Directed by William Lustig
Distributed by Blue Underground
Despite a strong concept and an impressive roster of genre-favorite actors, director William Lustig’s Maniac Cop (1988) remains something of a minor cult classic, never quite attaining the adulation you might expect from such a production. And it’s for good reason – the movie isn’t all that great. When you’ve got Tom Atkins starring in a film and the most memorable parts aren’t who he yelled at, screwed, or punched out, then it’s clear something wasn’t working. It isn’t for lack of a great premise – Larry Cohen is a phenomenal writer with some stellar credits to his name – but for whatever reason, the film just doesn’t hit all the right notes. There are glimpses of a better film throughout, but nothing takes hold. Also not helping things was the fact that the eponymous maniac cop looked like a hulking beast of a man with pudgy, bloody cheeks and a serious case of poor dentition. Yet, despite these things the film did manage to turn a tidy little profit, paving the way for a higher-budgeted sequel. Maniac Cop 2 (1990) takes the first film’s formula and turns it up to 9. I want to say 10, but Lustig still had a little wiggle room to make this thing truly insane. Still, this is a horror sequel that does just about everything right by introducing strong new characters alongside the few who return, significantly amping up the action, giving the titular antagonist his own rap theme song, and providing the Maniac Cop with a new visage more in line with his other slasher contemporaries. Wait a sec… rap song?? Yes, a rap song. An awesome rap song.
Picking up directly after the events of the first film, the sequel puts Matt “Maniac Cop” Cordell (Robert Z’Dar) right back on the streets of New York after surviving his “fatal” accident when we last saw him. The two officers who ended his reign of terror – Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) and Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon) – differ on Cordell’s final fate. Jack is content to go on with his life and act as though Cordell is truly dead, but Theresa thinks he’s still out there, waiting to exact his revenge on the corrupt city that betrayed him. Theresa’s right, though, and it takes Jack getting a knife through the neck early on (what Lustig calls the film’s “Janet Leigh moment”) to prove it. Maniac Cop might be a… well, maniac, but that doesn’t mean he can take on the whole city of New York by himself. So, instead he takes on a partner – a partner who just happens to be a local serial killer with a penchant for beautiful women. Steven Turkell (Leo Rossi) is a wild man, and it’s he and Cordell’s intention to break into Sing Sing prison (where Cordell was wrongfully imprisoned and “killed”) to free all the death row inmates and set them loose in the streets. But they aren’t going to succeed easily; not if hardass Lt. Sean McKinney (Robert Davi) has anything to say about it.
There’s so much incredible insanity permeating every frame of this film that it’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s start with arguably the highlight of the entire picture – stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos. Lustig wanted this film to go above and beyond the first film’s memorable stunts (that van flip off the pier at the end was shot so beautifully), so virtually every action scene is replete with stunt work so complex most low-budget films would save it for the climax. Without spoiling all the fun viewers are in store for, two stunts in particular are just too amazing not to gush about. During a nighttime attack, Cordell handcuffs a woman to the steering wheel of a car… and then pushes that car down a steep hill, leaving her to essentially run alongside the vehicle until it starts moving so fast she’s forced to pick her legs up and try coasting along with it. Lustig got the idea from Jackie Chan’s Police Story (1985), except they only cuffed the woman in that film; he wanted to see what would happen if someone took it to a more sadistic level. As a film sequence, it’s intense. But when you stop to consider there’s a person hanging off the side of a vehicle as it careens into traffic and crashes into walls, then it becomes something else entirely. Secondly, there have been sequences in films where the main antagonist is set ablaze and yet they still continue a pursuit. Think the “Jason in a cornfield” scene from Freddy vs. Jason (2003). Here, while at Sing Sing Cordell is doused with a Molotov cocktail (that an inmate somehow made?) but he is unrelenting in his attack on everyone around him. The guy wearing that flame-retardant stunt suit must have been on fire – a full body burn – for hours just to get all the right shots. It’s hard not to watch the film and find yourself viewing it from a perspective of reverence for the guy sweating his ass off under all that gear. Those two stunts alone are huge, and that’s just a sampling of the big ambitions for this film.
The film’s other shining star is Halloween II (1981) alumni Leo Rossi as Turkell, the homicidal maniac who joins forces with Cordell to lay waste to the city. Rossi is almost unrecognizable with a bushy beard consuming his facial features. Seriously, it looks like it’s been slowly eating his face. His initial introduction sets him up as an affable strip club aficionado who likes to charm the ladies with his candid demeanor, but that all changes rather quickly when he assaults a stripper, gyrating on top of her while shouting “I feel like John fuckin’ Wayne!” just before attempting to kill her. Turkell isn’t the shy, quiet type like most serial killers depicted on screen. No, he’s a loudmouth, balls-out, crazy loon who takes great pride and pleasure in his work. There’s a great dichotomy to having these two paired up – Cordell, the uber-strong, silent type; and Turkell, his mouthpiece with extremely violent impulses. I would have watched the hell out of a Turkell spinoff movie.
Remember how bad Cordell looked in the first film? Even Lustig has said the FX work left much to be desired. Well, desire no more because the undead, waterlogged Maniac Cop has been given a new appearance for his return, sporting appropriately gruesome makeup that makes him look like Jason (from Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan) Voorhees’ brother. It’s a huge step up from the previous picture. Lustig and Cohen always had intended for Cordell to have an iconic look, sort of like a Universal monster. Of the three films in the series, this is the only one to achieve that vision. The only downside? Much of the film either totally obscures his face in darkness, or he’s shot from angles where his face isn’t seen at all. This may have been due to any number of factors (which aren’t covered anywhere on the disc), but when Cordell is shown in all his glory, he’s as memorable as any other leading (dead)man.
Although we’ve got a few returning faces from the first film, the sequel introduces a couple of new faces that eventually go on to take over the picture. Personally, I think it takes balls to bring back fan favorite characters (played by fan favorite actors) only to see them dispatched when the audience least suspects it. This only works if the film brings in commensurate substitutes, which they did via Robert Davi and Claudia Christian (who apparently hated making this picture). Both seamlessly take over the lead roles, but there are so many great actors doing work here in roles big and small. Clarence Williams III shines as a soon-to-be death row inmate who gleefully joins up with Cordell and Turkell, breathing devilish life into what is essentially a minor role. Michael Lerner adds a heaping dose of gravitas as the police commissioner, Doyle. Eagle-eyed fans should easily spot a younger Danny Trejo playing a prisoner, sleeping away on a bench in a cell. He doesn’t even get a line.
Once the chaos concludes and the credits begin to roll, that doesn’t mean the fun has to stop. Jay Chattaway, who provides a frenzied score reminiscent of Harry Manfredini’s work on the Friday the 13th series, was told the film needed a pop-type song to end on. And somehow, out of that note, we got the Maniac Cop rap. Remember when the Fat Boys rhymed an ode to Freddy? This is just as incredible in a totally ironic kind of way.
Maniac Cop 2 embodies all of the excess that made ‘80s horror sequels so great (well, a lot of them anyway). The stunt work alone is outstanding, but when you add in Cohen’s tight script, a litany of stellar performances, and one shockingly violent scene after the next it’s apparent why fans of this series continually point to this entry as the apex. So, who better than Lustig’s own company, Blue Underground, to deliver the goods on blu-ray?
Along with Synapse (really, Don May, Jr.), Bill Lustig is one of the few people who horror fans can feel confident will lovingly restore and repair any film on which he’s working. A/V quality has always been a staple of their releases. Still, even I was amazed to see that a brand-new 4K high definition transfer was created from the original negative. Some new films don’t even get that kind of treatment! As expected from the pairing of Lustig and 4K, the results here are nothing short of spectacular. Even the recycled footage from Maniac Cop at the beginning is slightly improved from that film’s blu-ray. The image maintains a healthy layer of grain to keep the filmic aesthetic that never becomes noisy or obtrusive. Color reproduction is very strong, showcasing a number of hues which are well saturated and bold. Definition is generally sharp, though I’d hesitate in saying it’s impressive. There are still limitations inherent to the source, but is this the best the film has ever – or will ever – look? Undeniably. There are a number of audio options, but the one to choose (if your equipment permits) is the lossless English DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround sound track. I know some audio purists dislike newly-created multi-channel offerings, but Lustig has done this with respect to both old & new technology. Rear speakers are used seamlessly to buttress the score, not to explode with unnatural effects that seem incongruent with the film in screen. If anything, the expanded soundfield allows for stronger separation, pulling viewers that much closer into the universe of Maniac Cop. Gunshots have presence, and the bass does kick up a bit more when the action gets into full swing. Plus, all those extra channels and bass means that closing rap track is going to ensure even your neighbors know the lyrics. There is also an option to watch the film with Jay Chattaway’s score isolated in 2.0 sound.
There’s no way BU could release this film without packing the disc full of extras. I really loved the commentary track with director William Lustig and filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. Yes, the guy who directed Drive (2011), among many other excellent films. This track is odd because Refn seems to have been added as an afterthought, like he dropped over to Bill’s house to see if he wanted to get lunch and found himself invited in to do a commentary. Refn appears to have seen the film, though he really knows nothing about how Lustig made it, where he made it, etc. So, a chat between two friends becomes an interview of sorts, with Refn quizzing Lustig on aspects of the production both major and minor. Lustig has so many great anecdotes to offer up, imbuing them with his no-nonsense attitude that makes him so much fun to hear speaking. If nothing else, you will be amazed at how Lustig shot this in Los Angeles and NYC and made the two appear synchronous. “Back on the Beat: The Making of Maniac Cop 2” is a 45-minute documentary featuring very candid recollections from the cast & crew. Nobody holds anything back here, not that anyone has anything bad to say aside from Lustig and Christian mentioning their poor relationship on set. Rossi has some great stories to share, too. “Cinefamily Q&A with director William Lustig” runs almost 30 minutes, with Lustig answering fans’ questions after a screening of the film at a Los Angeles theater in Sept. 2012. Much of what he says was covered in the previous doc, but he does expand upon a few stories to help make this worth checking out. There’s a deleted scene included – “The Evening News with Sam Raimi” – that would’ve seen the director reprising his newscaster role from the last film for a brief bit. There are trailers included for International, U.K., French, and German releases of the film, and a poster & still gallery with over 200 images. Finally, the set comes with a DVD copy of the film, and for you slipcover nerds there’s a slightly embossed one included over the case as of this writing.
You have the right to purchase this blu-ray and enjoy the hell out of it.
4 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5