Wednesday, July 31, 2002

2000 MANIACS (1964)

Before I became devoted to classic Hollywood cinema, I was a fan of horror movies. In my youth, I read Famous Monsters of Filmland and worshipped its editor, Forrest J. Ackerman; it was the first magazine I ever had a subscription to, aside from Highlights for Children. I put together and collected those Aurora monster models based on the classic Universal creatures. My parents let me stay up on Friday nights to watch Chiller Theatre, a monster movie double feature--I inevitably fell asleep toward the end of the first one and woke up completely disoriented in the middle of the second. In fact, except for a couple of Disney movies, the first movie I remember watching all the way through on TV was the Lugosi DRACULA. Though I'm not really a fan of current horror, I do still have a soft spot for the older stuff. My partner and I make a point of watching a horror movie every Friday evening (or, if we're not quite in a horror mood, a noir or a mystery).

Recently, we watched the DVD of 2000 MANIACS, a mid-60's low-budget horror film, famous for its explicit blood and gore, which became a drive-in classic. It was made by the same director (H. G. Lewis) who did the earlier BLOOD FEAST, which I saw years ago. The print on the DVD was in absurdly good shape given the age of the movie and its cheap budget. The clarity and color of most scenes were so good, it almost looked like it had just been shot this year. Six couples driving through Georgia are tricked into following a detour that takes them into the small town of Pleasant Valley where a celebration of a Civil War centennial is being held. It turns out to be a slasher movie variation on BRIGADOON, where the town, which had been destroyed and the populace slaughtered by the Yankees, returns to life on the anniversary of the attack. They take these unsuspecting people and kill them off, one by one, in gory fashion. It seemed to me like the granddaddy of the 70's and 80's horror movies like HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH, where the main thrust of the story is to simply kill off as many people as possible with as much blood and guts as possible. Of course, MANIACS, though it does use a lot of blood, isn't nearly as explicit as the 80's movies got. Still, with one woman's arm cut off and barbecued on a spit, and another guy impaled on sharp spikes in a rolling barrel, it's not for the squeamish. The acting, mostly by non-professionals, is about what you'd expect. The commentary track, with Lewis and his producer, is very interesting and far more fun than lots of other commentaries I've suffered through, like, for example, Altman on NASHVILLE or Tim Burton on PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE.

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