In 1964, Herschel Gordon Lewis and David Friedman, exploitation pioneers that they were, struck drive-in cinema gold with their ode to cannibal confederates, Two Thousand Maniacs!. Using that unsung gore film classic, Eli Roth and his Raw Nerve Productions have bankrolled Tom Sullivan's 2001 Maniacs, a remake/update/re-imagining/whatever of Lewis's forty plus year old film – how does it hold up? In short? Not bad, but hardly essential.
The storyline in the remake doesn't stray too far from the original though it mixes things up a little bit by throwing in the race card early on. Three boys, after getting into trouble with their history teacher for disrupting his lecture on the Civil War, head out to Daytona Beach for spring break. They get lost along the way and end up in the small town of Pleasant Valley, somewhere in the backwoods of Georgia. When they arrive, the town looks empty but imagine their surprise when almost out of nowhere hordes of hillbilly townsfolk swarm their car, lead by their mayor, Mr. Buckman (Freddy himself, Robert Englund), who tells them that they're just in time for the Guts & Glory Festival – an annual tradition in the town.
Our three heroes aren't too keen on sticking around until a car pulls up with the token gay guy and the two hot chicks that they met at the gas station earlier, followed by a black dude and his Asian girlfriend. They all agree to stay, and once they do, it's time to party. The guests are treated to some true southern hospitality and everything is going great – free food, free booze, and plenty of busty southern belles are around to keep the guys occupied, but soon they start to get an uncomfortable feeling. It starts when one of the girls who showed up with them disappears, but she's not the first or the only one to meet an awful fate, as soon it becomes evident that they're not only the guests of honor but also the main course.
2001 Maniacs is a fun movie with very little replay value. It's unashamed of its political incorrectness which it waves in the viewers face pretty much from the get go (racial jokes, sex jokes, gay jokes, toilet humor – it's all here). It does a good job of breaking up the more intense and horrific scenes with completely juvenile and sophomoric humor, almost in the same vein as frat boy party films like Revenge Of The Nerds. The movie also does a fine job of flinging gore at the viewer, not shying away from murder, mayhem, anal impalings, crushing, and multiple decapitations (though sadly and surprisingly – no barrel roll!). On that level ,the movie works well – it's fun, and it's dumb and it's entertaining – and on that same level, it fails to resonate. Granted, the filmmaker's weren't trying to make The Exorcist or even The Haunting here but some character development would have been nice, particularly when we get almost none. The movie is also almost completely void of tension, and as such, it's not scary so much as it is just silly (again, that was the point, judging by the commentary).
In terms of the performances, the only person really worth mentioning here is Robert Englund, who proves he's more than just Freddy Kruger by delivering a really good and completely appropriate performance. His accent might not be one hundred percent but he does make a fine one-eyed mayor and he definitely looks the part of the twisted southern gentleman who oh so many skeletons in his closet. Cabin Fever fans might get a kick out of seeing Eli Roth show up in a small part here, as he did in Hostel, others might say it was completely unnecessary. Speaking of Hostel, it's interesting that it shares so many of the same pros and cons as 2001 Maniacs as well as such a similar presence. In both films a group of idiotic frat boy types end up in a place they didn't intend to stay at, get sucked in by some lovely local ladies, and wind up getting offed by the locals. Lewis did it first, and he did it better, way back in 1964.
The cinematography is nice, the town has plenty of atmosphere, and the kill scenes are pretty creative even if the impalement was pretty crass, and sure to offend a few – such is life, it's only a movie. Sadly, the accidental charm that Lewis and Friedman somehow magically filled their film with is lacking in this modernized remake. Intentional camp is no replacement for the real thing and CGI gore effects can't replace even the primitive organic set pieces used in the original. Go in expecting to be entertained by the lower common denominator and you should be satiated, just don't hope for more than that – cause you ain't gonna get it.
The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen on this disc is pretty nice despite an abundance of edge enhancement in some scenes. Black levels stay strong throughout, only showing mpeg compression in a couple of spots (which is good seeing as so much of the film takes place at night or in dark places) while aliasing and line shimmering are kept to a minimum except for a few scenes where the shimmering does truly shine through (look at the roof tops of the building with the press in it, it almost seems like its dancing – ick!). Flesh tones look lifelike and the red blood and guts effects are sufficiently bright without being too overpowering. There's a pretty decent level of both foreground and background detail present in the image pretty much throughout the movie. Overall though, 2001 Maniacs does look pretty good on this DVD.
Audio options come in your choice of a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix or a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround mix, both in English, with optional subtitles provided in both English and Spanish and there's an English closed captioning option provided as well (for the feature only). As far as the quality of the audio is concerned, there's little to complain about there. The dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion. Directional effects are obviously more active on the 5.1 mix than on the 2.0 mix, but both make nice use of the side channels to throw a few fun sound effects your way during playback. Bass response is pretty solid and the soundtrack comes through loud and clear on this disc, particularly the scenes with the minstrel type hillbillies who appear throughout the movie.
First up is a commentary track from director Tim Sullivan and star Robert Englund. A second commentary track with Sullivan finds him joined this time by his co-writer Chris Kobin and co-producer Chris Tuffin. These are both enjoyable and amiable tracks, with some of the same crass humor you'd expect from the creative minds behind the film and some good information as well. We hear about the pressure Sullivan felt in making the movie, what with the legacy of Lewis' picture lingering behind him, and we hear about the casting choices. Some of the effects are explained and both post and pre-production details are delved into as well. Neither track has much to complain about in terms of dead air and even when things stray off topic they stay funny and interesting so it's hardly a big deal. There are a lot of odd little stories about the making of this film and either of these tracks makes for a good way to hear them.
The best of the extra features comes in the form of a length documentary entitled Inside The Asylum which provides a very interesting look at the making of the movie. You can access this documentary by way of the play all option or you can check out each of the six parts individually. Interviews with Robert Englund, Tim Sullivan, Eli Roth, Gina Marie Heerkin, Giuseppe Andrews, Brendan McCarthy, and almost everyone else who appears in front of or worked behind the camera give this some serious depth – and it's also a lot of fun. Everyone seems to have had a blast making the film and the whole cast and crew speaks very highly of the director. There's a some great behind the scenes footage in here, we get to see how some of the stunts were done and how some of the effects were pulled off, and during the forty two minute running time we do actually learn quite a bit about the movie and the people who made it. There's a quirky little tribute to H. G. Lewis' theme song that plays out over the end credits as well, which was a nice touch.
Want more? How about twenty-seven deleted scenes, bloopers and assorted clips? John Landis and David Friedman show up in the first one, which is pretty amusing, And there are a few cool gore scene flubs and rough effects shots in here too. There are some character bits that were trimmed, some alternate footage from when the boys first arrive in town, and a scene with those two blonde cousins who enjoy spending quality time together too. At over thirty six minutes in length, there's a lot of neat stuff in here, though an optional commentary explaining why the material was cut would have been a nice touch.
Lion's Gate has also dug up an audition reel which is far from essential viewing but which does give us a look at the performers in a less formal environment delivering some of their more memorable lines from the film. Combined this material runs about seven minutes in length.
Rounding out the supplements is a trailer for the feature as well as trailers for other Lion's Gate horror DVD releases. Special note also needs to be made of the animated menus that Lion's Gate has had served up for this release, which contain marionette versions of a few of the main characters from the film. They're pretty keen, and sometimes funnier than the movie itself in a twisted sort of way.
While Lion's Gate has done a fine job on the disc itself, the movie is far from perfect. That being said, the curious out there could do worse than to give this one a rental, as 2001 Maniacs does have a few shining moments that make the lesser aspects of the movie a little easier to forgive. This one certainly won't be replacing H.G. Lewis' original film anytime soon, however…
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.