2001 Maniacs (2005)

Starring Robert Englund, Lin Shaye, Jay Gillespie, Ryan Fleming, Matthew Carey, Giuseppe Andrews

Directed by Tim Sullivan

Remember the horror of the 60’s and 70’s? The good red stuff like Wizard of Gore and Bloodsucking Freaks? It was an innocent time, a time when a movie’s value was measured not by deep, realistic performances or an engaging, dramatic script, but rather by the sheer volume of blood, violence, and nudity you could cram into it. That post-Hayes Code euphoria took over for a couple of decades, giving us grue-soaked masterpieces by a man named Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Good old H.G. pretty much invented the “gore” genre with Blood Feast in 1963, but many people believe that he hit his peak a year later with the twisted southern gore-fest called 2000 Maniacs.

First-time director Tim Sullivan was tasked to remake this classic for modern audiences, and I got to see this remake on the big screen last night in Los Angeles, in a crowd full of horror fans and industry types.

Look, I’ll put this very simply. Sullivan’s 2001 Maniacs is silly, ridiculous, over-the-top, offensive, disgusting, misogynistic, and absurd.

In short, I LOVED IT!

The setup is relatively faithful to the Lewis original, a bunch of northerners are taken in by a bogus detour sign in the backwoods of the Deep South and wind up in Pleasant Valley, population 2001. Greeted by the whole town, including mayor Buckman (Robert Englund), they’re just in time for the annual “Guts & Glory Jubilee,” celebrating the town’s past.

Do I need to point out that the “Guts” part of that title is the key, here?

Yes, those Yankees are in for some down-home madness as they’re picked off, one by one, in very graphic and creative ways.

Now, if I stopped here, you’d have the impression that this is just a nouveau slasher flick with an above-average level of gore. That’s the challenge in describing a movie like 2001 Maniacs…it’s very, very difficult to accurately portray the depth of silliness afoot here.

You see, the northern characters and their situations are straight out of the trashy, silly teen sex comedies of the 80’s. You know the films I’m talking about, the plot was always the same: horny college kids head out on a road trip to one beach or another for spring break, looking to score. The stereotypes are all here: the handsome jock guy, the nerd, the good hearted boy looking for love, and of course they run into no small number of hot babes just looking to shed their clothes at the slightest excuse. Hijinks ensue, as each guy tries to make his own personal conquest while boobs and buns flash across the scene every 30 seconds or so.

Take one of those movies and let H.G. Lewis go wild with the thick red stuff, and you’ll have a good idea what 2001 Maniacs is like. There just isn’t a serious bone in this movie’s body. Sullivan isn’t aiming for comedy here, he’s aiming for sheer absurdity by the buckets, and he nails it. Every performance is completely over the top, and it works because the movie as a whole is absolutely insane. Englund makes the perfect ringleader for all this chaos. You think you’ve seen him crank it up in his other roles? As Spinal Tap would say, this is Robert Englund cranked up to 11.

Indeed, it’s Englund who is the lynchpin of the movie. Every time the silly sex-crazed teenagers start to drag down the action, he pops up and cranks the madcap merry-go-round a few notches faster.

Englund’s partner in madness is the sublime Lin Shaye. Between her amazing performance in the criminally-ignored Dead End and her turn here as “Granny”, Shaye has carved out a niche in the horror genre using Leatherface’s chainsaw. This tiny, motherly woman engages in activity in this movie that will have your jaw on the floor. Her ability to shift from her southern belle caricature to seething, malicious anger in the midst of one sentence gives weight to a role that is otherwise completely silly.

Aw hell, the whole movie is silly. We have people carrying on love affairs with sheep, southern boys pulling “sissy duty” to seduce a bisexual traveler, a big, black biker being tormented by the two most annoying minstrels since Sir Robin from Holy Grail, wanton cannibalism, about 3.5 naked boobs per second…all of it wound up like some insane symphony lead by the madman, Englund. There’s something here to offend everyone and it’s all done with such good humor (Sullivan has termed it “splatstick”) that you just can’t be offended for long.

We NEED movies like this. They call us back to a place of innocence, where we weren’t so damn obsessed with watching for every opportunity to be offended. By borrowing so liberally from those two genres, 60’s gore and 80’s sex, Sullivan has made a movie that just might remind us that these things are supposed to be fun, that not every film has to make some grand social statement or pay tribute to the gods of political correctness. Sometimes it’s actually OK to sit back in a theater and laugh your head off at the stuff that we all think about but never talk about or do, because it’s socially unacceptable.

Beyond my perceived social need for this kind of film, I’ll tell you this: you’re going to laugh, you’re going to be disgusted, and when the end-credit song and dance sequence of Lewis’ original theme scrolls by you’ll be singing along that the south will indeed rise again! Assuming some smart distributor picks this one up, you should be able to see it later this year. When that opportunity comes, strap yourself in and get ready to have a hell of a maniacal, gore-soaked good time.

4 out of 5

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Mr. Dark

A man of mystery. An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a low-carb whole grain tortilla. A guy who writes about spooky stuff.