Film Review: Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

Also known as: Centennial (fake working title), 2000 Maniacs (alternative spelling)
Release Date: March 20th, 1964
Directed by: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Written by: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Music by: Larry Wellington
Cast: William Kerwin, Connie Mason, Jeffrey Allen

Jacqueline Kay, Friedman-Lewis Productions, Box Office Spectaculars, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Has it occurred to you that nobody has told us what this centennial is all about? Now, this is 1965, and a hundred years ago it was 1865, right? So, what happened in 1865?” – Tom White, “It was the ending of Civil War. The war between states!” – Terry Adams, “Well then you tell me why would a southern town want northerners as guests of honor at the centennial. It must has something to do with what happened a hundred years ago. So, something is very wrong with this town.” – Tom White

A year before this film, Herschell Gordon Lewis disgusted audiences with his debut film Blood Feast. That picture was a gore spectacle that paved the way for future gore cinema. It’s become legendary and survived the test of time because of how shocking it was in 1963. But it helped champion in an era of exploitation and grindhouse films that populated seedy theaters and drive-ins for a good decade and a half.

That being said, Blood Feast is a terrible, terrible film. It’s not really good on any level except in how it disgusted people and opened the floodgates for other penniless filmmakers to start pumping out their gore-littered schlock.

But I can’t quite call Herschell Gordon Lewis a bad filmmaker, as the man somehow took his terrible, basic formula, refined it, actually put together an interesting plot and then gave us this film just eight months later.

Two Thousand Maniacs! is not a good motion picture by any stretch of the imagination but it is at least a compelling one that is so bizarre you kind of want to know how the hell this insanity is happening.

The plot focuses on a small town in the middle of Nowheresville, Georgia. The residents of this town are putting up detour signs on the highway to lure in some outsiders. Once they arrive in the town, confused, the outsiders learn that the town is celebrating its Centennial. They feel like things are a bit off but since they’re being treated like prized guests, they soak it up.

However, each person is then killed in extremely violent ways. Two of them do survive and escape in the end but then we learn the batshit crazy truth: the town was a ghost town that was destroyed in the Civil War exactly one hundred years earlier. The town came back to life to get revenge on a half dozen Yankees because why the hell not.

This of course raises a lot of questions like how did these people know how to use telephones, cars and other technology that didn’t exist in their time? Why were they dressed in the finest Southern fashion of the 1960s and not the 1860s? Well, the whole movie is full of things that make you go “huh?” once you know what the big reveal is.

Still, suspending a lot of disbelief, the film works in a lot of ways regardless of all the nonsensical shit, the shoddy direction and the atrocious acting.

I’d be lying if I said that this didn’t lure me in, peak my interest and keep me glued to the screen.

While this has been remade, I’m assuming that one isn’t very good, this is the sort of film that should be remade with a competent director and a script writer that can actually work out some of the kinks and issues this original movie had. I think the concept is neat and that it could be improved upon, which is usually the only way I’ll support the idea of a remake or a reboot.

While several of the gore scenes are over the top and gratuitous, I’d say that this is actually less gory than Blood Feast. The camera cuts away a lot and some of the violence is implied with a finishing shot of a dead body covered in blood and meat. A lot of the shots during these scenes are of the reactions of the townsfolk who are getting off on the carnage.

Ultimately, this is not a good movie. But for gore pictures, it is one of the better ones and it at least has a story that works for what this is.

I’m not sure if Herschell Gordon Lewis actually displayed some directing talent or if he just kind of got lucky. Gorehounds will of course claim that the guy was a genius but I think that he was just a schlockmeister that developed his own unique style.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Herschell Gordon Lewis’ other films.

Film Review: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Release Date: December 14th, 1971 (West Germany)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Cabot, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith, Norman Burton, Sid Haig, Connie Mason (uncredited)

Eon Productions, United Artists, 120 Minutes

Review:

“If at first you don’t succeed Mr. Kidd…?” – Mr. Wint, “Try, try again, Mr. Wint.” – Mr. Kidd

Sadly, Diamonds Are Forever is closer to the tone and style of the Roger Moore era than the Sean Connery era. Maybe the campiness that would be front and center in the early Roger Moore Bond films wasn’t really because of Moore but were because the films were a product of the 1970s. Connery’s pictures were more serious until this one but all the others came out in the ’60s. And then once Moore got into the ’80s, his films weren’t as cheesy. I blame the ’70s.

Anyway, this is the worst of the Sean Connery James Bond pictures. This is even worse than the unofficial sequel Never Say Never Again. Frankly, this is one of the worst Bond films ever made. But this is James Bond and it is still quite enjoyable and certainly better than the worst films of the Brosnan era.

I love the old school Las Vegas setting in this movie, it just fit the time and the James Bond mythos well. Plus, Bond going to Vegas was probably long overdue, by this point. But I’ve also always had a love for old school Vegas, its setting, its culture and its style.

I also really enjoyed Charles Gray’s take on Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This wasn’t Gray’s first Bond movie but he got to ham it up in a key role and he’s one of those actors that is just great as a villain. This is one of my favorite roles that he’s ever played, alongside the fiendish Mocata from The Devil Rides Out, which also starred Bond alum Christopher Lee (a.k.a. Francisco Scaramanga from The Man with the Golden Gun).

In this picture, we also get Jill St. John, who has the distinction of being the first American Bond Girl, and the Jimmy Dean, country music and breakfast sausage king.

My favorite characters in the film though, are the duo of Bruce Glover and Putter Smith as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. They plot, they scheme and they get the better of Bond… twice! Granted, they should have outright killed him quickly in both those moments but Bond escaped death and came back to bite them in the ass. They also had a relationship that probably points to them being gay, which was pretty uncommon for a 1971 film that was made for the mainstream.

On a side note: scorpions don’t usually sting people and they typically don’t kill humans, let alone instantaneously.

This film did do some clever stuff too. I liked how Blofeld had decoys and the movie really points out that he has been surgically altering his face this whole time and that it wasn’t just a case of not being able to get Blofeld actors to return to the part.

The biggest issue with this film though is the scale. Following up On Her Majesty’s Secret Service wasn’t an easy task but this film feels smaller, more confined and cheaper. Maybe this has to do with the big salary that Connery needed to come back to the franchise. It was a record setting fee for an actor at the time and it’s possible that it effected the actual production and that the movie had to be made more frugally.

Still, I do love this motion picture. The classic era of Bond from the ’60s through the ’80s is hard to top. These movies are just magic. Even when things don’t work, the films all still have something cool to take away from them. Diamonds Are Forever is no different.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one. But this is actually is closer in tone to the Roger Moore films of the ’70s.

Film Review: Blood Feast (1963)

Release Date: July 6th, 1963
Directed by: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Written by: Allison Louise Downe, David F. Friedman, Herschell Gordon Lewis
Music by: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Cast: William Kerwin, Mal Arnold, Connie Mason, Lyn Bolton, Scott H. Hall

Box Office Spectaculars, 67 Minutes

Review:

This is one of those movies I have heard about my entire life. People, for years, have talked this thing up. It’s regarded as the first true gore picture. It gave birth to the low brow and easily dismissed splatter pictures that would paint grindhouse cinemas red for a few decades. Blood Feast is considered to be the godfather of it all.

Unfortunately, it is a horrendous picture.

It’s not horrendous because of the blood and guts, it is just poorly written, poorly acted, poorly executed and generally a nonsensical mess. Now I know that you don’t go see these kinds of films with the intent that they are going to be pinnacles of perfection but as a film, Blood Feast fails in just about every way. Except in the gore department.

The film is a measly 67 minutes but anything longer would have been a serious chore to sit through. There are lots of killings and not a lot of plot to get in the way of the gore but none of it is all that exciting. I think that this is one of those movies where people’s memories of it are way more horrific than the picture itself.

Sure, there is a lot of blood. But when I got to the iconic scene of where our killer rips the tongue out of a girl’s throat, you see his back as he is going to work and then it cuts to the killer holding a lumpy stringy steak covered in blood as the girl lays, mouth agape, pouring out blood. It is graphic, for sure, but you never actually see the tongue pulled from out of the woman’s mouth. A lot of people I talked to, seem to remember seeing the killer actually rip it out of her mouth. Then again, maybe that was filmed and released and the modern prints of the film omit it. This is really just semantics but it is similar to how people remind The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as a gore fest but it isn’t, at all. Blood Feast at least lives up to its name, regardless, as it is a film pretty much submerged in blood.

This was not a film that was made to be anything artistic. It was made for exploitation purposes and to make as much money as possible by costing next to nothing to produce and selling itself on shock value. In that regard, it is effective and I can’t knock the movie. Expecting anything more than blood, guts and splatter is foolish. This delivers on what it was intended to be.

Now that I’ve seen the film, I can check it off of my cinematic bucket list. Although, I’ll probably never have the urge to watch it again. Unless I were to one day host a gore film festival or if this was playing in a theater somewhere near me.

Rating: 3/10

Film Review: The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Release Date: December 12th, 1974 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Music by: Nino Rota
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Marianna Hill, Lee Strasberg, Bruno Kirby, Joe Spinell, G.D. Spradlin, Frank Civero, Roman Coppola, Danny Aiello, Harry Dean Stanton, James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Richard Bright, Connie Mason (uncredited)

The Coppola Company, Paramount Pictures, 200 Minutes

Review:

It is hard saying which is the better movie between The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II. For me, both of them are as close to perfect as a movie can get. I like Part II the most overall but I like that Part isn’t broken up by a nonlinear plot and feels more cohesive. I also like the ensemble of the first movie better. That is actually magnified when you get to the end of Part II and see a flashback dinner scene of all the men in the family, excluding Marlon Brando’s Vito. After spending almost seven hours with this family, up to this point, they always seem to be at their best and their most dynamic when all the men are present.

Everything positive I said about the first film still holds true in the second. The acting, direction, cinematography, costumes, art and design are all absolutely top notch.

However, this chapter in the saga takes things to a new level. The world that the Corleone family lives in is even bigger and more opulent. The section of the film that sees Michael go to Cuba is mesmerizing. It adds an extra bit of grit to the picture, not that it needed anymore than it already had.

The highlight of this film is Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the younger Vito Corleone. He took a role that was very much Brando’s and made it his own without stepping on the toes of his elder. It was definitely a performance that deserved the Oscar De Niro got for it. It is also the only time two different actors have won an Oscar for playing the same character.

The film also contrasts the first movie in that you see the Corleone empire being run in different ways. While the family business is the bottom line, Michael goes further than his father in what he’s willing to do to keep the empire running. Michael went from a young man who didn’t want his family to define his legacy, in the first film, to a man that goes to extremes to keep the family together while he is battling the conflict within himself.

Godfather, Part II is a more dynamic and layered story overall and it is well-executed. While I mentioned preferring the linear plot to Part I, the plot is still managed perfectly. The scenes of Michael and then the flashbacks of Vito go hand-in-hand and they reflect off of each other, showing that despite the differences in the father and son characters, that they still travel the same path in a lot of ways.

In reality, The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II just feel like one really long movie that had to be broken into two parts. And the place where they decided to break them, at the end of the first movie, was the best spot. It flawlessly separates the legacies of the two men, out for the same thing but in very different ways.

Rating: 10/10