Judge Gordon Sullivan doesn't mind dinner invites from buxom beauties, as long as they're not cannibals.
The south will rise again!
I'm really glad that every time I see Robert Englund in an interview, he looks really happy. He obviously loves what he's doing, he's proud of his work, and he's happy with the genre success he has. It could certainly be otherwise. He's a classically trained actor who's done a lot of stage work, and he's known to most people as the star of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films. That kind of disparity between an actor's ability and the rigor of the parts they play can really eat away at a performer. Luckily, Englund has made it work for him, embracing the genre work while still making time for the stage. His embrace of the genre is nowhere more evident than his scenery chewing performance at the heart of 2001 Maniacs (Blu-ray). Without him, the film would be a forgettable entry in the hillbilly horror canon, but Englund's performance makes this Blu-ray worth a look.
2001 Maniacs is a remake of the Herschell Gordon Lewis gore flick Two Thousand Maniacs! In both versions, we have a group of people who accidently end up in a small Southern town. Everything seems great and welcoming since the townsfolk are celebrating their annual festival. What the group of travelers doesn't know is that the town was destroyed during the Civil War, and once a year the townsfolk come back to get revenge by consuming innocent passers-by.
2001 Maniacs throws the changes our country has made in the last fifty years into sharp relief. The original Two Thousand Maniacs! was released in 1964, and its themes of a bitter Southern revenge for Civil War atrocities easily resonated with a country divided by a Civil Rights movement. Over forty years later, the same premise is used as the basis for a campy film that keeps its tongue firmly in cheek (when those tongues aren't being served up for unsuspecting out-of-towners). It's hard to connect this film to any larger social concerns, and instead it acts as pure escapism. This is a film that doesn't ask us to take anything seriously. We get Englund's goofy performance, some decent gore, and a bit of nudity. That's all the film aspires to.
On that basis, the film succeeds. Englund (who was born in Glendale, California) is hilarious as the mayor of this Southern town, offering a very broad, very self-aware take on Southern stereotypes. He takes the role and the film seriously, but also realizes that the film requires him to make some big, goofy gestures to make everything work. The film has cannibalism at its core, so there are plenty of opportunities to get creative with the presentation of blood and guts. It's not a full-on hardcore assault. The film's goofy nature and its low budget pretty rule that out, but what's lost in realism is made up for in its clever use of dismembered body parts. There are also some busty Southern belles on display, showing their wares to help lure the male members of the lost party into the cannibal clutches of the town.
2001 Maniacs arrives on Blu-ray in a port of the previously impressive DVD edition. The video has been upgraded with an AVC encoded transfer that really highlights the film's low-budget origins. This is a grainy film in the best possible way, and the director's intentions seem to be respect here. There's a decent amount of detail, blacks are generally strong, but the film's production values keep this from being a reference quality disc. This also isn't a disc to challenge the old home stereo with. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is solid enough, with clearly audible dialogue and some surround use, but it certainly doesn't push the envelope.
The extras really make this film out as a labor of love. The first of two commentaries features the director/co-writer Tim Sullivan, co-writer Chris Kobin, and producer Chris Tuffin. The three are totally willing to share stories about the struggles to get the film produced, as well as point out its shortcomings. The second commentary, with Sullivan and Robert Englund, is a little redundant after this track, but I enjoy Robert Englund's personality enough to think it's worth listening to. We also get a 40-minute making-of featurette that balances cast interviews with peeks at gore effects and the like. There are also almost 40 minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes, as well as outtakes. They're probably only essential to diehard fans, but a nice inclusion nonetheless. The disc rounds out with seven minutes of audition footage from the cast.
Let's face it: 2001 Maniacs is a low-budget horror flick that gets by on pure Southern charm. It's not going to change anyone's life. The acting is mostly hammy, the story pretty predictable, and the scare quotient very low. It's probably not of interest to anyone outside the low-budget horror realm, and even those fans might find their mettle tested sitting through this one.
As a Friday night popcorn movie for fans of low-budget horror, 2001 Maniacs will easily fit the bill. For everybody else, the film—whether on Blu-ray or the initial DVD—will probably not be worth watching. This disc is being released on the cheap, so fans will have to decide how deep they want to dig in their pockets to get the upgrade in quality on this disc.
Only because I fear the ghosts of the Confederate dead am I finding 2001 Maniacs not guilty.
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