Judge Patrick Bromley for making it through this whole review without referencing that song from Flashdance.
You have the right to remain silent? FOREVER!
It took me many years to finally see William Lustig's original Maniac Cop, a movie with a great premise and a great title but a slightly disappointing end result. Though it had some of Lustig's characteristic low-budget charm, a grubby '80s New York aesthetic and a lead performance from Bruce Campbell, it felt like exactly what you would expect a killer cop movie to be. It wasn't bad, it just felt uninspired.
The same cannot be said of its 1990 follow-up, Maniac Cop 2, newly released on Blu-ray by Blue Underground. This is the best kind of crazy movie, one that gives itself over to excess and bloodshed and which doubles down on its own concept. I don't know how I went this long without seeing it. The movie is terrific.
Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness) and Laurene Landon (The Stuff) return as Jack Forrest and Theresa Mallory, the New York police officers who finally put a stop to undead killer cop Matthew Cordell (Robert Z'Dar, Tango and Cash) in the original Maniac Cop. They're convinced that he's not dead, though; anyone who came back from the grave once can probably do it again, the pair theorize. They're asked to undergo psychiatric evaluation from police shrink Susan Riley (Claudia Christian, Babylon 5), who eventually teams up with Detective Sean McKinney (Robert Davi, Licence to Kill) to solve a series of stripper murders that puts them right in the path of the Maniac Cop.
While Maniac Cop 2 is guilty of pulling some stuff I'm never a fan of in horror sequels (I won't say what, exactly, but it's not hard to figure out), it improves on the first film in nearly every way. Finally, the movie delivers on its crazy premise. It features a number of great sequences, chief among them being an incredibly bloody shootout at a police station and another good one in Sing Sing prison. It further zombifies Matthew Cordell and even puts him on screen some more. Teaming him up with a serial killer is a stroke of genius, recalling some of the old Universal Frankenstein movies (the serial killer is like a cross between Igor and the old blind man). We even get some of the Maniac Cop's origin story played out on camera, and while it doesn't make him sympathetic, it does make him a more interesting villain. Maniac Cop 2 is also the only horror movie I can think of that's resolved with a megaphone.
If someone was to actually sit down and map out the exact plot of Maniac Cop 2, it wouldn't really make sense. Larry Cohen's screenplay takes detours into the weird underground lair of a serial killer who is not the Maniac Cop. It spends a lot of time on a bus, and even more inside a prison (in both flashback and current day). It also boasts an incredible lineup of character actors: in addition to Campbell, Z'Dar, Christian and Davi, there's Michael Lerner (Barton Fink) as the Deputy Commissioner, Clarence Williams III (Tales from the Hood) as a prisoner on his way to Sing Sing and Leo Rossi (Halloween II) giving the movie's craziest performance as bushy bearded serial killer Steven Turkell. It's impossible to resist a movie with this many great familiar faces, particularly when so many of them appear to be acting in different movies. It's great to see Robert Davi play the good guy, particularly this kind of hard boiled, seen-it-all detective. Rossi couldn't go any bigger. Only Claudia Christian falters, never really committing to the spirit of the thing. She's half smiling through many of her scenes, but never because she's amused by the material. It's almost as if she's trying to distance herself from it. According to her autobiography, she did not enjoy the experience and Lustig didn't really enjoy working with her. That might explain things.
It would be difficult to say enough good things about the HD transfer on Maniac Cop 2. It's rare that a low-budget cult horror movie look this good on Blu-ray, but this is one of the best catalogue transfers I've ever seen: colors feel bold and saturated, a layer of film-like grain covers the image, revealing just how much fine detail is present and there are no visible signs of age despite the movie being made on the cheap over 20 years ago. It's incredible. And if that's not enough, Blue Underground has included four audio options from which you can choose, the best of which is a 7.1 lossless surround mix. Dialogue is always clear, and the surround track boasts impressive dimensionality and some cool rear channel effects. There are also available subtitles in 15 different languages.
Director Lustig sits down with filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive) for a commentary track that covers a ton of information spanning all three Maniac Cop movies. Beyond the novelty of having a celebrated director like Refn appearing on the commentary, he's great to have on there because he's so clearly a fan (and is apparently planning a remake of the original, because when you love something you have to make your own version). It's a really good conversation. Also included is some footage from a Q&A with Lustig recorded at Cinefamily, a gallery of poster art and still photographs, an isolated music score and a collection of trailers for different countries, none of which are subtitled in English.
The best bonus feature is the nearly hour-long retrospective documentary on the making of the movie, featuring just about every major player involved. I'm a sucker for these kinds of retrospectives no matter what, but this one is especially good because so many of the participants are completely honest about the experience (Lustig is pretty blunt talking about his feelings toward star Claudia Christian) and about the movie they made. It's entertaining, informative and often very funny.
Maniac Cop 2 is in every way a superior sequel. The cast is better, the violence more plentiful, the story more completely crazy. Blue Underground's efforts with Maniac Cop 2 are as good or better than anything being done over at Scream Factory, and that's high praise indeed. I'm bummed that I went over 20 years without seeing the movie, but I'm glad that my first experience with it was on a version this good.
Disc is great, movie's a blast.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
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