns out that the people are actually ghostly remnants of a town wiped out during the Civil War, and each year they rise up to take revenge during their cannibalistic guts and glory festival.

It's difficult to be critical of a film that so obviously loves its subject matter. In the two commentaries included on the DVD, Sullivan speaks at length of the difficulties of getting the film off the ground, and while his comments sometimes slip into self-importance, it's rather inspiring to see his vision come to life after such difficulty (with the help of producers Eli Roth (Cabin Fever), Scott Spiegel (Intruder) and Boaz Yakin (Remember The Titans). However, your enjoyment of the film will probably be based somewhat on your appreciation (and affection) for the genre. You're getting a film that is technically far superior to Lewis' original film, but its spirit remains very similar.

Sullivan is a capable director, and is helped immensely by the cast playing the citizens of Pleasant Valley, who obviously got into the spirit of things. While Robert Englund may be best known for the role of Freddy Krueger, he has legitimate acting chops and he plays Mayor George W. Buckman appropriately over the top. On his commentary track with Sullivan, Englund shows himself to be astute and aware of the appropriate tone, and while some might criticize his broad choice, it fits very well. Attention should also be paid to Giuseppe Andrews as Harper Alexander and Ryan Fleming as Hucklebilly, both of whom do very well with their own variation on the demented redneck.

Unfortunately, as interesting as the maniacs are the spring breakers are equally bland. Jay Gillespie (as Anderson Lee, the lead) has a young Val Kilmer-thing going on, but does nothing to make the audience want him to survive to the final reel. Nobody stands out as particularly sympathetic, and while they are definitely attractive (and given the opportunity to show off some skin), they are totally disposable. Mushond Lee (as the black biker Malcolm) shows a bit more personality, but seems to be there just as the target of some groan-worthy racial jokes (including his death at the hands of a cotton press).

The violence is appropriately gooey, with many of the deaths being a variation on the ones from the original film. It's a shame that the most famous murder (consisting of an unfortunate victim being rolled down a hill in a barrel which has had nails hammered into it) has been left out, but what is here, ranging from acid moonshine to a crushing by a giant bell, is a lot of gory fun.

The film is presented in its original 1.78:1 ratio, and looks wonderful. The location (using actual historic buildings) is shown off to great effect, and the bright colors of the film's first half contrast nicely with the darker (in color and tone) second half. The soundtrack doesn't stand out greatly, aside from the song "The South is Gonna Rise Again" composed by Herschell Gordon Lewis for the original film. It's repeated throughout the film in different incarnations, and picks up a certain amount of menace along the way. The town's minstrels (played by Johnny Legend and producer Scott Spiegel) also serve as a wandering Greek chorus and have a few clever moments along the way.

Lions Gate has done a really good job with the extras on the film, starting with the two commentaries; the first being with director Tim Sullivan and star Robert Englund, and the second with Sullivan, co-writer Chris Kobin and producer Chris Tuffin. The Sullivan/Englund commentary is very entertaining, focusing on a lot of the film's influences and the difficulties of bringing it to fruition. Both men show off their horror movie chops, and cover a lot of ground with very few gaps of silence. The second commentary is a bit more relaxed, with Sullivan having to reign in his two partners from making some rather hilariously off-color statements. There's a lot of repeated information, but both tracks are definitely worthwhile for fans of horror films.

Also included is the "Inside the Asylum" 45 minute documentary focusing on the making of the film. It's a fun piece, with some interesting examinations on how some of the effects were created, and a few funny moment with the hilariously unwilling Giuseppe Andrews. It covers a lot of the details not mentioned in the commentaries, though skips over some of the unpleasant details hinted at in the second commentary.

We're also treated to 30(!) deleted and alternate scenes, including an alternate opening scene with John Landis (director of An American Werewolf In London and Animal House) and David Friedman (producer of numerous films, including Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs!). While it's interesting to see the two film legends attempt to act, it's a really rough scene and was rightfully excised. The version in the film (starring the wonderful Peter Stormare) is far superior. Some of the other cut scenes have entertaining moments (and some smatterings of blood and nudity), but none stand out as unfairly removed.

Finally, we have audition tapes of the cast, and trailers for Heebie Jeebies, The Mangler Reborn, Green River Killer, Streets Of Legend, and 2001 Maniacs. The Maniacs trailer looks terribly low-budget, and includes some significant spoilers for the film.

A gore-soaked tribute to a horror classic, 2001 Maniacs provides a good time for fans of splatter. It's not going to convert anyone, but some fun performances and strong direction help push it above similar low-budget efforts.

1 comment:

Ash said...

The Confederate flag on Englund's eyepatch is almost enough, by itself, to get me to see this.