Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
Herschell Gordon Lewis is a fairly beloved figure in the cult horror world, though frankly I’ve never seen the appeal. His movies usually have decent concepts but are typically just showcases for very goopy gore set-pieces surrounded by some genuinely atrocious film-making and acting. Two Thousand Maniacs! manages to work better than a lot of Lewis films, it’s got a solid concept: a former Confederate town filled with vengeful Southernors holds a celebration every one-hundred years to get revenge on 6 Yankees they lure off the highway and then brutally murder as revenge for what was done to their town by the Union army in The Civil War. It’s fairly paint-by-numbers but has a certain Val Lewton quality that works with the brutal imagery to make something unique and intriguing if not exactly good.
2001 Maniacs (2005)
2001 Maniacs follows the beats of the original movie more-or-less except now our protagonists are a bunch of college students and a couple of bikers (more on them later). The townsfolk are portrayed by a trio of great talent including Robert England as the Confederate flag eye-patch-wearing mayor of the town, Lin Shaye as the town’s matriarch, and Giuseppe Andrews as a Rette Butler-ish Southern gentleman type. They play things fairly campy but they’re the real strength of the film.
Unfortunately the rest of the townspeople and all of the protagonists are pretty weak and forgettable and nobody really manages to be likeable enough to be worth saving. That’s good, because 2001 Maniacs has a misanthropic streak that just kind of spoils the fun. This movie is billed as a horror comedy, and I’d say that is technically true but while the horror more or less works here, the comedy is rough.
For starters, I’m not really sure who we’re supposed to root for here. The Confederate cannibal ghosts that populate the town are all pretty repugnant before you throw every single bad hillbilly joke you can think of into the mix: there’s incest, there’s bestiality, there’s talk of cow shit and bad hygiene, and of course they’re openly racist toward the bikers (a black man and an Asian woman respectively). But it kind of tries to play them as victims because of the destruction of their town even though it seems to indicate that these people were trash well before they were massacred.
On the other side of the tracks are heroes stepped out of some awful early ‘00s sex comedy and there’s nothing to love here either. The ways they’re dispatched in ways so outlandishly overwrought (drawn and quartered by horses, convinced to drink acid, castrated by a ridiculous set of metal monster-teeth dentures) that they can’t help but feel whimsical in their execution. This is pretty mild but and I’m really not trying to call out a 2005 horror movie from the director of Detroit Rock City unwoke, because obviously it is, but the black character gets crushed in a cotton gin and the gay character gets impaled through the anus with a giant spear and this is played for laughs(?) It didn’t sit with me back in 2007 when I saw this the first time and it feels skeevier now.
It’s the kind of mean-spirited “comedic” horror that really turned me off in the Hatchet movies, where it similarly holds back an interesting concept from being good by devoting an obnoxiously large portion of the runtime on sub-frat boy comedy that’s not funny even when it’s not being openly malicious to the characters. A good horror movie works because you like and care about the characters and that’s equally true of a good horror-comedy, a movie that has open contempt for everyone onscreen just doesn’t have anything to offer viewers.
The humor also goes at odds with the plot of the movie, which tries to proceed as standard horror fare to increasingly poorer returns. It honestly feels like there’s an entirely different movie happening between our two leads and Robert Englund while a much dumber movie pads out the runtime.
Is it a good remake?
Not really. A good remake should build on the shortcomings of the original, not introduce a slew of new ones. It’s a much slicker movie but the gore effects look worse, the acting is technically better (and Englund, Shaye, and Andrews really bring a lot to the table here), but Two-Thousand Maniacs! deserved to be taken more seriously and turned into a real horror show, not a knuckle-dragging sophomoric romp.
Does it stand on its own?
Kind of. I feel like if you enjoy Adam Green’s Hatchet series or liked the movie Chillerama (of which director Tim Sullivan does the segment I Was a Teenage Werebear) you might find something to enjoy here. The movie is very well-produced and if you appreciate horror with a mean goonish sense of humor then this is a pretty decent watch.
I should warn that there is a sequel - 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams - which replaces Robert Englund with Bill Moseley and Giuseppe Andrews with Skinny Puppy’s Nivek Ogre (Lin Shaye returns.) It seems to have been made for a sing ha’penny and redefines the word “unwatchable.”
Watch, Toss, or Buy?
It’s going to really depend on your sensibilities but if you enjoy this kind of thing, you’ll have a good time. Give it a watch.