Director – Herschell Gordon Lewis
Cast – Connie Mason, William Kerwin, Jeffrey Allen, Shelby Livingston, Ben Moore, Jerome Eden, Gary Bakeman, Mark Douglas
Release Year – 1964
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This is a film I’d had my eyes on for a while ever since I read about this film’s Robert Englund-starring remake, 2001 Maniacs. After viewing this flick I can see why this film is often referred to as a “classic” in the horror realm. Giving us a true exploitation experience, this is a film sure to please those who enjoy this gritty and awesomely fun to watch flicks, and those who believe “the South” shall rise again!
The deep southern town Pleasant Valley does not have a happy past. During the civil war Union soldiers massacred the town for no good reason, and to this day the residents of pleasant valley are still seeking vengeance against the North over the events. This year is the town’s Centennial celebration of the very day the Union troops decimated the town, and the townsfolk have set up roadblocks to lead any unsuspecting Northerners to their humble little town. Sure enough, the plan works and six Northerners show up just in time for the festivities. Vengeance is sweet in this film as the Northerners are one by one put through macabre events. The last two Northerners figure out just exactly what is going on, and make a daring attempt at escaping this nice little town that neither forgives, nor forgets.
If you know me, you know if love exploitation flicks, and Southern BBQ. Mix them both together, and I have found the most gratifying of experiences. We often get flicks about crazy people in the deep South hacking up people for either no reason, or cannibalistic reasons. I had yet to see a film where there was a sense of justification behind Southerners hacking up people until I viewed this film. Vengeance in a film is one thing I really love, so naturally these people getting their sense of vengeance was appealing to me. Now the scary part about this is these Northerners had absolutely nothing to do with the massacre the town suffered 100 years prior. The fact these folks were taking out their pain on these six individuals showed the real horror of this film, the breakdown of isolated townsfolk who were wronged. Watching these people exhibit these feelings as well as act on them was a nice touch to a flick that simply would have been a cheezy and gory no brainer with no substance. Writer/director Herschell Gordon Lewis, who went on to give us The Wizard of Gore in 1970, did the exploitation scene a favor writing in the psychological element into this film. The rest of the film’s writing is so-so, but you can’t expect an award-winning screenplay from these types of flicks. Heh.
If there is anything that added to the psychological impact of this film, is it this flick’s most obvious horror…the kills. The macabre events the Northerners were forced to go through were awesome, and really sold this film to me. We get some creative kills that I have yet to see in any other film, with my favorite probably being the “barrel rolling” kill. “WOW” is all I have to say. Herschell Gordon Lewis’s direction is well done in this film, and his latter career works show he has a love for these types of exploitation flicks. The film paced pretty well, which is surprising for the type of film this is. Low-budgets tend to force filmmakers to leave out a lot of “moving” scenes that would normally assist a film in it’s pacing, but Lewis’s writing and the psychological impact helped move this film along just fine.
My one biggest beef with this film is it’s climax, which I found unfulfilling, anti-climactic, and just downright dumb. The final sequence is way too long, and the final scene we get simply makes no sense at all. I am usually forgiving of things that make no sense in horror films as long as they do not overly detriment from the film and I get something for it(Example: Argento’s amazing camera work), but I really could not forgive this film for this climax collapse.
Overall, this is a positive and fun watch for those who enjoy the exploitation horror sub-genre and would like to see a film with an original plot and one with plenty of sweet kills. You will not forget this film, and that should tell you enough about whether or not you need to check this one out.