Sunday, July 11, 2010

2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams

“2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams” is an interesting artifact. It is the sequel “2001 Maniacs”, a remake of “2000 Maniacs”, the spattery 1964 Herschell Gordon Lewis movie (which was inspired by “Brigadoon”, a musical), but is also based on a comic that appeared in the interim between the remake and the sequel. That was a mouthful.

Writer/Director Tim Sullivan and company return to Pleasant Valley, Georgia, home of the eponymous Maniacs. It isn’t entirely clear, but I think they are the ghosts (or perhaps zombies, that is hinted at as well) of the Southerners who were slaughtered there by renegade Union soldiers during the Civil War and have come back in order to exact revenge by killing one Northerner for each dead Confederate, of which there were 2001. They are also cannibals, so that is going on as well.

Bill Moseley (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”, “The Devil’s Rejects”) pops up as Mayor George W. Buckman, the role played previously by Robert Englund and Jeffery Allen, and he has a problem. No Yankee scum are showing up to this year’s Guts N’ Glory Jamboree, and the folks are disappointed because there is no one to kill. So Buckman does what any good revenge minded public servant does when his constituency becomes restless, he improvises. If no Northerners will come to the South then they will take the South to them.
The Maniacs (in reality there are only eleven, not 2001) pile into a school bus and hit the road. In Iowa they encounter the cast of a reality show called “Road Rascals” that is supposed to be a spoof of “The Simple Life”, that nonsense with Paris Hilton and Lionel Richie’s daughter. Somehow that reference is already dated. The cast is full of vapid LA socialites who are famous simply for being famous, not from actually doing anything, and their hangers on who want to be famous for their proximity to famous people.
As you can imagine, carnage and mayhem ensues.
The Maniacs are a mix of people from the first movie and new faces. Moseley is new, but in an old role, Lin Shaye reprises her role as Granny, and Christa Campbell is back as the buxom Milk Maiden. Among the new additions are Kevin ‘Ogre’ Ogilvie, vocalist for Skinny Puppy, who plays Maniac doctor Harper Alexander, and Jar Jar Binks himself, Ahmed Best, as Crow, the slave/minstrel/voodoo practitioner who is ultimately responsible for reviving the cannibalistic Confederates.

Sullivan is well aware of his audience and what they want to see. And they want to see two things, boobs and blood. “Field of Screams” provides plenty of both, though to be entirely honest, not nearly as much of either as I originally anticipated. Sullivan refers to the genre as “splat-stick”, and that seems to be a fair assessment, as the movie is an endless mix of jokes and blood spray. Everyone involved is well aware that they are making something ridiculous. Think Troma ridiculous.
There are some moments of inspired lunacy, which is what I hope you expect when you pick up a movie titled “Field of Screams”. Moments like a guy in a Lone Ranger mask and a cape dry humping a stuffed sheep, the most interesting use of a chastity belt I’ve ever seen, and what Sullivan calls a “buffalo titty stampede”. The “blood-bath-a-go-go” scene alone is almost worth the price of admission.
Notice I use the word “almost”.
“Field of Screams” is roughly half so-stupid-it-is-awesome, half just fucking stupid. Actually, let me amend that last statement. “Field of Screams” is roughly one-fourth to one-third so-stupid-it-is-awesome, while the remainder is fucking retarded. That’s a more appropriate way to describe it. It isn’t as funny as it thinks it is, it isn’t as gory as it thinks it is, and the intentional political incorrectness doesn’t really have a point and just winds up coming across as actually racist instead of poking fun at racism like the filmmakers intended.
There isn’t much story, but no one expects there to be, and though I’m not going to harp on that point, I do have a problem. Every time “Field of Screams” is about to turn into a kill-crazy-blood-bath-rampage, which is what everyone really wants to see, they step back from the precipice and pretend to give a shit about the plot. You’re repeatedly taken away from the best parts of the movie, boobs and blood, and plopped down in the middle of the weakest part, story and character, things no one cares about.
I will say this one thing for Sullivan and crew. They do proudly carry the mantel for the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis (who gets an Executive Producer credit), Grindhouse, drive-ins, and 70s splatter/gore culture. Their enthusiasm for the genre, and their earnestness, is readily apparent at every turn. They’re making the movies they want to make, the movies they wanted to see when they were horny little fourteen-year-olds masturbating in their bedrooms, hoping their mom wouldn’t walk in on them again. And they are completely stoked to be doing exactly what they’re doing. It may be cheap, and kind of bad, but the entire cast and crew is in love with this ugly, blood-covered baby of a movie.
There is a collaborative, almost family feel to the film. In the commentary and making-of documentary on the DVD, Sullivan often states that everyone involved in “Field of Screams” left their individual fingerprints on the finished product, and he’s right. The sheep-fucker, Lester (Adam Robital), also edited the movie. Bill Moseley came up with the title “Field of Screams” (the original title was “2001 Maniacs: Beverly Hellbillies”), and wrote a song on the soundtrack. The actors flew themselves to Iowa on their own dime, and put themselves up. The extras were citizens of Council Bluffs, the town where filming took place. Throughout the commentary with Campbell, Shaye, and others, Sullivan takes great care to point out little touches and lines and ideas that the actors brought to the table. You don’t find that sort of shared, communal effort in too many movies, and I’ll admit that I find it endearing.
“2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams” may not be a good movie, far from it, but it does have some great moments, and a certain undeniable charm.
Originally appeared at

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