This product was provided by Arrow for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own.
Director Herschell Gordon Lewis made a name for himself in the early ’60s by producing some of the goriest, most provocative films of the era, eventually earning the title of “The Godfather of Gore.” 1963’s Blood Feast was like nothing ever before seen on film, drawing outrage while invigorating the horror genre.
A year later he released Two Thousand Maniacs!, a film that built upon the gratuitous nature of Blood Feast and ramped everything up to a new level of depravity. Now, Arrow Video has released a new Blu-ray edition of this influential film so that, hopefully, a new generation of horror buffs will find, and appreciate, the roots of the genre.
The premise behind Two Thousand Maniacs! is fairly simple. Two groups of Northern U.S. tourists are passing through Georgia on their way to Florida for a beach vacation when they get bamboozled into heading into a small town that’s celebrating its centennial. This centennial, as it turns out, coincides with the end of the civil war, and the residents of this town have a unique celebration in store for their Yankee guests.
As it turns out, the town was razed during the war, and now the residents have returned from the beyond to exact revenge on the Northern aggressors that ended them. One by one, the townsfolk torture and kill the tourists in a variety of ways (my personal favorite being the barrel roll involving dozens of nails driven into the barrel).
The level of violence in Two Thousand Maniacs! was like nothing before it at the time, featuring dismemberment, people getting crushed by giant boulders and gobs of bright red blood. By today’s standards of course, it’s nothing, but one can’t help but be in awe that this was something released in 1964. This film also sparked the popularization of the hicksploitation subgenre of horror films, which usually involves similarly themed stories of travelers being terrorized by hillbillies.
The Arrow Films Blu-ray release contains the digitally remastered version of the film from Something Weird Video, combined with some sections from other home releases in order to present the most complete version of the film possible. While this is appreciated, the end result causes the film to be inconsistent at best, with frequent changes in the aspect ratio, color grading and audio. If this is the remastered version, I would hate to see what the original looks like because this, while certainly watchable, is pretty rough.
Worse still is the second film featured on the disc, Moonshine Mountain, Lewis’ film released directly after Two Thousand Maniacs!. This film is in even further disrepair, but again, still fully watchable. Even in its poor quality, it was a great bonus to see this film included in the package, especially since it’s one of his more obscure films that never had a proper home release.
Before the main feature there’s an introduction by Lewis, filmed before his passing in 2016, in which he states that Two Thousand Maniacs! is the favorite of all the films he’s made over his long career. There’s also an archival audio commentary track from Lewis along with another interview with him speaking about the art of selling a film. There’s a brief video essay on the history of Southern-themed-exploitation films, along with a featurette with filmmaker Tim Sullivan talking about the influence of Two Thousand Maniacs!. There are also trailers and outtakes included as well.
Like most Arrow releases, the cover is reversible, featuring the original theatrical poster on one side and new artwork on the other.
All in all, with the included bonus film and fact that this is the most complete version of the film to date, this is an easy recommend despite the transfer not being of the highest quality.