You Can Have a Lot of Fun with Two Thousand Maniacs!

Herschell Gordon Lewis just feels like a filmmaker who should've been on this site since Day 1, and it's downright wild to me that this is the first Something Weird Video disc I'm covering here.  But we're fixing it all today with Two Thousand Maniacs!, which I'd say is easily the best, definitive Lewis work.  Like, if you only get one HG Lewis film - and honestly, that's probably the right amount for most people - it should be this one.
Sure, Blood Feast is more famous, and earns a lot of reputational points for being possibly the first "gore movie" and an foundational slasher.  And plenty of the Lewis's later films are fun and worth checking out at least once.  Maniacs is the one that really comes together, with a genuinely great, original horror premise, a more substantial budget and some of the most entertaining performances.  It's a wild ride, that in some aspects at least, still holds up today.  It's got inventive kills, decent production values for such a low budget flick, and some surprisingly good music.  Okay, the leads are awkwardly wooden, the editing is clumsy and the photography is pretty flat and static.  But you're never going to have more fun than you will with Two Thousand Maniacs.  ...And hey, forget movies; that's just a good tip for life in general.
So Something Weird first released this on DVD back in 2000, and that's what I've got.  They later bundled it up as part of the "Blood Trilogy" (with Blood Feast and Color Me Blood Red) in 2006.  And there was also an Image blu-ray set of the same trilogy in 2011.  In 2016, Arrow released their sizeable, 17-disc (including DVD copies) "Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast" boxed set.  There was also a special "Shock and Gore" version that included a 7" record, an eyeball and additional swag, that was limited to just 500 copies.  And later in 2018, they put out separate releases, including the Two Thousand Maniacs/ Moonshine Mountain blu I've got for us today.
2000 SWV DVD top; 2018 Arrow BD bottom.
Something Weird's original DVD was open matte at 1.31:1, somewhat damaged and interlaced.  So fans were eager up for an upgrade, but unfortunately, the original film elements were in rough shape.  But they've made a serious effort, and it paid off pretty well.  By "they," I mainly mean Something Weird, because according to Arrow's booklet, they're using SW's restoration, which I believe they made for that Image BD set.  It's mostly matted to 1.78:1, which also finds some more image along the sides, and looks considerably stronger with bolder & properly white balanced colors and more visible detail, albeit with even more film damage, including plenty of scratches.  And, naturally, it's not interlaced.

I used the word "mostly," though, because the film elements their using for the HD master are so damaged, they're missing frames and brief snatches of the film.  These sections have standard def tape masters composited in.  In the sets of shots above, the second BD shot is from film and the third is from tape.  You can see the aspect ratio shifts to 1.65:1, replacing information on the sides with pillarboxing, which matches the edge of the frame on the DVD transfers.  It's considerably softer, looks like it's been forcibly deinterlaced (which is to say using filters to correct the interlacing that softens and compresses the combing) and more washed.  It's a bit jarring to see the PQ shift back and forth mid-scene, but I agree with whoever did the reconstruction that it's the lesser evil, and preferable to not salvaging every frame they can or just leaving out footage entirely.  In brief, it's a bit of a mess, but a major improvement over what came before and as good as we can hope for unless someone unearths better quality film elements.
Something Weird's DVD includes the original mono audio, plus a French dub.  Arrow drops the dub, but bumps up the audio to lossless LPCM and adds optional English subtitles.  Given the state of the picture, the sound is surprisingly clear, on both the DVD and the BD.  It's awful echoey, but that's clearly down to how the sound was recorded and no fault of the disc transfers.

The special features here are pretty great.  The DVD introduced a great audio commentary by HG Lewis with two moderators who keep things lively and informative.  It also had a gallery and the trailer, all of which was carried over to Arrow's blu.  And they've added a whole bunch more, including 16 minutes of outtakes, a brief interview with Lewis on his history in advertising, an interview with Tim Sullivan, who directed the remake, a featurette about producer David Friedman that interviews Lewis, Sullivan, Bob Murawski and Fred Olen Ray and a fun and well researched study on the history of hicks depicted in film.
If you thought Maniacs looked rough, though, hooey!  Take a look at Moonshine MountainMoonshine is not a horror movie, but shares its Southern hillbilly angle, even taking it to far greater extremes.  It's a musical comedy about a country western singer who travels to an ostensibly authentic small Southern town, and gets caught up in hoedown, a scandal involving a crooked sheriff and the world's biggest still.  A couple of Maniacs' actors recur, including the mayor as the family patriarch.  The comedy is broad and unfunny, but also like Maniacs, some of the music is genuinely impressive - I can't get "White Lightning" out of my head.  It's not a good movie by any stretch, but it's affable, and the sort of thing that you'd never buy on its own, but is nice to get as a bonus feature.
2018 Arrow BD bottom.
Arrow presents the film in mostly 1.33:1, with a shocking amount of damage, including washed out colors, scratches, flecks and... I mean, just look at these shots.  It's not all as bad as that first shot, but it's rough.  Apparently, this is a composite of the best 35mm prints they could find, as the negatives were lost.  And I used the word "mostly" again because they've also had to include clips from an SD tape master in this one, too.  The second and third shots show the same shot taken from film and video, and the difference will make you appreciate the former regardless of the damage.  The tape is slightly window-boxed to 1.28:1 and even more washed out, as well as being softer, blown out and less detailed.  The rest is a pretty strong, high fidelity capture of the film... it just happens to be beat to crap film.

The audio has more hiss and pops than Maniacs, but it still sounds better than you'd think looking at the image.  It's lossless again, and happily Arrow didn't cheap out on subtitles for this bonus feature.
There's not a lot of extras for Moonshine, since it's practically an extra itself, but Lewis did film an intro for this one, too, and they also wrangled up its theatrical trailer.  And while the solo release doesn't include the book or fancy set from the big Feast box, it does still include reversible cover art an a card for another Arrow release (mine was: The Snake and the Silver Haired Witch).

All in all, this is a very satisfying package of Lewis's most rewarding movie.  And unless someone discovers better elements in a barn somewhere, I wouldn't hold my breath for a UHD.  So if you don't already own this release, I recommend you pick it up the next time you come across an Arrow sale.

1 comment:

  1. The original negative for 2000 MANIACS was actually discovered after the HG Lewis set was released. It was subsequently restored by AGFA but so far its only release was streaming on the Criterion Channel in late 2019.