Maniac Cop Trilogy
The main reason I am writing this is the release of the two sequels, so I am gonna try to focus less on the original and a bit more on the overall trilogy and the two sequels especially. Needless to say, as is recently the law, whenever Blue Underground digs up one of their titles and presents them in UltraHD format, they all look top notch. With Maniac Cop, a mostly overlooked and underrated franchise was born in the late 80s that is overdue for a reappreciation.
Maniac Cop (1988)
The story: A mysterious uniformed cop is brutally mordering innocent people in New York City. The police chief tries to keep this quiet, but as the bodycount increases, detective Frank McCrae stumbles onto something and starts believing Jack Forrest, a young cop his superiors want to hang out to dry for the murders. The real killer may still be out there, so him and his colleague and girlfriend Theresa need to find the Maniac Cop and prove their innocence before more people die….
While I was watching it, it dawned on me that there is a slight chance I might have seen it before, but at least not consciously so this was me watching it for the first time, or almost like that. What a picture! Maniac Cop is of course super 80s in a lot of ways, and yet again Lustig hits the nail on its head. Look past the problematic issue of a cop killing innocents, the genious of this movie is that it’s basically a twist on the original vigilante movie: this time it’s upside down, it’s not a fed up citizen taking the law in their own hands because of police inaction, it’s a rogue cop running amok and being fed inside information from the department. The great twist is early on when a cop dies by the hands of an armed citizen because everyone gets scared of a maniac cop on the loose. There’s plenty of irony there. It’s a crazy situation and from then on the key characters are scrambling to identify and then stop the killer. It’s a highly entertaining, only marginally trashy but mostly dead serious slasher flick with some early Giallo influences very clearly. Original Shaft Richard Roundtree as the police commissioner, Tom Atkins as Detective Frank McCrae (you know him from The Fog or The Rockford Files), the legendary William Smith as Captain Ripley (a character you don’t know whose side they’re on) and a great Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead) as Jack Forrest, the cop wrongly accused out to save the city. There’s even a cameo by Sam Raimi in there. Overall, this is a wholly unjustly overlooked flick, and deserves to be seen!
The movie was written and produced by Larry Cohen (Q – The Winged Serpent), and produced by James Gllickenhaus (The Exterminator), but directed by Bill Lustig. Now despite being a Lustig movie this one isn’t out from his own company. In some countries it’s currently out of print, but for example in Germany there is a budget BluRay of this, and in generally it can be found to buy or to stream almost anywhere. This article’s header image is a screenshot from the Synapse BluRay that was released ten years ago, by the way.
Manica Cop 2 (1990)
The story: The second instalment picks up where the first one left off, revisiting the final minutes of confrontation, not sure if these are alternate takes and so on or if they shot some new things, at any rate, it’s a refresher. We all know the maniac is back. Cordell’s body wasn’t found, so Jack Forrest (Campbell) and Theresa (Laurene Landon) remain worried, but still nobody would believe them. The Commissioner Doyle (Michael Lerner) sends them even to psych eval Susan Riley (Claudia Christian). Detective McKinney (Robert Davi) by chance also sees Riley, because of a recent fatal shooting on duty. He’s not one for counseling but he lost his partner Minelle some time back. When Jack gets killed, McKinney teams up with Theresa, who Riley was forced to define unfit for duty. They all lean on Theresa to find out who killed Jack (assuming it might be her due to her relationship with Jack) but McKinney is a good cop, and so is Riley, so they want to find out who really killed Jack and whether Theresa is saying the truth about Cordell (Robert Z’Dar) being alive. As bodies pile up, there’s yet another hunt for the Maniac Cop on its way…. and a fight for survival.
There’s a lot to like about this sequel with most of what worked plus an added body count. It picks up directly after the first, which is a nice play by the director and writer. Then there’s some interesting cameos in there, by Danny Trejo, Sam Raimi and again also Charles Napier as TV host. One of the victims is played by Paula Trickey who I remember from that bicycle cop show Pacific Blue in her first movie role. She performs a great scream queen here. The story is quite solid and a good and immediate follow up to the first one. There are some brilliant stunt and action sequences in here that would feel at home in a big budget action movie, there’s the mystery around the Maniac Cop that made the first part great and that certain superhuman aspect of it. The only thing that bugged me a lot, and more so than in the first, was the maniac’s face prosthetics and makeup… I guess that didn’t age so well. Also the climax is a bit lame, and the movie is similarly unbalanced as the first one when it comes to its characters. Davi doesn’t have much screentime despite having top billing, for example, the movie can’t really quite make up its mind who the main character is. But we all know… it’s the maniac cop! By the time the credits roll it’s almost like Cordell is now part of that roster of characters Freddy, Jason etc….
This one is now available on a brand new 4K UltraHD BluRay release from Blue Underground. The transfer looks absolutely great and this for a movie from 1990, it looks rather artsy with the colors so vivid and the texture so nice like that. It really looks absolutely gorgeous, no doubt about it. Once more, as I often do, the problem with the Dolby ATmos track on my system is that the volume is quite a rollercoaster, but overall it sounds great. There’s an alternate 2.0 DTS-HD track on there as well though. also an isolated music track. The BluRay version of course has „just“ a 5.1 DTS-HD MA track instead of this. There is a shitload of subtitles on this one, so no matter where you are, this is a solid import. Let me list them: English SDH, Canadian French, Latinamerican Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, Italian, traditional Mandarin, simplified Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Russian, DAnish, Dutch, Finnish, Norse and Swedish. Wow.
Where it’s a bit thinner (at least in relation to some of BU’s other releases) is on the extras side. There’s an audio commentary with Bill Lustig and Nicolas Winding Refn and four trailers on the UHD. The commentary is very informative and engaging and you can hear Lustig’s passion for the project just as well as Refn’s knowledge and genuine interest. It made me appreciate the movie a lot more of course and it was more entertaining than I expected, too. The chemistry between the two works, and I like how Refn asks a lot of questions to complement Lustig’s account.
The BluRay has the same specs (in regular HD formats of course) and some additional extras. There’s “Back on the Beat – The making of Maniac Cop 2” which is an interesting 45-minute documentary retrospective on the film with tons of interviews, which looks fantastic, is very interesting and entertaining and highly recommended companion watching. In short, it’s a great doc even though there is pretty much no actual behind the scenes footage or anything of that sort. Then there’s a Q’n’A with Lustig from 2012 recorded at/by Cinefamily after a screening of the film. Another one full of anecdonets and laughs. Then there’s a deleted scene from the evening news where you get to see more Sam Raimi. Rounding it off are a few theatrical trailers and a poster and still gallery.
Maniac Cop 3 – Badge of Silence (1992)
All good things are three, so this time we again pick up right after the previous one, but when they buried Cordell, he doesn’t stay buried. A voodoo priest brings him back from the dead an now he once again roams the streets of New York. Police officer Sullivan (Gretchen Becker) meanwhile kills a robber and an accomplice during a robbery which gets caught on camera. Known as a hot shot and with the tape not showing the whole story, she gets suspended. McKinney gets suspicous about the case, and befriends Sullivans doctor Susan (Caitlin Dulaney). Cordell’s murder spree is oddly systematic and circling in on Sullivan and McKinney, who figures out the voodoo trickery while staying alive wich Cordell on his toes, trying to save his colleague, falling in love with Susan and putting a lid on the Maniac Cop affair once and for all.
Lustic and Cohen (with the help of Joel Soisson, who is mostly known as a producer for lesser horror flicks… and Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure, among other things) are back for the third instalment of the series, with Davi returning as McKinney and of course Robert Z’Dar as Cordell. The story takes a turn for the slightly absurd but it’s only consequential. You can’t kill this maniac, he was never really human, and if you do, someone’s gonna bring him back. And this time someone actually did….
So they tossed in some Voodoo, and a hint of Nightcrawler, and you have an interesting third part. According to the extras, this wasn’t the greatest experience, but hey, I think it ended up fine, even though I think it’s the weakest of the trilogy. Sso apparently Lustig hated the result enough to go by Alan Smithee, but honestly I don’t think this film is that bad at all, at least not that bad. Mostly, I am not a big fan of the whole movie more or less spending a lot of time circling around that hospital setting, there’s just a lot of build up that’s not getting us anywhere. You can see that it had only half the budget of the second one, and lovers of classic cinema will realize the whole Bride of Frankenstein concept going on all over the script.
What’s kinda awsome is how Davi can go full Hard Boiled in one scene, you really see the John Woo influence there. While there’s less of the Maniac Cop and more of the cop and love interest, the movie makes one thing better than the other two, which is focus, at least kind of. It’s still a bit all over the place and then the ending feels a bit stiched together, gone is any sort of emotional background to the maniac. But of course here they went full on ridiculous. The cop always had something supernatural to him of course, but for the most part that meant that he was stronger than humans and just really hard to kill. here he comes back from the dead. A great ending to a great franchise, not on a high note, but hey it’s absolutely solid and entertaining.
This one is now available on a brand new 4K UltraHD BluRay release from Blue Underground as well. You get a sound choice of either a new Dolby Atmos track or the original 2.0 DTS HD stereo. Once more, this sounds great, with plenty of depth and surround. Once again tons of language subtitles as well: English SDH, Canadian French, Latinamerican Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, Italian, traditional and simplified Mandarin, Korean, Japanese and Russian.
Extras on the UHD are the audio commentary with director Alan Smithee, which is hilarious because it’s of course Bill Lustig (with Joel Soisson, the main producer) talking candidly about the movie in 2021 (fun fact: he was replaced with Tony Scott on True Romance, so he was bummed while making this), which makes the commentary even better, because they reminisce about an experience that wasn’t great but with all that distance behind them, this is a super interesting and also objective reevaluation of it, anyways, it is a highly entertaining commentary, almost as good if not better than the movie. And then there is the theatrical trailer.
The BluRay includes, aside from the movie and the extras that are also on the UHD, a 25minute making of featurette “Wrong arm of the law” with Cohen, Soisson, Lustig and so forth, including Z’Dar and Davi, so it is kind of a general overview of what is also being talked about in the commentary. Then there are seven deleted and/or alternate scenes between 20 seconds and 2 minutes of length., not of them apparently purposeful enought for re-inclusion but nice to see them presented here. There’s also a poster an still gallery, and the original 1991 synopsis, which is a few text sheets with the original pitch to sell the film.