Maniac [1934]

Flush from the breakthrough success of Blood Feast in 1963, producer David F. Friedman and pioneering goremeister Herschell Gordon Lewis followed up a year later with Two Thousand Maniacs!. The drive-in movie would never be the same. Filmed in 14 days in St. Cloud, Florida, on a luxurious budget of $62,000, this instant cult classic revels in the grisly fate of three unwitting Yankee couples who've been falsely detoured to the Southern hick town of Pleasant Valley (population 2000--get it?). These unlucky lovers are the guests of honor at a Confederate centennial celebration. What they don't know is that the twisted citizens of Pleasant Valley are vengeful ghosts of the Civil War, determined to dispatch their "guests" in deviously unpleasant ways. Simply put, Two Thousand Maniacs! (with Blood Feast) is the original "splatter" film. On the murder menu: death by amputation, dismemberment by horses (one per limb), crushing by boulder, and, the most unsettling (or creative?), death by barrel rolling... with flesh-ripping nails in the sides. Tame by later standards yet still absurdly shocking, Two Thousand Maniacs! is the pure, funny-freaky essence of exploitation cinema, complete with the obligatory Playboy Playmate (Connie Mason) in the cast. Lewis (a former literature professor, no less) frequently cited this as his proudest achievement, and who's going to argue? With its crude direction, atrocious acting, and delirious redneck flavor, the movie genuinely deserves its place in cinema history, its dubious entertainment value proving surprisingly durable through the decades. A milestone of movie bloodletting, it was followed, appropriately enough, by Color Me Blood Red in 1965. --Jeff Shannon

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