Sunday 13 July 2008

Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

We're in the south, the deep south, so far south that there are confederate flags everywhere and there's even a banjo picker playing his way down Main Street firing out rebel yells and singing that the south will rise again. We're in Pleasant Valley, which is celebrating it's centennial: April 1865 - April 1965. To celebrate they identify northerners on the main highway from their license plates and detour six of them into Pleasant Valley as guests of honour. However the centennial isn't to commemorate a hundred years of the town's existence, it's to remember a hundred years since a renegade band of union soldiers massacred the entire place. Pleasant Valley is pledged to blood vengeance.

Writer and director Herschell Gordon Lewis invented the splatter movie in 1963 with Blood Feast which featured the same two leads as this followup: William Kerwin and Connie Mason, who met on the set and married early in 1964. This isn't a sequel, but it's the second part of a thematic trilogy known as the Blood trilogy, that concluded with 1965's Color Me Blood Red. Needless to say it has plenty of blood, though the effects would seem tame compared to films nowadays, but it's inventive and twisted and it's actually about five light years ahead of Blood Feast in terms of acting, writing and consistency.

Blood Feast is a legendary and massively influential film, but to be brutally honest it's terrible. It achieved what it did through being something completely new and shocking, but the acting was terrible, the camerawork was worse and the writing was nigh on nonexistent. There were so many plot inconsistencies that you could build a drinking game around them. This one is ridiculous too but given the limitations of the story, it's a stunningly consistent ride that builds wonderfully and has a decent ending to boot. The gore is dished out consistently and inventively with notable sadism. The barrel roll is great fun and the teetering rock is even better. Only Herschell Gordon Lewis would turn murder into a softball sideshow game.

The cast are half Lewis regulars and half actors who would never appear in anything ever again. William Kerwin, acting again as Thomas Wood, was Lewis's regular intro man. He didn't just appear in Blood Feast, he appeared in ten Lewis movies, from 1961's The Adventures of Lucky Pierre to 1968's Suburban Roulette. He even ended up on some as production manager, writer, you name it. Playboy Playmate Connie Mason mostly retired after this one, but found her way into bit parts in notable films like Diamonds are Forever and The Godfather: Part II. I'm just surprised that people like Gary Bakeman never came back for more.

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