Friday, August 23, 2013

Two Thousand Maniacs!

A half-century ago, a former English professor turned movie maker named Herschell Gordon Lewis collaborated with a carnival worker named David Friedman to make what at the time were some of the most popular and most vile films to receive wide distribution. They’d already collaborated on a few so-called “nudie cutie” films by then, but it was their launching of what would come to be known as the “gore” genre with 1963’s Blood Feast that ensured them a permanent, curious place in B-movie history.

Blood Feast presents a crazed food caterer named Fuad Ramses who butchers a lengthy series of victims in preparation for the feast of the film’s title, some sort of sacrificial meal designed to further his worship of an Egyptian goddess, Ishtar. The film stars June 1963 Playboy Playmate Connie Mason whose acting ability is as severely limited as most of the others in the cast. The script is laughable, the direction incompetent, and the story only barely coherent.

It was an enormous hit. With a budget of $24,500, the film is said to have made about $4 million at the box office, mostly at the hundreds of drive-ins then in operation. All because of the film’s outrageously graphic gore effects and subsequent word-of-mouth that worked a lot more effectively in those pre-VCR days.

The pair would swiftly produce a second “gore” flick starring Mason, a kind of demented reworking of the famous musical Brigadoon in which some unwitting Northerners get themselves lost in the deep South, ultimately getting lured to a strange town called Pleasant Valley where some sort of centennial celebration is happening. Turns out the town is full of crazies seeking vengeance for a Civil War massacre that occurred at Pleasant Valley a hundred years before. Bad news for the Yankee tourists!

The film’s title you might have guessed -- Two Thousand Maniacs! It’s better made than Blood Feast, although so are most home movies. It’s also a more genuinely disturbing film, or at least it was when I first saw it as a teenager many years ago. Again with a miniscule budget (just $65K), they filmed it in two weeks down in St. Cloud, Florida. And once again the movie made a huge return at the box office, helping further establish a template for low-budgeted horror that has been followed repeatedly ever since.

Like Deliverance, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and countless other “hillbilly horrors” would later do, Two Thousand Maniacs! portrays the South as a nightmarish hell which those from the North should avoid at all costs. Ironically, the film was hugely popular in the South, especially around here in North Carolina where Charlotte and the surrounding towns were a kind of focal point for drive-ins during their heyday.

Speaking of people traveling south and taking risks, this Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open that got underway yesterday has interestingly grabbed the poker world’s attention, the tournament playing out about three-and-a-half hours south of St. Cloud. Most of the buzz stems from the fact that the $5,000+$300 buy-in event is sporting an eye-popping $10 million guarantee.

That means in order to make that guarantee they’ll need to attract exactly 2,000 entries. Madness incarnate!

Or is it? Yesterday saw 634 entrants all told, and it sounds like they’ve already got more than 500 during the first couple of hours today. There are three Day 1 flights. Players who bust the tournament are able to re-enter as many times as they wish, including re-entering on the same day if they’ve yet to reach the dinner break when late registration closes. Those ending one of the first two Day 1s with less than the starting stack can forfeit their stack and re-enter on a subsequent Day 1, too, with the full starting stack.

Will they make it 2,000 entries? Appears as though they might. In a piece yesterday for PokerNews, Rich Ryan sounds like he thinks they’ll get there, with one of the reasons being the significant growth of poker in Florida of late. Indeed, poker has been booming in the state over the last three years since the passage of legislation to allow for uncapped no-limit games.

I’ll be traveling down to the SHR this weekend to help report on the first ever Alpha8 tournament being staged there by the World Poker Tour, a $100,000 buy-in event that should attract a few of those maniacs already there for the $10 milly guaranteed. Looking forward to that as well as to get a glimpse of the other action and reunite with my many buds already there.

Will be on the lookout, though, for any sketchy-looking detour signs on the way down.

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