2001 Maniacs Review

2001 Maniacs lies squarely in the backwoods genre which has enjoyed renewed popularity during the past few years with films such as Wrong Turn, Cabin Fever, House of 1000 Corpses and, if one considers Eastern Europe as being just beyond the woods themselves, Hostel. The appeal is that of a slasher film crossed with some jejune, social comment. Typically, a group of attractive young thrill-seekers wind up in some god-forsaken backwater and die horribly at the hands of the resentful natives. There’s an undeniable thrill to be found in seeing privileged, good-looking teenagers meet their nemesis at the hands of the unfashionable, primitive underclass, though since this is about the level of the social comment, it’s not much more elevated an experience than watching one of the Friday the 13th sequels.

The backwoods genre springs out of Southern Gothic, the literary genre which established the idea that the American South is a very bizarre place which is completely incomprehensible to outsiders (particularly Yankees), and has produced two bona-fide film mainstream film classics in the shape of John Boorman’s Deliverance and Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort. However, as a film staple, it began with Herschel Gordon Lewis’s 1963 gore extravaganza Two Thousand Maniacs, so it seems appropriate that things have come full circle and we’re now presented with a 21st Century remake of Lewis’s film in the shape of 2001 Maniacs.

It’s basically a slasher movie with a twist in which a group of decidedly unappetising students, on their way to Spring Break in Florida, take a detour which leads them into the remote Southern town of Pleasant Valley, led by the flamboyant Mayor Buckman (Englund). They receive a warm welcome but there’s something slightly awry in the fact that the town seems to be stuck in the middle of the 19th century. One by one, they begin to be whittled down by the townsfolk and it gradually becomes clear that the celebratory barbecue which the Mayor has promised is to be made up of unusually human ingredients.

There’s not a lot to say about the heroes since they’re a rather faceless collection of good looking kids who are more than eager to pose for the frequent semi-nude shots. The girls are very pretty indeed, however, and if you want some gratuitous T & A then you’ll be satisfied. The bad guys are much more interesting and the masterstroke was casting Robert Englund as the Mayor. As I’ve said before, I think Englund is a rather limited actor but given the right role he can be hugely entertaining and he has a ball here, dominating every scene in which he appears. He’s surprisingly understated for the most part but he rises to the hammier scenes with considerable relish and there’s a particularly wonderful bit of rabble rousing towards the end. Englund is matched by Lin Shaye, playing the seemingly innocuous Granny, who does well with a contrast between her friendly appearance and her true nature.

Englund and Shaye are the ringmasters to a circus of horrors which is often surprisingly inventive. In terms of gore, this surpasses the original tenfold since director Tim Sullivan has resources which Herschel Gordon Lewis could only dream of – and, to be honest, probably wouldn’t have known what to do with. It’s nice to see a horror film which makes relatively little use of CGI and the physical effects are pleasingly ingenious. The acid moonshine sequence is memorable and fans of Oxen Split Torture will be delighted to see a four-way dissection led by horses. But my favourite deaths are a breathtakingly non-PC skewering of a bisexual character and the liberty bell sequence which pays tribute to the rock scene in the original film.

It has to be said that these deaths are the raison d’etre of the film, placing it in a direct line of succession to the Friday the 13th series. But there’s a disarming amount of wit in the portrayal of the Southerners getting their revenge on the Yankees and the inclusion of a black character allows for a little ironic commentary on how attitudes have changed. There’s also some incidental consideration of the atrocities inflicted on the South by the North. Not that the film is in any danger of being remotely profound but there is considerable artistry in the creation of the historical community and aspects such as the strolling minstrels singing such memorable ditties as “The Boy Wants His Bitch”. There’s also a sneaking suspicion – well, more than sneaking – that Sullivan is firmly on the side of the Southerners, and the not entirely unexpected final twist confirms this.

2001 Maniacs is a cut above most recent American horror films with a lot more entertainment value than you’ll find in the Japanese horror remakes and less sense of its own self-importance than Hostel - the latter directed by Eli Roth who produced this one. It’s not all that great though and the attempts to reference other, better films are unwise – a sequence paying tribute to Deliverance is especially badly judged. But horror fans will certainly lap this up and it’s pacy and funny enough to pass 84 minutes painlessly.

The Disc

Momentum’s DVD of 2001 Maniacs is a good package which presents the film very well and offers a satisfying set of extra features.

The 1.85:1 transfer is a beauty. Rich, full colours – making the most of the gorgeous Autumnal photography – and plenty of detail so that you can relish those guts in all their scarlet glory. The darker scenes are clean of artifacting and, overall, this is a vibrant image. The soundtrack is also very good, although some will be disappointed that we only get a Dolby 2.0 track. It’s a full and atmospheric track which does justice to the gloopy sound effects and the pounding music score.

There are some good extra features. We get two commentary tracks, the best of which features Tim Sullivan and Robert Englund who play off each other very well. There’s also another in which Sullivan is teamed, to somewhat tryingly laddish effect, with his producer and co-writer. You can add to these tracks a pretty good 40 minute making-of documentary. This doesn’t go into much depth but offers some excellent insight into how the effects were created. There are also 28 deleted/alternate scenes, some of which are straightforward “this is how we did it” sequences. There’s also an audition reel – nothing much of interest there – and a piece about the film’s screening at the Fearless Tales Genre Fest, during which Tim Sullivan presents an award to John Landis and, for some reason, David ‘Krug’ Hess turns up. This also includes a rather good Q&A with the director and cast. Finally, the disc contains a collection of trailers.

The film has optional subtitles but these do not extend to the special features.

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