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October 2010

2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams

cast: Bill Moseley, Lynn Shaye, Christa Campbell, Nivek Ogre, and Andrea Leon

director: Tim Sullivan

83 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Anchor Bay DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
review by Paul Higson

2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams

In 1964, Herschell Gordon Lewis' feature film 2000 Maniacs was an act of confirmation on a new subgenre in horror film. Following on from the same director's Blood Feast of the previous year, 2000 Maniacs secured a taste for outrageous bloodletting and comical carnage before the sanctimonious knockers had time to rally around and nip it in bud. The US magazine Fangoria was the first widely distributed publication to exploit the bloodier side of the horror film, which by the turn of the 1980s increased with improved prosthetics effects and creative freedom making new stars of the special make-up effects technicians. Fangoria afforded several pages of colour and made lurid and gruesome use of them. This included introductory retrospectives of the exploitation filmmakers who first splattered the silver screens, with special pedestal placing for H.G. Lewis, illustrated by a punch press applied to a body and mashed faces.

The no-holds-barred approach displayed in these galleries was used to excuse the modern behaviour; one could hardly ask them to consider what grandpa might think of all this sick nonsense when he was gorily worse. Tim Sullivan is a horror brat, the kind who grew up on Fangoria, and for a moment the boy did good as the director of the 2005 remake of 2001 Maniacs, a polished effort which captured the comic and horrific of the original. The remake successfully balanced the grue and the giggles in an assured package that honoured and improved on the original.

Sullivan returns with 2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams and the clear expectation that with the same director we must surely have similar success. But, no - this does not feel like the same director at all, planting the suspicion that Sullivan might not have been the true overseer of that earlier success after all. The 2005 film had been a bit of a sleeper with the fan acknowledgement coming with the eventual DVD release. Sullivan would appear here to have been given greater authority over the sequel and it is that freedom that curses it far worse than Pleasant Valley. For the uninitiated, Pleasant Valley is the venue and home to the 140-year-old phantoms, slaughtered by Yankees and now returning the compliment on Yankee visitors in imaginative splatter set-pieces before taking their body parts for a cannibal feast.

Sullivan felt that the slow success of the first film was because viewers were not sure exactly what they were getting, coming for a horror film and finding it laced with high humour. Sullivan therefore came to the decision that what Field Of Screams needed was that upfront message that this was both a horror film and a comedy. But Sullivan has over-egged the comedy taking the film into extreme farce, a shit-slide of ugliness and a cluttered cartoon. There is no consideration to the finished product, only to a shambles of gore shots and puerile ideas the infant in Sullivan could not resist.

It is certainly true that as H.G. Lewis continued, his own movies became more extreme and absurd, if that was at all possible, mangled breasts that produced chocolate and milk instead of blood, and talking mannequin heads, admitting a more ludicrous direction. But these films were still slower with none of today's agitated editing tricks and the horrors were the highlights. Sullivan's movie has ants in its pants and skitters about like cockroaches hit by a kitchen light. The dialogue is quick, the editing quicker and every frame screams of invasionary details. No matter what it adds in costume and props it adds nothing other than caricature and because the result is closer to Scary Movie than a scary movie, it is impossible to give a shit about anyone in Sullivan's nihilistic world.

So in the plot this time out we have the Pleasant Valley townsfolk unhappy with their tourist numbers and so setting off on tour to find those damn Yankees. This is an excuse to cut down the township and break a number of rules (at the same time purporting to extend on the mythology by magically producing a black slave character with a voodoo background to guarantee the hex). The accursed citizens even have a new mayor this time, Bill Moseley replacing Robert Englund, and only a few of the townsfolk from the first film are brought back. Lin Shaye returns as the old dame and her behaviour too is more extreme than ever and, though Shaye revels in the role, it is like the entire film is far too over the top, so much so that even Troma might have asked for a little more restraint somewhere within the whole desperate package.

The townsfolk set up a carnival like camp and a lost television film crew wander in. They are making a series mocking the Paris Hilton/ Nicole Ritchie shows with the dumbest of dumb starlets as the focus in a rural American voyage to discovery. There are some genuine rip-roaring laughs in the film, though there is too much of wider remit for offensiveness which seems irrelevant to the storyline. Sullivan has prized a bad boy status over an attempt to deliver a film with more coordinated thrills. Instead, it is too much and too little at the same time, and I really don't care. Don't expect a real horror film; expect a bad spoof with hard gore.

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