Back in 1964, Herschell Gordon Lewis directed a film called "2000 Maniacs!" in which six Yankee tourists found themselves in a little Southern town called Pleasant Valley. The catch? Pleasant Valley was destroyed by Union troops during the Civil War, and the ghosts of the town's inhabitants saw to it that the hapless Yankees didn't leave Pleasant Valley with their lives.
Almost 40 years later, director Tim Sullivan helmed a remake of the classic Herschell Gordon Lewis film. Written by Sullivan and Chris Kobin, the 2005 remake was called "2001 Maniacs" and featured horror legend Robert Englund (of "Nightmare on Elm Street" fame) as Pleasant Valley's own Mayor Buckman. Since then, the low-budget horror flick has become something of a phenomenon and exploded into a franchise that includes not only the upcoming sequel "2002 Maniacs: Beverly Hellbillys" but also a comic book tie-in published by Avatar Press.
CBR News was on hand to cover the "2001 Maniacs" panel on Friday at this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego, and had the opportunity to speak directly with director Tim Sullivan and star Robert Englund.
It had been something of an uphill battle finding the right financiers for the "2001 Maniacs" sequel, but when Englund came on as a full partner in the franchise, everything clicked. The ubiquitous Englund has spent that last couple of years traveling far and wide promoting his many and varied projects ("Behind the Mask," "Hatchet," and "Masters of Horror," to name a few), and it was out on the road that the actor realized just how big the "2001 Maniacs" fanbase really is.
"I've been going around touting those because I'm proud of all those projects, and I've been feeling the love from '2001 Maniacs,'" Englund told CBR News. "People are bringing me framed portraits, people are bringing me felt paintings, people are brining me memorabilia. When you're really out there with the fans, and you go to do a radio show about another project in Chicago, and you sign nine DVD covers of '2001 Maniacs,' you go, 'My God, this thing has really hooked onto the pulse here of some kind of grindhouse entertainment."
Sullivan told CBR News that he and co-writer Chris Kobin had Englund in mind for the part of Mayor Buckman from the beginning. "Thank God, because of our friendship he said yes," Sullivan said. "And Chris Kobin and I and Robert really have been the three from the beginning who have been the consistent thread. It's just really right that he's now a partner with us on this crazy venture called '2001 Maniacs.'"
Englund attributes much of the success of the franchise to the writers' ability to keep their inner adolescents alive. "Mine comes out, but it's always surprising to me," Englund said. "I came out here yesterday, walking by some vintage comic books, I literally did a complete Marcel Proust. I saw a 'Scrooge McDuck' comic, and I was five years old, wearing my Roy Rogers sweatshirt."
Though Englund has largely been typecast in horror roles, that genre is certainly not the extent of his filmic knowledge. The conversation turned to the actor's single favorite show on television, HBO's "The Wire." "I'm completely blown away, not only by the socio-economic trail that it takes through Baltimore, but the black American actors on that show are without a doubt the most phenomenally talented group of actors I've seen," Englund said. "And there's also something in the lyrical poetry of the writing of the black under class in that show, which I love. It's unlike anything I've ever heard before, nobody talks like a stupid rapper. People sound like some Jean Genie criminal element patois that I love, a street patois that has an inherent poetry in it.
"And I loved when it became 'On the Waterfront,' and they had the Russian whores stacked like cordwood, and I loved the anti-yuppie gentrification of the docks and all that manipulation. I loved the black guys laundering their money in white city hall. I love that there can be black white-collar corruption in it too, that they're not too politically correct to be afraid to bring that up."
Englund encouraged all of his horror fans to track down the first few seasons of "The Wire" on DVD if they were looking for a change of pace.
With that, Englund and Sullivan had to make haste to Room 2 of the San Diego Convention Center, where the "2001 Maniacs" panel was about to begin. The director and star were joined onstage by writer Chris Kobin and co-star of "2002 Maniacs: Beverly Hellbillys" Amy Baniecki. First up was a sneak peak at the upcoming "2001 Maniacs" sequel, which Englund introduced with his character's signature line: "Welcome to Pleasant Valley."
After the clip was finished, Sullivan traced his love of horror all the way back to its roots: his childhood years spent reading EC comics like "Tales from the Crypt" up in the treehouse. Years later, when Sullivan's frequent collaborator Chris Kobin floated the idea of remaking "2000 Maniacs," Sullivan was onboard from the get go.
Englund had known Sullivan off and on for years before signing on to star in "2001 Maniacs," and admitted that the fact that the role of Mayor Buckman was tailor-made for him was reason enough to give the project a look. "We had no idea we'd get the reception we did," Englund said. And once the franchise took off and Englund heard about the comic tie-in, the actor thought the comic could be "a nice adjunct to the whole experience."
Sullivan, who extensively storyboards all of his films (though Englund said the director's scribbles look more like a game of Hangman from 1959), found the process very similar to laying out a comic book. The director wanted the comic to be more than just an adaptation of the first film. With that in mind, Sullivan set out to tell the story of the original razing of Pleasant Valley back in 1864, in a tale entitled "Curse of the Confederacy."
The comic introduces Baniecki's character, Scarlet Red, and her deadly chastity belt, both of which are featured in the upcoming "2001 Maniacs" sequel. And since the late denizens of Pleasant Valley have a festival every year on the anniversary of the massacre, Sullivan said there could be as many comics as there have been festivals. The writer/director's idea for the next "Maniacs" comic is Buckman vs. Bin Laden. "Curse of the Confederacy" hits stands on August 15.
The panel then opened up the floor to Q&A. The first question was about the casting process for the "Maniacs" films, and Sullivan said simply, "we look for who would look best naked, covered in blood."
Next, the panel launched into a description of the "Maniacs" sequel, "Beverly Hellbillys." Since sheriffs blocked off the road to Pleasant Valley between the end of the first film and the start of the second, the residents of Pleasant Valley are forced to take their show on the road. The Maniacs board a bus and go on a road trip, where they encounter the cast of "The Simple Life." In addition to Baniecki's character, two new Maniacs will be portrayed by horror vets Tony Todd and Bill Mosely. The film begins shooting at the end of this year.
Speaking of reality shows, "Beverly Hillbillys" ties in to the show "Battle of the Bands." On the episode set to air August 8, six bands are given 24 hours to compose the theme song for "Beverly Hellbillys." The winning track was then produced by Twisted Sister's Dee Snyder.
As to the possibility of another "Freddy" movie, Englund said that prospect is in limbo at the moment due primarily to the fact that Jeff Katz, who had been shepherding the "Nightmare" franchise, has moved onto greener pastures at New Line Cinema. But Englund has heard that the studio is in talks with John McNaughton (director of "Henry: Portrait of Serial Killer") to helm a prequel to the original "Nightmare on Elm Street."
Englund also ran into Tony Todd at Comic-Con, who threw out the idea of "Freddy vs. Candyman." At one point there were rumors of a "Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash" project, but Englund said that film is off the table on account of Raimi's upcoming, big-budget remake of "Evil Dead." There have been discussions with John Carpenter at New Line Cinema about what Englund can only assume would be a "Freddy vs. Jason vs. Michael Meyers" film, and the prospect of that really struck a chord with the audience.
""If my old buddy Kevin Yagher shows up to New Line, I'm moving to Mexico because I don't want to throw down with Chucky," Englund said. Sullivan suggested "Freddy vs. Buckman," or even "Freddy vs. Crybaby" (Amy Baniecki's wrestling personality).
A young boy named Moses kept returning to the Q&A microphone, and the last matchup suggested was "Freddy vs. Moses." "Freddy's going to part the red sea," Englund began, "of Moses."
When asked about the extreme gore in the first film, Kobin explained that when you're writing a horror film with a writing partner, there tends to be a friendly competition to "outdo the most recent kill." Sullivan subscribes to the theory that a murder in a horror film should be like the punchline to a joke, and have a certain poetic justice about it.
"Maniacs" producer Eli Roth had a cameo in the first "2001 Maniacs" as Justin, the character he portrayed in "Cabin Fever." One fan asked if there was a chance Roth would be appearing again the sequel. Sullivan explained that the producers of "Cabin Fever" nearly sued Roth the first time around, so it was highly unlikely Roth would be able to return for the "Maniacs" sequel.
The "2001 Maniacs" franchise is a mix of horror and humor that Sullivan likes to call "splatstick." One fan asked if there would be the same mix of horror and comedy in the sequel. "If Monty Python made a horror movie, it'd be '2001 Maniacs,'" Sullivan said. "I mean, can you take it seriously? I don't think you could."
Next, musician and "Maniacs" cast member Johnny Legend treated the audience to a sing-along. Legend saw the original film, "2000 Maniacs," in 1965, recorded the song "The South's Gonna Rise Again" in '79, and has performed it as the title track for both "2001 Maniacs" and "Beverly Hellbillys."
"Everybody told Tim and me that we'd be idiots if we killed the heroes at the end," Kobin said of the end of "2001 Maniacs." But the writers knew better.
"It's about the Maniacs, they're the heroes," Sullivan said. "Nobody lives in Pleasant Valley."
For more on "2001 Maniacs," check out CBR's in-depth interview with Tim Sullivan about the "2001 Maniacs" comic book special.
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