The episode of Best Horror Movie You Never Saw covering 2001 Maniacs was Written by Cody Hamman, Narrated by Kier Gomes, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by John Fallon and Tyler Nichols, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
Robert Englund doing a demented Colonel Sanders impression. Lin Shaye putting on a deadly song and dance routine. Enough politically incorrect elements to offend pretty much everybody. Buckets of gore. Gratuitous nudity. And a cameo appearance by Eli Roth, playing his Cabin Fever character. Put all of this together and you get 2001 Maniacs (watch it HERE). The director calls it a “splatstick” movie. Splatter combined with slapstick comedy. We call it The Best Horror Movie You Never Saw.
Herschell Gordon Lewis was a classy guy, but he specialized in making movies that were not classy. His aim was to give the grindhouse and drive-in crowds the things Hollywood wasn’t giving them. Noting a lack of nudity in Hollywood productions, he started making films called “nudie cuties”. But then porn showed up to take attention away from those softcore nudist movies. So Lewis decided to bring a new level of bloody violence to the screen. In 1963, he made the first gore film. Blood Feast. Which splattered bright red blood all over the place and earned Lewis a nickname: The Godfather of Gore. He followed that up with several more blood-soaked movies. But the one many fans consider to be his masterpiece is the 1964 release Two Thousand Maniacs!
The story of Two Thousand Maniacs was inspired by the stage musical Brigadoon. Like we said before, Lewis was classy. That musical tells the story of American tourists travelling through Scotland and finding a place called Brigadoon. A magical village that only appears for one day every one hundred years. Lewis took the basic idea and moved the setting to the American south. Then he covered everything in gore. His film is set in Pleasant Valley, population two thousand. In April of 1865, rogue Union soldiers laid waste to this town. Killing every man, woman, and child that lived there. One hundred years later, Pleasant Valley has re-appeared, with all of its residents. And to celebrate their centennial, they trick six Yankee travellers into taking a detour through their town. They capture these people, calling them their guests of honor. And proceed to murder them in a variety of crowd-pleasing ways. A woman is hacked up and turned into barbecue. A man is tied to horses and torn apart. Another guest is put in a barrel full of nails and rolled down a hill. One has a boulder dropped on her. And when the party is over, Pleasant Valley disappears.
Forty-one years later, director Tim Sullivan made his feature debut with the remake 2001 Maniacs. Which uses the same set-up as its predecessor, but goes wild with it. The characters we follow into the story are a trio of annoying college guys. They’re planning to spend their Spring Break at Daytona Beach. But they take a detour into the town of Pleasant Valley. Where they become the special guests at the Guts and Glory Jubilee, alongside five other Yankee travellers. The guests are more diverse this time around, which gives the Confederate villains even more reason to be put off by them. And to drop some offensive dialogue while wiping them out. There’s a bisexual man, a black man, and an Asian woman. And yes, their races and sexual orientation are referenced in ways that will probably shock and disgust some viewers.
Heading up the Guts and Glory festivities is Pleasant Valley Mayor Buckman. Whose full name is George Dubya Buckman. Because this movie was made in the early two thousands and Sullivan wasn’t being subtle. Cast as this deranged character was horror royalty: Robert Englund, who was fresh off starring in Freddy vs. Jason when he reported to set. Another genre icon, Lin Shaye, was cast as Buckman’s wife Granny Boone. But she wasn’t yet the horror star she is today. Sure, she had been in A Nightmare on Elm Street and Critters. But she was better known for her roles in comedies like There’s Something About Mary and Kingpin. Giuseppe Andrews plays Pleasant Valley dreamboat Harper Alexander. Guests of honor are played by the likes of Marla Malcolm, Matthew Carey, Gina Marie Heekin, Brian Gross, Mushond Lee, Dylan Edrington, and Bianca Smith. Jay Gillespie plays Anderson Lee, a Yankee with southern roots. So there’s a possibility he could be drawn into the Pleasant Valley way of life.
Brendan McCarthy plays Buckman’s son Rufus. Adam Robitel, who would go on to direct Lin Shaye in Insidious: The Last Key, plays Lester. Who is a bit too close to his sheep Jezebel. Ryan Fleming is overgrown child Hucklebilly. Future Texas Chainsaw 3D producer Christa Campbell is a character called the Milk Maiden. Wendy Kremer is Peaches. Cristin Michele and Kodi Kitchen play kissing cousins Glendora and Hester. Peter Stormare makes a quick appearance as a college professor, an expert on the Civil War. Country music star Travis Tritt shows up as a creepy gas station attendant. Eli Roth has a cameo as Justin, the character he played in his own movie Cabin Fever. And if you look in the crowd of Pleasant Valley residents, you’ll spot Kane Hodder. Playing a character credited as Jason.
This movie came about when Two Thousand Maniacs producer David F. Friedman met a fellow producer named Chris Kobin. And Kobin convinced Friedman to let him have theTwo Thousand Maniacs remake rights. Then Kobin turned to filmmaker Tim Sullivan, who was producing Detroit Rock City around that time, to write the screenplay with him. The inspiration behind the project was the fact that major Hollywood producers had just formed Dark Castle Entertainment. with the intention of giving William Castle movies like House on Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts glossy, big budget remakes. So Kobin and Sullivan wanted to do an H.G. Lewis remake that would be the opposite of those Hollywood projects. A down and dirty independent production that would be as perverse and subversive as possible. As Sullivan told ShockYa, he was tired of horror movies that teased the audience. “You know, the ones like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, Valentine… The ones where, instead of having a monster on the poster, they have the pouty cast of whatever WB or Fox show was on hiatus. If you’re gonna make a splatter flick, show some blood and guts and T and A! Basically, I set out to make 2001 Maniacs because I hadn’t seen that kind of film since the ‘80s.”
At first, Kobin and Sullivan were planning to write the script and pass it over to an established director. Someone like Tobe Hooper. But soon they decided that Sullivan should direct it as his first feature. Then came the challenge of getting the project into production. It took some time. 2001 Maniacs was first announced not long after the turn of the century – and there might have even been some hope that it could be made in the year 2001. But that wasn’t to be. At one point, it was just three days away from the start of filming when the financing collapsed. At another time, a wildfire destroyed the backlot it was going to be filmed on. Right when 2001 Maniacs got back on its feet, Robert Englund had to go work on Freddy vs. Jason. So production was delayed another year.
Sullivan was acquainted with Englund and got him attached to the project early on. Then made sure he stayed attached through the ups and downs by having interviewers ask him about it all the time. Englund promoted it to Ain’t It Cool News by saying, “It’s by far the most politically incorrect film I’ve ever read. It’s like Li’l Abner meets Jackass. No one survives the movie. And I play this kind of psychotic Colonel Sanders from Hell. It’s a fun part for me. … It’s going to be so much cheesy, southern redneck, classic, over-the-top fun. Almost cartoony.” Others who were cast early and stuck with it include Milk Maiden Christa Campbell and Hucklebilly Ryan Fleming. Which is why everyone acts like Hucklebilly is a little kid, but he looks like an adult. Fleming was more age appropriate for the role when he was first cast. Then he grew up fast.
2001 Maniacs’ fortunes changed when Eli Roth, directly from the success of Cabin Fever, decided to come on board. Roth produced the film through his newly formed company Raw Nerve, which he founded with Scott Spiegel and Boaz Yakin. That’s why Roth shows up in the movie. So does Spiegel, playing a minstrel alongside Johnny Legend. And Craig Stark, who played an ill-fated character in Spiegel’s slasher movie Intruder, appears as a sheriff. Kobin claims Roth banned him from the set, but at least he got the movie made.
2001 Maniacs finally went into production on November 3rd, 2003, and filming wrapped on December 1st. Then fans who had already been waiting years to see Englund play Mayor Buckman had another long wait to endure. The film didn’t have its world premiere until a festival screening in July of 2005. It made the festival rounds for a while. Then Lionsgate finally gave it a straight-to-video release in June of 2006. With Englund in the lead and an irreverent, offensive sense of humor, it quickly gained a cult following. And since it was made on a budget of just one-point-five million, it was also able to make a profit.
This gave Sullivan the chance to build a franchise. But so far he hasn’t been able to make as many chapters in the franchise as he hoped to. A 2001 Maniacs comic book that explored the origins of the Pleasant Valley characters was published. But a second comic book that would have seen the characters battling terrorists has never made it to print. Sullivan was able to make a sequel on a lower budget. Bill Moseley replaced Robert Englund as Mayor Buckman in 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams. Which takes the characters on the road to Iowa – an economical rewrite of a bigger idea Sullivan had. He wanted to make Beverly Hellbillies, which would have taken Buckman and company to Los Angeles. But the money wasn’t there for it. Field of Screams wasn’t very well-received, which is why we still haven’t seen the other sequel Kobin and Sullivan talked about. They wanted to bring Englund and Moseley together for Buckman vs. Buckman, where the Mayors fight over their love for Granny Boone. Maybe it’ll happen someday. The franchise hasn’t been all it could have been, but at least we got 2001 Maniacs out of it.
It makes sense that Eli Roth was drawn to this project. Because some of these party-minded characters are a lot like characters in his movies Cabin Fever and Hostel. Chances are slim that viewers are going to like or care about any of the people in 2001 Maniacs. But that works for the sort of movie this is. And it’s not like the characters in Two Thousand Maniacs were anything special, either. These people are just there for the Pleasant Valley residents to murder in unique ways. We’re not supposed to be heartbroken when one of them exits the picture. We’re supposed to be clapping as the gore splatters across the screen. Sullivan does attempt to make a few of the characters likeable as the story goes on. But for the most part, we enjoy seeing them get dismembered more than we enjoy spending time with them. And thankfully, the movie never goes too long between death scenes.
Beyond the gore, the biggest selling point is Robert Englund’s over-the-top performance as Mayor Buckman. Watching him play a “Colonel Sanders from Hell” is just as fun as you’d hope it would be. It looks like he had a great time bringing this character to life. Bouncing dialogue off the other Pleasant Valley residents. Tormenting the Yankees. And participating in a climactic sword fight. This also has one of the more lighthearted Lin Shaye horror movie performances. Granny Boone’s standout sequence comes when she teams with the minstrels, Milk Maiden, and Peaches for a song and dance. Which ends with Granny killing a character. And dropping a one-liner about their guts.
Of course, the death scenes are the best scenes. The gory murders were the reason for Two Thousand Maniacs to exist in the first place. And they’re the main reason to watch 2001 Maniacs. Sullivan did his best to live up to the bloodshed in the H.G. Lewis original. There are variations on the “torn apart by horses” and the boulder drop kills – with the boulder being replaced by a bell. And there are several original kills. Involving things like acid, penis mangling, decapitation, anal skewering, and head crushing. Watching these deaths play out is fun for the whole family. If the family happens to be from Pleasant Valley.
It’s also fun if you’re a horror fan who just wants to spend some time watching dimwitted characters get knocked off one by one. H.G. Lewis movies were never high art. They were gory spectacles to laugh at and be disgusted by. We’ve seen a whole lot of cinematic bloodshed since those films hit the drive-in screen. But practical gore effects have never lost their charm. And 2001 Maniacs is an entertaining tribute to one of the first blood-soaked movies. So head down to Pleasant Valley and check out the Guts and Glory Jubilee. Watch the games. Enjoy the barbecue. It might be the last Spring Break party you ever attend. But it will definitely be one for the history books.
A couple previous episodes of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw series can be seen below. To see more, and to check out some of our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/2001-maniacs-best-horror/