Maniac Cop 2
For how many sequels there are in the horror genre, itís pretty surprising how few of them are ever directed by the original director. The Exorcist, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Saw, Howling, Amityville, you name it, those series have had a revolving door of directors, even starting with the first sequel. For the visionaries who did stick around, the spoils were usually sweet, like Evil Dead II, Dawn of the Dead, Gremlins 2, Phantasm II, et al. We wonít talk about The Hills Have Eyes II, Wes. Mr. Blue Underground himself, Bill Lustig, is another of the few directors who hung around for sequels to his work, namely with Maniac Cop 2 and 3 (his buddy Alan Smithee took the credit for that one, though). I suppose you could argue that the original Maniac Cop is a spiritual sequel to the grindhouse flick that put Lustig on the map, Maniac, but I digress. Like Maniac, Maniac Cop was a sales success, arresting big bucks in 1988 and onwards on video, prompting discussions for a sequel. The stars aligned and Lustig, Writer Larry Cohen, Composer Jay Chattaway, Cinematographer James Lemmo, Editor David Kern, Stunt Coordinator Spiro Razatos and actors Bruce Campbell, Laureen Landon and Robert ZíDar all suited up for the sequel. Bill Lustig calls it his favorite of his films, does this Cop deserve the declaration?
Stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos would go on to make a name for himself with the Fast & Furious movies, and thatís just how this film begins. Without even a single credit, the starting frame is a car shooting towards the camera. Itís footage summarizing the climax of the previous film, but itís edited in such a slam bang way itís even more intense the second time. The maniac cop Matt Cordell (the implausibly chinned Robert ZíDar, Tango & Cash) was impaled and sent plummeting to the bottom of the New York harbor, but after a moody credit sequence weaving through a junkyard, we see that heís back and behind the wheel. Cordell wastes no time in wasting the cops that brought him down the first time, spearing Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) and breaking the neck of Teresa Mallory (Larry Cohen regular Laurene Landon). With reports of a hulking police officer killing others on the force, thereís little question who the culprit is, and now the force must look within to stop him!
Youíve got the commissioner, Edward Doyle (Michael Lerner, heís been in everything but I remember him best from Omen IV) who is in denial about Cordellís zombie-like return, Detective Dean McKinney (Robert Davi, not far removed from his Die Hard character) who is determined to stop the cop at any price, and psychologist Susan Riley (Claudia Christian, The Hidden) who is brought into the case after her patients, Forrest and Mallory, were slayed. The three of them must bring down the monster the force created when Cordell was originally knifed and beaten in Sing Sing after taking the fall for the commissioner.
Cordell is not alone, however, enlisting the aid of bearded sociopath Steven Turkell (the great Leo Rossi of Halloween II and Relentless fame). Turkell has a history of soliciting and strangling strippers, and his unwavering insanity makes him the perfect henchman for Cordell. When Turkell is, um, fingered by the stripper Cheryl (Paula Trickey), Cordell has to break Turkell out of prison. Together the two head back to Sing Sing, where Cordellís torment all began, to settle the score once and for all with the three men who mutilated Cordell. Itís a classic tale of a cop wanting to clear his name, only it all happens while the cop is covered in fire. Needless to say, it all goes up in flames.
What Iíve always liked about the films of William Lustig are their sheer joy for spectacle. Thereís no reserve in the way he tells stories Ė he loves to entertain, to pull of that big stunt, that bloody special effect or to continue the legacy of a cult actor. You could compare him to Tarantino or Eli Roth today, but thereís no pretention to his work. Lustig started making pornos and many felt Maniac wasnít much different, but he has that blue collar appreciation for entertainment that makes him such an endearing figure of exploitation. Heís a guy who loves movies Ė you can see it in the way he assembles his casts, always peppering them with memorable character actors instead of big stars. There arenít a lot of guys out there who would kill off Bruce Campbell in favor of showcasing the pockmarked Robert Davi. Look deeper and you see vets like Charles Napier (The Silence of the Lambs), Clarence Williams III (Tales from the Hood) and Danny Trejo (Machete) in small but memorable parts in Maniac Cop 2. Itís not just this movie, all of Lustigís films are hen pecked with engaging footnotes of cinema.
You look at the crew for Maniac Cop 2 and you can say that Lustig knew how to pick his support, too. His DP gave us some unforgettable imagery in Madman and Ms. 45, his sound editor went on to win the Oscar for The Matrix, and his stuntman has a laundry list of movies with amazing stunts (including, even the ďGarbage Day!Ē sequence in Silent Night, Deadly Night 2). He got Larry Cohen, who at the time was almost exclusively writing for films heíd direct, to write, and employed his underrated collaborator, Jay Chattaway, to once again deliver a memorable score that feels like John Carpenter by way of Ennio Morricone. Speaking of Carpenter, thatís sort of what Lustigís films are like. Carpenter was never one for pretention despite a vast knowledge of movies and a keen understanding of cinematic style. For a time, Lustig was to the east coast what Carpenter was to the west. Maniac Cop 2 starts with a bang and it never lets up, one-upping itself scene after scene with a new stunt, camera move or murder. Lustigís a man who loves the grindhouse, and with Maniac Cop 2 he made a movie that he know he, and his audience, would like. He was right on the mark.
Maniac Cop 2 is a wild ride, quite literally with that spark-filled car chase involving a woman handcuffed to a steering-wheel and a taxi cab out of control down a busy New York street. You think thatís the big stunt, and then Robert ZíDar breaks through about 10 plate glass windows while shooting up a precinct like heís the Terminator. Then he jumps out of a 5th storey window. On fire. Put simply, this is a film that knows itís about base thrills, but itís one that embraces it. Itís a grindhouse film in content, with seedy strip bars, excessive over-the-top violence and a meat and potatoes plot, but in style itís all Hollywood, beautifully shot, sharply edited and acted with committed vigor. ďI feel like John Fuckiní Wayne!Ē yells Leo Rossi while attacking a stripper. Not quite, but he believes it, and thatís sort of the appeal of Lustigís films. Itís schlocky subject matter, but Lustig approaches it like heís Howard Hawks, and that love for storytelling is infectious. While I prefer the plot of the first film, thereís no denying that the second one-ups the first in nearly every other regard, and itís all the better for it. Maniac Cop 2 is a kitchen sink sequel that deserves mention in the same breath as the celebrated sequels for Evil Dead, Gremlins and Phantasm. Itís fun, kinetic storytelling that knows itís ďjust a genre filmĒ but refuses to believe it. Itís a damn good time.
Considering this is the owner of Blue Undergroundís favorite movie, itís no surprise then that considerable work has been devoted to this visual transfer. The screenshots should show just how sharp and colorful this new transfer is. Those crimson reds in the sewers look comic book vivid and the browns in the strip club give grim a new kind of beauty. Itís rare for films of any kind, especially ones of this age, to show such vibrancy, but Maniac Cop 2 looks just wonderful, like it was lensed through stained glass. Itís no secret that Bill Lustig loves the Grindhouse, and the grain structure on this release certainly pushes that vintage, grainy aesthetic. Much like their transfer for The Stendhal Syndrome, Blue Underground has seemed to introduce an added amount of grain in favor of a sharper picture, but it seems to work better here given the pulp subject matter. Something that might not quite go over as well for fans is some additive fire overlays that were layered onto the climax. There were always two shots in the original print for Maniac Cop 2 where Cordellís fire didnít look as full as the rest of the coverage, so when going back to the source elements Lustig decided to add additional fire to make it all match. As youíll see in the comparative screens, the change looks largely for the better, but purists may have a word about that.
Another thing of note: Maniac Cop 2 was always presented open matte since itís VHS debut, but as Lustig makes very clear on the extras on this disc, this film was always intended for theatrical release. As a result, this new 1.85:1 framing of the picture is the first time since LaserDisc that we get to see it in Lustigís intended ratio, and thatís definitely the preferred framing. Less dead space on the top and bottom, more comfortable compositions on close-ups and a greater sense of speed during the chase sequences. This matte transfer certainly makes a good film even better.
It seems like most companies these days have abandoned full 7.1 mixes, but Blue Underground continues to remain devoted to pushing the full spectrum of the HD spec. With Maniac Cop 2 we get DTS-HD 7.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX and the original 2.0 Dolby track. Unlike a lot of remastered 7.1 tracks, this one actually takes full advantage of the extra channels, pumping the sound out with great directionality. During the gun range scenes unique shots register in different speakers, and the stripper scene is fully enveloping with the pop music in the front sides, the cheering and clapping in the back, and the crisp sound of a $20 bill unfolding in the center channel. Every sound element registers with a crisp and hiss free amplitude. You can tell with the inclusion of an isolated music track as an extra that the sound elements were taken very good care of, and as a result this is a surround remix that actually sounds as if it were made today rather than twenty odd years ago.
Blue Underground doesnít cop out on the extras, either. Thereís a wealth here, satisfying probably every avenue for Matt Cordell fans. First thereís an audio commentary with Lustig and Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn. The two exhibit a nice friendship and Refn actively picks Lustigís brain on creative choices made from shot to shot and even goes further into getting Lustig to talk about his own creative process. Lustig shares his opinion on things like shot lists, and is certainly candid when he talks about behind-the-scenes elements in his film, like his adversarial relationship with Claudia Christian on set (and afterwards). When heís not being questioned by somewhat green to the franchise Refn, Lustig is still busy pointing out interesting facts and tidbits from scene to scene. Worth a listen.
There is also a 47-minute documentary, ďBack on the Beat: The Making of Maniac Cop 2Ē produced by the always dependable Red Shirt Pictures. Immediately what stands out about this is how candid everyone is in regards to the dark side of the business. Lustig talks about how he was out of work and how Larry Cohen was just fired from a movie, so the two decided to hash out a sequel to Maniac and a month later Lustig was behind the lens making the first movie. The doc doesnít shy away from conflicts on set either, with both Lustig and actress Claudia Christian talking about their displeasure with one another. All the main actors are back and sharing humorous stories, like Leo Rossiís bit about going to a real strip joint in character and getting kicked out, or Michael Lerner laughing at the fact that Lustig wanted a Jewish guy to play the Irish police commissioner. Fun, informative and quickly paced, this doc does a great job at encapsulating the passion all the people involved had for the project. Itís no surprise, then, when Lustig says how proud he is of the film as the credits roll.
The isolated music track is also included, featuring the quality compositions of Jay Chattaway. Blue Underground has also separately released a soundtrack featuring all these audio cues, but itís nice to watch them in context with the film here. Also nice is that the pop songs not featured on the official soundtrack are included here as well, like Buddy Milesí ďChildren of the NightĒ during the strip scene where a bearded Leo Rossi makes nothing but eye contact with the dancer. The track is silent besides the music and there are a number of dry patches, so itís best to scrub through to your favorite scenes and see how they play with just the music rather than watching it full.
A Q&A (27:36) with Bill Lustig that was shot in September 2012 after a Maniac Cop 2 screening is also included. Between the doc, the commentary and this Q&A there is a fair bit of overlap between what Lustig says, but the spontaneity and honesty of this uncut talk still makes the stories fun to listen to. The crowd also gives Leo Rossi an honorary applause for the girth of his beard in the film. Thatís love.
Thereís one deleted scene, which is a mock-news story hosted by Sam Raimi, reprising his role from the original film. Pretty funny with all these fake interviews with ďrealĒ people talking about the maniac cop.
Also included are various promotional pieces, including a Cannes text teaser, English, German and French trailers, and a hilarious ďMovie TimeĒ preview that begins with George Thorogoodís ďBad to the BoneĒ before some trite interviews with Robert Davi, Robert ZíDar, Leo Rossi, Michael Lerner and a mulletted William Lustig. Thereís also a gallery of posters, advertising materials and stills from the film. Short of a sit down with Bruce Campbell, there isnít much more you could ask for on this release.
Bigger budgeted sequels donít necessarily mean badder. Director William Lustig pretty much one upped his first film in every way with Maniac Cop 2: A bigger cast of quality character actors, more deaths, bigger stunts, better camerawork, it all combines for a wild ride through the dark side of New York (and LA technically). This new Bluray and DVD combo pack shows the film equal respect, with a crisp and vivid visual transfer that even tries to fix a few flaws from the original cut of the film. The audio is expanded and powerful, and the extras lengthy, diverse, and the best thing: honest. The love for entertainment comes through in the extras just as it does in the film. Maniac Cop 2 protects and serves in double the dose, and this combo pack deserves the gold star.
I've avoided this film for a while mainly because I'm not crazy about sequels and the original didn't exactly blow me away, but this review might just get me to pop this one in!
Thanks for the correction, jack. Review updated.
i'm in doubt about this one, as i found the Original to be, quite frankly, boring!
Supposed to be getting this in the mail today and this outstanding review has me even more pumped.
As much as Claudia still looks hot, WTF happened to Robert Z??
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