Caution: Reviewer on a soapbox. You stand warned.
I suppose if you are going to exploit film industry via a remake, the only way to do so and make it out by the final frame would be to rehash an exploitation flick of yesteryear since, obviously, the original creators can’t throw ethical stones in retaliation without breaking the fragile glass of hypocrisy in which they reside. As such, it only seems fitting for filmmakers to tap Herschell Gordon Lewis’s 1964 gorefest Two Thousand Maniacs! on the shoulder as Eli Roth (who, in many respects is the HGL of contemporary horror since Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi have moved on to “bigger” and “better” things) produces the affair as Tim Sullivan directs 2001 Maniacs.
Forced to take a detour and finding themselves in Pleasant Valley, Georgia instead of Daytona Beach, Florida for Spring Break, six college kids and two travelers find themselves the guests of honor in the southern town’s Guts and Glory Jubilee. However, what the “Yankees” soon realize is that the locals’ regional hospitality is merely a veil for the contrition they are seeking for a civil war battle which took place in Pleasant Valley almost a 150 years prior.
What’s interesting about 2001 Maniacs outside of its itinerary of being a pure, unadulterated escapist foray into horror as it single-handedly attempts to compensate for the barrage of PG-13 horror flicks popular today is that it inadvertently, as did Lewis’s film, compliments its own themes. As such, the exaggerated characterizations become impromptu satires which are accentuated by the over-the-top gore, making the film all the more mocking in its excesses. Yet, and perhaps fittingly in this regard, the filmmakers don’t backtrack and polish any theme or idea, but rather align a few convenient scenes for fun more than cinematic value before sallying forth with buckets of red once again.
Yes, for anyone who grew up in the South, especially in a rural area (myself included), you find the exaggerated characterizations a relief because, indeed, many a person reigning from said region is still like this in many respects (to put it simply, the redneck family in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby prompted shivers due to uncomfortable familiarity). Yes, there is still rampant racism, sexism, homophobia, and saturated stupidity en masse even during this day and age but Sullivan mocks this as he presents us with a Southern collective which truly believe the South will rise again. As such, for all the film’s unabashed political incorrectness, it makes a round-about point, that is, how inane such mentality is, was, and always will be and that only a backwoods idiot would take it seriously.
Case in point, when a black man, Malcolm (Mushond Lee), is killed by way of a cotton press after his Chinese girlfriend, Leah (Bianca Smith)–whom the townspeople refer to as “China Doll”–is made into a Southern Belle before having a literal Southern bell dropped upon her, we see the irony. Of course, as soon as Malcolm arrives in town, we utter a silent “Uh oh” to ourselves knowing full-well that such folk “won’t take too kindly” to his presence. However, Malcolm’s death is perhaps only usurped by Ricky (Brian Gross), the token gay guy, who finds himself skewered after having a spike inserted in his back end before emerging out the front. Politically incorrect indeed. For those of you who find type of satire perhaps missing the mark somewhat, let me point out that when Mike Nichols’s The Birdcage was released, I was in a small town theater south of the Mason-Dixon Line and could barely hear the dialogue for all the taunts and jeers of “fag,” “fudge packer,” and the like (obviously people a) much like today, went to the movie just to have something to do or b) because they recognized Robin Williams’s name). To put it another way, when the Banjo Boy (William Burnside) appears early in 2001 Maniacs, thus referencing John Boorman’s Deliverance, it promoted–as does any Deliverance allusion–stomach-churning memories (of the atmosphere, not the scene, thank God). But, of course, we wouldn’t have a true redneck village if we didn’t have one instance of bestiality, as Lester Buckman (Adam Robitel)–the mayor’s son nonetheless–spends most of the film coxing and wooing his beloved sheep, Jezebel.
Yet for all of the over-the-top shenanigans, the filmmakers did stop to align the film structurally (though they might not openly admit it). We watch as Malcolm engages in foreplay as we cut to a rebel flag ascending a flagpole. A few scenes hence, Kat (Gina Marie Heekin) is drawn and quartered as Hucklebilly (Ryan Fleming) lynches a feline. But, on this note considering the source material and subject matter, perhaps the film is a bit too slick, a bit too well produced, thus form does not entirely follow function in this regard. But can we really hold this against Sullivan and Co. considering they issued us a strolling minstrel chorus comprised of old white guys?
All heebee-jeebees aside, the filmmakers make the film fun by exponentially multiplying the genre stereotype by placing cliché upon hyperactive cliché as we are bombarded with countless instances of gore and nudity throughout. What’s more is that the weathered horror veteran is allotted a slew of cameos including, but not limited to, Peter Stormare, Eli Roth (reprising his role in Cabin Fever, replete with Doctor Mambo at his side), Kane Hodder and, lest we forget, Robert Englund stars as the town mayor.
The filmmakers referred to their efforts as “slapstick gore” or, more succinctly to coin a phrase, “splatstick,” thus labeling the hysterical nature of the gore which, in all respects as it was for Herschell Gordon Lewis’s original, cannot be taken seriously. As such, the subgenre is ripe for parody and satire and, fortunately, Tim Sullivan selected a very appropriate theme upon which to swathe in red as his 2001 Maniacs revisits a time and mindset which, regrettably, never expired. With a disapproving head shake, I can all-too-readily envision those whom I watched The Birdcage beside happily applauding and approving of Sullivan’s film for all the wrong reasons. But, as we all know, that’s the rub of satire–that it can be taken literally–but, as such, serves as perhaps one of the best social litmuses of all of the artistic mediums.
- Interview with J.R. Bookwalter - January 22, 2015
- Interview with Andrew J. Rausch - January 22, 2015
- Interview with Rick Popko and Dan West - January 22, 2015
- Interview with Director Stevan Mena (Malevolence) - January 22, 2015
- Interview with Screenwriter Jeffery Reddick (Day of the Dead 2007) - January 22, 2015
- Teleconference interview with Mick Garris (Masters of Horror) - January 22, 2015
- A Day at the Morgue with Corri English (Unrest) - January 22, 2015
- Interview with Writer/Director Nacho Cerda (The Abandoned, Aftermath) - January 22, 2015
- Interview with Actress Thora Birch (Dark Corners, The Hole, American Beauty) - January 22, 2015
- Interview with Actor Jason Behr, Plus Skinwalkers Press Coverage - January 22, 2015