Maniac Cop 2 & 3

NOVEMBER 21, 2021


To me, the true sign of a new format hitting its stride and being here to stay (so, unlike Divx or HD-DVD) is when high profile direct to video stuff starts coming along. You can always count on the studios to jump into the fray with their classics (it seems Warner Bros puts Goodfellas out on a new format the second it exists), and the boutique labels will test the waters with their big guns (i.e. Scream Factory with Halloween 1-5), but it's not until I see the likes of Maniac Cop 2 and Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence hitting 4K UHD that I can truly breathe easy and know that this is the format we will use for another eight or nine years until something better comes along yet again.

In fact, the original film still isn't even out on the format, making the sequels' appearance all the more wonderful. It was certainly a win for me, as I have never actually seen either of them; I remember a friend putting on MC2 one night when having me and a few other like minded "horror guys" over, but we all talked and drank through the entire thing, so when I sat down to watch it properly (a decade later to boot) it was basically like seeing it for the first time. More than once I've gotten questions about the films wrong during horror trivia, so I had them penciled in to finally get around to seeing anyway - what a treat to get to see them all properly remastered and what not!

Anyone who has watched the credits or behind the scenes stuff on the Fast films will know the name Spiro Razatos, as he has served as the main stunt coordinator for all of the mainline films since Fast Five, but he got his start as a regular stunt guy and later coordinator in smaller genre films like this - one of his first credits as coordinator was the infamous Silent Night Deadly Night 2, in fact, which explains why such a junky film has such amazing stunts (I'm still blown away by the car almost hitting Santa Ricky). William Lustig, who directed all three films (though he didn't shoot all of the 3rd one, more on that later) wisely retained his services each time out, and it's what he brought to the table that makes these films so much more fun than you might expect. The stunt work here, especially in MC2, outpaces what you'll find in movies that cost five times as much.

Razatos' work also helps make up for the fact that, you know, Tom Atkins isn't around anymore. While the vengeful titular character (played by Robert Z'Dar in all three) can be resurrected time and time again, the people he kills stay dead, so Atkins doesn't come back for MC2 and (spoiler for 30 year old movie ahead) surviving co-star Bruce Campbell is wiped out in his third scene, which was probably a real shock to audiences then but for me was pretty much the only thing I remembered about it. He is more or less replaced by Robert Davi, who has considerable presence, but is really used better as an antagonist or foil, not a leading man hero. And it doesn't help that his character seems completely different in the 3rd film, though it makes sense when you listen to the commentary by Lustig and Joel Soisson (who finished the film when Lustig quit; the two have patched things up) and realize the role was indeed written for a new character, but due to the demands of their foreign distributors, they had to bring Davi back via rewrite (unless I missed it, it's unclear how, if all, Davi's character - who survived MC2 - was originally meant to be handled in the 3rd film).

Luckily, Lustig stacked his supporting cast with so many ringers that it hardly matters who the lead is. Davi's Die Hard co-stars Grand Bush and Paul Gleason pop up in the third one, as does Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, and Ted Raimi. And in MC2 you get even more! Leo Rossi, Clarence Williams III, Charles Napier, Michael Lerner, and Danny Trejo are all on hand, as is Sam Raimi, reprising his newscaster role from the first film (Ted is the newscaster in 3, but I'm not sure if he's supposed to be the same guy - either way, it's a funny recasting). I was actually disappointed to see producer/writer Larry Cohen didn't rope Michael Moriarty into one of them somewhere.

Lustig has said that the 2nd film is his favorite of all the ones he's done, and while I can certainly see why he'd feel that way, I gotta be honest: I think I actually preferred 3, if only by a hair (I gave them both three stars, if that's how you measure success). Maybe it's because my expectations were so low due to knowing that it had problems (Lustig even took his name off; he's credited as Alan Smithee), but while MC2 is a lot of fun it's basically a straight up action movie with some supernatural elements tossed into the mix, and has that Predator 2 problem (hey, Davi is in that one too!) where the hero spends most of the movie trying to figure out what we already know from the first movie. So the action is top notch, yes, but the story itself is never very involving even by sequel standards.

Badge of Silence, on the other hand, apes Bride of Frankenstein (!) and has Cordell sort of protecting a would-be successor, a female cop who likes to jump into the fray and worry about things like paperwork later. She is brain dead from a shootout, so Cordell stalks the hospital, murdering doctors who don't care about trying to save her while Davi tries to clear her name (some tabloid guys who filmed the shootout made it look like she killed an innocent witness). Not only does this keep the film from feeling too much like a retread (and also doesn't make 2's weird mistake of focusing on a different villain for most of the middle of the movie), but the voodoo-tinged elements and Bride aping puts it back into horror territory. There are still a pair of great action scenes (hard to top 2's car chase, admittedly, but this time Cordell is on fire the entire time so that gives it some oomph), but overall it comes off more as a traditional revenge movie like Dr. Phibes or something, albeit filtered through Lustig and Cohen's warped/grindhouse sensibilities.

Both films come with a decent smattering of bonus features, though the only ones on the 4K disc are the trailers and the commentaries. Nicolas Refn moderates Lustig on MC2, and it's not the best track I've ever heard - Refn is bizarrely obsessed with the film's financing and distribution history as opposed to what is happening on screen, so while there are some good insights here and there (including a pretty funny story of how they landed Davi in the first place), I spent most of the time wishing Lustig had just gone solo and maybe talked more about, you know, the actual movie. However, even if you hate Badge of Silence, I think you'll enjoy the (new) commentary with Lustig and Soisson, as the two have let bygones be bygones but occasionally stumble into awkward territory (on occasion they can't remember who directed a certain scene, Soisson brings up a Fangoria where Lustig mocked him, etc), making it the sort of candid track we rarely get to hear anymore. The rest of the bonus features, all from the previous releases, are on the included standard Blu-ray, and include a Q&A from a screening of MC2, a few deleted scenes, and a retrospective doc for each films. As those Blu-rays are nearly a decade old I'm sure anyone who really wanted them has seen them by now, but it's good that they're all included; as with the commentaries, the retrospectives don't hold back on unpleasant matters about the films' respective productions, so that's always a plus.

A remake (by Refn, in fact) has been in the works for a while, though I'm sure the real life crimes of police officers make a story about a framed cop a hard sell right now, unless they plan to lean into it and update the story for today's world. On the other hand, some folks might take pleasure at scenes of Cordell mowing down entire precincts (as he does in MC2), so I dunno. A remake will certainly get Synapse inspired to remaster the original (again, assuming it's still under their control), so for that alone I'm all for it - these two are going to look lonely on my shelf without the original next to them! (I only had the DVD, and got rid of it a while ago because it was such a bad transfer; I assume if I were to buy the Blu-ray they will announce a 4K before my purchase even got delivered, so I'm gonna let someone else take that bullet.) If you already own the Blus and don't care much about improved transfers, there's definitely no need to upgrade 2, but MC3 is worth buying for the new commentary for sure - or just to, like Lustig himself, give it a fresh look and realize it's really not all that bad.

What say you?


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