Sunday, July 18, 2010

2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams

Last night, Kathy & I went to a screening of the east coast premiere of Tim Sullivan's horror-comedy 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams. Tim's a Metuchen guy, and he came back to him hometown (and the Forum Theatre) to debut his most recent gorefest.

And a festival it is: The town of Pleasant Valley, Georgia, holds an annual "Guts 'n' Glory Jamboree" in which northerners are duped into their little town and are murdered and eaten as payback for the slaughter of 2001 town residents during the Civil War. (Oops, sorry, the War Between the States. Please don't eat me, cannibal Confederates.) But this year, when the sheriff decides not to allow the Jamboree to continue, the band of creepy hicks and inbreds (led by The Devil's Regects' Bill Moseley and Lin Shaye from There's Something About Mary, who plays the deliciously overt-the-top Granny) decides to take its slaughtershow on the road. Which is how they encounter the cast and crew of  Road Rascals, a thinly veiled mockup of Paris Hilton & Nicole Ritchie's The Simple Life, stuck in Iowa with two flat tires.

After circling the crew of Yankees (though as one guy points out, they're really from California) like sharks for a while, the Maniacs start killing them one by one, and then, eventually, in packs. I like a horror movie with a large cast -- there's plenty of people that can die, instead of killing the same poor schlubs over and over.

One thing about this movie: Leave any sense of racial and gender sensitivity at the door. I mean, it's a horror movie, so human dignity really isn't on the agenda. Everyone here, Maniac and Hollywood creep alike, is a stereotype, or is treated as one by the Maniacs. Part of that is just the obviousness of the writing (horror isn't a genre that rewards subtlety), and part is because Sullivan clearly enjoys poking a finger where it hurts. Some of this is eye-rolling; other parts are quite a bit more unsettling. When a black man participates in a carnival-style lynching of a black woman -- not because she's black, but because she's a northerner, though when someone says "northerner," they're cautioned not to use the "N-word" -- you know that Sullivan is deliberately crossing as many lines as he can, just to see what he can get away with. And all the while, you're watching thinking "he's not really going to do this, is he? He can't do that!" And for a moment you think Sullivan has pulled away from it at the last minute, and you realize that the reprieve doesn't make it better. And then...

Look, I don't know what to think of this. Sullivan's clearly using racially charged imagery, but I don't think he's trying to do so in a racist manner. He's trying to provoke, though I don't know to what end. There doesn't seem much point to the scene other than one more stomach-churning set piece. I'm not sure what he's trying to say. I didn't enjoy the scene. But at the same time, I can't stop thinking about it. (Out of all the killings, it's also the least bloody; I get the sense that for all the glibness of its setup, Sullivan isn't treating this as a punchline.)

Anyway, enough of that. Suffice it to say that there are plenty of stereotypes on display here, and most of them get slaughtered -- though none in quite so historically ugly a fashion. And in general, if you like horror movies and lots of red squirting everywhere, if you're willing to overlook clumsy (intentionally clumsy, I think) stereotypes, and if you like girls taking their tops off (since that happens a lot, too), you'll possibly like this movie. But I don't think you'll like that scene. I doubt you're intended to.


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