Maniac Cop 2 Reviews
Written and directed once again by William Lustig, Maniac Cop 2 is the best action-horror film you've probably never heard of. Full of elaborate stunt sequences, superb early-nineties make-up effects, and just a dollop of gratuitous nudity, this film is a significant improvement over the first movie in every major category-- it's creepier, it's more exciting, and the plot progresses naturally from the first film while taking the situation to the next level. Why Maniac Cop 2 was relegated to home video is beyond me; the film's production quality (including cinematography that doesn't look like a holdover from the seventies) is certainly up to snuff for the kind of stuff that was in the multiplex at the time. But alas, the movie only received a direct-to-video release, and even now it's tough to find a good copy on DVD (every release is in full frame, but I don't think it was actually shot that way). Despite that, it's developed a small but dedicated cult following, and with good reason: this movie has every staple of a classic cult genre movie, from chainsaws to car chases to Bruce-freaking-Campbell himself (unfortunately, the movie's biggest misstep is that it kills off Bruce's character in the first ten minutes). And to top it all off, Maniac Cop 2 does the franchise a serious favor by turning its villain, Matt Cordell, into a misunderstood, even sympathetic monster out for revenge-- one that looks way better than he did before, as actor Robert Z'Dar now sports an iconic make-up that aesthetically puts the character in the same league as Freddy or Jason.
The film starts the way most 80s-era sequels do: with a recap of the climax of the previous film, in which Officers Jack Forrest and Teresa Mallory confronted Matt Cordell on the docks, culminating in him driving a police van off the pier and into the water. Neither Forrest nor Mallory believe that Cordell is actually dead, but the department wants to keep a lid on their story to save face, and ignore their warnings. Sure enough, they're right; Cordell tracks both of them down and kills them off within the first twenty minutes, leaving us with two new leads: Detective Sean McKinney, a loner cop with a disdain for authority and a pet peeve about psychologists, and Susan Riley, a police psychologist who was counseling Mallory, and who sees firsthand the kind of damage that Cordell can do. The two buddy-cop their way through the story, trying to figure out what set Cordell down his path of destruction; at the same time, Cordell falls in with Steven Turkell, a small-time serial killer with a penchant for strangling strippers, and the two become an odd couple in their own right (Cordell even moves in with Turkell-- I'm not even joking). When Turkell is tracked down and arrested, however, Cordell goes on the rampage, slaughtering his way through the central precinct to rescue his new B.F.F., and, backed by an army of freed prisoners, the two hatch a plan to break out every convict in Sing-Sing-- capturing Susan Riley along the way and holding her as a hostage. If it sounds like this plot is kind of all over the place, it is... but that just kind of adds to the movie's charm.
The new lead in the film, Robert Davi, is as much of a genre staple as Bruce Campbell, but he lacks a lot of the former's charisma on-screen, coming across as a little too hard-boiled to relate to (he actually spends a lot of his screen time in a fedora and trench coat); still, his grizzled Detective McKinney makes for a serviceable and sympathetic hero. Also serviceable, though seriously lacking in personality, is Claudia Christian in the role of Susan Riley. She's an empathetic presence in the film, I suppose, and her lack of experience in the field makes her an effective foil for the world-weary McKinney, but there just doesn't seem to be much going on with her character. But like most horror sequels, this film belongs to the monster, not the men, and Robert Z'Dar's Matt Cordell truly blossoms as a villain in this film-- establishing a more specific M.O. (kill the innocent, protect the guilty), giving him a concrete motivation (if a somewhat illogical one) and a set of goals, and even developing his personality (insofar as it's possible to develop the personality of a brain-damaged, near-mute murder-machine). This is done mainly through his unlikely friendship with shaggy-haired psychotic roommate Steve Turkell, played by Leo Rossi (whom you might know as the foul-mouthed prankster Budd from Halloween II). Turkell is a manic blabbermouth who latches onto Cordell the moment they meet, often acting as a mouthpiece for the silent juggernaut. The two develop a surprising rapport fairly quickly, which actually engenders some sympathy from the audience-- after all, even though one's a sleazy, murderous degenerate, and the other's an undead abomination, they're both clearly quite lonely, so their friendship is actually pretty heartwarming... in a bizarre sort of way. Laurene Landon is back from the last film (for the first act, at least) as Teresa Mallory, the vice cop who knows Cordell is still alive, and for such a short performance, oh, boy, does she make an impression-- her delivery somehow manages to be both melodramatic and emotionless at the same time (and it doesn't help that she gets the worst lines in the film, such as this little gem: when asked why it mattered who they saw on the pier in the last film, she shrieks "Because you can't kill the dead!"). Finally, Bruce Campbell returns as well in the role of Jack Forrest, and... well, he only has two scenes (and a flashback, which is the highlight of his appearance in the film), but he still managed to get second billing on the box. Take that as you will.
This script is a perfect example of poor story structure. The plot only really kicks in about halfway through the film, and before that, it's only a series of random killings and a completely unnecessary switch-over from one set of protagonists to another (something they did in the last film, too...). The dialogue is clunky and awkward, filled with clichés and non sequiturs (can someone please tell me what the "Two Dead Boys" rhyme has to do with anything?), and the story is resolved way too easily, with a hackneyed message tacked on about corruption and the system being the cause of everything. What ultimately saves this movie, however, is the execution. B-movie director William Lustig knows how to wring every ounce of quality from his limited budget, giving us a visually engaging film with phenomenal cinematography and significantly improved make-up effects. But the highlight of the film, without a doubt, is the stunt work. Car chases, shoot-outs, fire stunts-- this movie has all of them, and they're all the more impressive when you realize that the film only had a $4 million budget to work with, and that all of the stunts were performed for real, in camera. The action is well-shot and clear (for these were the days before shaky-cam), and the editing is smooth and effective at building tension. Basically, this is as good as exploitation cinema gets.
Maniac Cop 2 isn't exactly the pinnacle of the cinematic art form. It's a shameless B-movie filled with sleazy characters, gratuitous nudity, and graphic violence, all set against the backdrop of New York City at its scummiest. But in terms of those B-movies, this is definitely the cream of the crop. Loaded with atmosphere and action spectacle, and featuring a unique and memorable movie villain, Maniac Cop 2 is an endlessly watchable film that stands proudly as a follow-up far superior to its drab, slow-paced predecessor. It may not be The Dark Knight or Godfather II, but it's earned its place in the pantheon of exceptional sequels... direct-to-video or not.
The human torch and the car chase was impressive.
Officer Matt Cordell (lantern-jawed character actor Robert Z'Dar) was a "super cop" who always went beyond the call of duty. His name -- and monster presence -- struck fear into the hearts of evildoers everywhere in New York City. Realizing Cordell is more of a loose cannon than they can handle, a bunch of corrupt superiors have decided to frame him for a crime he did not commit. After Cordell was found guilty, he was sentenced to incarceration in a maximum-security prison called "Sing Sing". While at Sing Sing, Cordell was attacked and "apparently" killed by a bunch of angry inmates...
Well . . . maybe not. It turns out that while Cordell has been brain-damaged after the attack, he is still breathing. Cordell eventually dons his old police uniform and decides to patrol the streets while swinging his favorite stick. But here's the twist: Matt Cordell is not interested in killing criminals; he would rather kill innocent bystanders and seek revenge on the city for doing him wrong. Two brave cops, Jack Forrest (Bruce "Please stop calling me Ash" Campbell) and Teresa Mallory (Laurene Landon) have thwarted Cordell's plans of wrecking havoc upon the city, but my friend, this is only the beginning...
After Cordell "apparently" drowned, both Forrest and Mallory are required to see police psychologist Susan Riley (Claudia Christian). Forrest and Mallory claim that Cordell has been responsible for the massive citywide killing spree, but of course, Susan Riley does not believe them . . . until she then witnesses Cordell, the "Maniac Cop" for herself. Now, she must convince fellow cop Detective Sean McKinney (Robert Davi) as well as the narrow-minded authorities (authorities have this bad habit of denying the truth if it will blemish their reputation) that Cordell, the Maniac Cop, is responsible for all those killings. But will they believe her before everything is too late?
Meanwhile, Cordell is spending his nights killing people and framing others for the murders. In other words, he makes police brutality look like child's play. Trust me, you do not want to cross paths with Matt Cordell! If you do, either get the hell out of the way or pray that he will only arrest you! Anyway, to make a dreadful situation even more woeful, Cordell finds himself teaming up with Turkell (Leo Rossi), a serial killer and self-professed "crusader against the whores of the world". He hates strippers and whores so much that he loves murdering them for fun. Of course, the filmmakers fail to address why Cordell would want to chill with Turkell, but keep in mind that he is indeed a brain-dead zombie-like corpse so his motives will not always make sense...
Like its initial entry, Maniac Cop 2 benefits from a colorful cast who play a variety of interesting characters. Veteran character actor Robert Davi portrays McKinney as a brass, cynical cop with a shady past (naturally). McKinney himself has a few psychological problems of his own; this is attributed to his partner's suicide. Robert Davi is a bit dull as McKinney, who often looks either bored or tired. And even though Davi is top-billed, Claudia Christian as Susan Riley is the true star. She plays a strong-willed and resilient character who is forced to perform beyond her regular job duties (she often talks about how she lacks experience on the street) in order to expose the truth. Michael Lerner (who would go on to be nominated for an Oscar for his supporting role as Jack Lipnick in Barton Fink) turns in a decent performance as Deputy Commissioner Doyle, who looks the other way when the police psychologist tries to tell him the truth about Matt Cordell.
Incidentally enough, the supporting players are more interesting than the main characters. Leo Rossi shines as a maniac (no pun intended) who preys on nightclub strippers. Rossi provides a lot of sick & perverted comic relief, and he looks like he is enjoying himself. Isn't it always more fun to play the bad guy rather than the hero? Robert Z'Dar is perfect as the Maniac Cop. Like Kane Hodder (who portrayed Jason Voorhees in several Friday the 13th movies), Z'Dar essentially possesses the persona of an imposing and intimidating figure. Also look for a cameo appearance by Robert Earl Jones (James Earl Jones's father) as a blind newspaper salesman. In one scene, he delivers a surprisingly potent speech about how he lost his sight in combat during a particular battle at Sicily.
Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, and Charles Napier are all underused, but they do their best with their limited screen time. I only wish that Campbell was given a more prominent role. One has to wonder how interesting it would have been to have seen Robert Davi and Bruce Campbell team up together on-screen...
Overall, many of the characters in Maniac Cop 2 were cliched, but you cannot deny the fact that they were fun to watch.
Perhaps learning their lesson from the first film, both Cohen and Lustig have spent their resources on improving the action scenes in this sequel. Thanks to some damn good (and even clever) action scenes, Maniac Cop 2 manages to rise to the occasion.
There are at least three major action scenes worth talking about. First, there is a prolonged runaway sequence where Susan Riley is handcuffed to the steering wheel (!) of a speeding car -- while forced to stay by the side of the vehicle. She must somehow climb inside the vehicle and take control of the steering wheel. Keep in mind she is doing all this amidst heavy traffic on a narrow highway. The second memorable action scene is a bloody shoot-out which takes place at a police station (an obvious homage to The Terminator and Assault on Precinct 13). While it is way too short, it is nevertheless intense with plenty of bloody squibs used for maximum effect. There is also the climactic action scene taking place at the prison Sing Sing which is a must-see pyrotechnics show. Director William Lustig helps keep the action move at a swift clip and kudos to stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos for the amazingly jaw-dropping stunt-work. The pacing is also much better in this sequel. The original Maniac Cop often became tedious at times but somehow, Maniac Cop 2 does not fall under that trap.
The horror elements are not as effective the second time around, but they still hold up with a decent amount of scares and efficient jolts. Since there is a lack of ambiguity regarding the Maniac Cop's character -- this time, we know for sure that he is a zombie cop, ala Jason Voorhees in a police uniform, as opposed to the first Maniac Cop, where we can debate whether he was just a madman -- some of the film's shock value may not work. Still, Cohen;s clever script manages to surprise us with some unpredictable twists which make this film only scarier and more suspenseful.
The make-up effects are rightfully ghoulish and add only to the horror. In particular, when you see a ghastly close-up look at the Maniac Cop's face, your hair will immediately turn white.
Although Larry Cohen did not direct this movie (William Lustig was responsible for bringing Cohen's premise and script to life), it still has his signature written all over it. One of Cohen's signatures in his movies is his use of conventional ideas but with an unconventional touch. For example, his cult classic It's Alive, is pretty much your standard monster-on-the-rampage movie . . . only the monster is manifested as a mutant baby. In The Stuff, a hilarious parody of "killer slime" movies (such as The Blob), yogurt food is not what it seems. Maniac Cop 2 follows suit with the adventures of a law-breaking serial killer cop (as opposed to just a law-breaking serial killer). I think that Cohen does all of this on purpose as a reminder that everything we hold sacred is not necessarily so. In the case of Maniac Cop 2, yes, even a cop can be a troublemaker.
There is a bit of social commentary integrated into the script though it is not as in-depth as one would expect from a film with Cohen's signature. Here, Cohen attempts to take a stab at the media, corrupt politics, and the thin line that separates the cop from the criminal. Of course, Cohen here focuses on the third aforementioned aspect but he does a good job exploiting man's inner fear of witnessing law enforcement go bad. Think about it, we often entrust ourselves to police officers because we assume that they protect and serve us, and also save us from trouble. However, what happens when it is a cop who is responsible for causing trouble? Who do we turn to? As Sean McKinney mentioned in the movie, if people cannot trust law enforcement, they would "...not want to pick up the phone and dial 911. They are gonna want to defend themselves..."
Of course, one of Cohen's other trademarks is his use of dark humor to lighten the tone a bit. Most of the characters in Maniac Cop 2 like to engage in wisecracks. An example of such dark humor in this movie is when we see a cop about to have a businessman's car tolled away. The two get in an argument. But as soon as the cop is whacked in the head by a nightstick (not by the businessman), he is quickly killed. You know what the businessman does? Instead of panicking, he grins and tears up the ticket. I also found the male bonding between Cordell and Turkell to be humorous. We see two unstable personalities ready to take on the Big Apple...
For a low-budget production, the weaknesses are not too prevalent since most of the components of this film work unexpectedly well, but here goes. The real weakness with this sequel is the main character himself. In the first film, the audience could sympathize with the main character. Beneath the grotesque appearance, the audience could see him as a person with a soul. However, in this follow-up, the audience loses touch with the Maniac Cop. No longer can they see this crazed cop as a human being; rather they see him as a monster with no feelings, no remorse, and no conscious. This does hurt the film's credibility a bit, but I guess it is a reminder that the more Cordell loses his mind, the more he forgoes his traces of humanity.
Maniac Cop 2 may very well be one of the most criminally underrated and ignored films ever. If you are tired of being force-fed formulaic slasher flicks, then Maniac Cop 2 is a welcome change from the norm. While Maniac Cop works effectively as a more of a traditional horror film, this sequel surpasses the original in almost every way possible. Maniac Cop 2 is a buried gem waiting to be discovered by a wider audience. This is one of the finest B-movies ever made -- and trust me, that is no easy feat.
you have the right to remain silent...forever:)
Our survivors of the original Bruce Campbell and Lana Clarkson are currently seeing a psychologist about their story of a "dead cop reeking revenge." Of course our killer cop returns, surviving his tumble into the harbor and quickly disposes of Bruce with his trusty knife in his billy club (Evil Dead fans' hearts are breaking everywhere!). Cordell then sets his sights on Clarkson and manages to kill her but not without our psychologist character (Claudia Christian, the babe from The Hidden) witnessing the occurrence. Now she, with the help of hardnosed cop Robert Davi (a character no doubt filling in for the absence of Tom Atkins) try to stop Cordell as he is teaming up with a serial stripper killer.
The action is on par with the first film and in typical Lustig fashion the stunts are absolutely AMAZING especially for the budget. The highlighted stunt has to be a car speeding out of control with a person handcuffed to the wheel while OUTSIDE of the damn thing! There is another amazing action sequence when Cordell enters a police station all Terminator-like and literally blows the living hell out of everyone. He even throws a cop threw what seems to be like 10 walls!
Like the first film the cast is also tops for a B movie. Hardcore Bruce Campbell fans will no doubt be upset that he bits it within the first 10 minutes but the rest of the cast is a nice ensemble. I really dug Robert Davi's burnt out cop character and he was a nice companion piece to the Frank McCrae cop character played by Tom Atkins in the original.
The problem I have with this sequel is, no disrespect to Larry Cohen, is some of the plot devices. Why is Cordell teaming up with a serial killer? Somehow it all ties into clearing his name but I just didn't find it to gel well. The mysteriousness of the Cordell character is also lacking here he is just a full on tougher than hell zombie. The original played with the aspect that he may be alive or dead but not here. He's just a zombie.
Overall this is a badass sequel to the original. Lustig again puts all he can into the film to make it look like it had 10 times the budget it did and the film looks wonderful as a result. Perhaps with a script that made more sense on the purpose of Cordell's mission would this sequel have been as good as the original. As is though this is a sequel that is highly worth checking out and in my humble opinion one of the top sequels the horror genre has to offer.