Saturday, April 18, 2009
#59: Maniac Cop 2 (William Lustig, 1990)
I've seen four of director William Lustig's films, and three of them have the word "maniac" in the title. The one that didn't, Relentless, was about a maniac. I find that hilarious. Lustig, a fine but relatively graceless director of urban horror and crime films, excels at sleazy atmospherics and kick-ass action scenes. Maniac Cop 2, like its predecessor, succeeds at both.
The original Maniac Cop was a winning hybrid of horror, crime thriller, and action movie with a boatload of cult movie actors, including Bruce Campbell in the lead. Maniac Cop 2 picks up right where the first film left off (literally -- the first five minutes are the last five minutes of the first film). Despite this recycling of scenes from Maniac Cop numero uno, which clock in at about 15 minutes of the 90-minute running time, the rest of the sequel is just as good, if not better, than the first. (A digression: I just had a German pancake in the middle of writing this post. Holy shit, it was good.) As you can probably guess, the maniac cop's reign of terror is not over, though the police commissioner decides it is for the sake of public appearances. A police psychologist interviews Bruce Campbell and Laurene Landon, who claim the maniac cop is still undead and out to get cops and innocent people. Campbell eventually plays ball to keep his job, but Landon is declared unfit for duty. Meanwhile, Robert Davi (right-wing wing-nut and Rush Limbaugh/Ann Coulter buddy who, nevertheless, is a fun actor) gets involved in the case, as well as another crime spree, the serial killings of strippers. I find it funny that the neo-conservative Davi has to say lines written by the left-of-Castro Larry Cohen.
Though the story is pure horror, an unfairly disgraced cop comes back from the dead to get revenge and teams up with a serial killer, the movie is predominantly an action film in horror's clothing. The movie is full of fights, shootouts, car chases, and explosions. One particularly exciting car chase sees a woman handcuffed to the steering wheel by the maniac cop and pushed into busy traffic. She is on the outside of the car, except for handcuffed hands. It's nuts! It's bananas! Leo Rossi as the serial killer is a nice touch. He replaced the originally cast Joe Spinell, who died before the film was made, and he does well. His character is not your typical serial killer. I don't want to give too much away, but Rossi's killer is much goofier and more polite than the typical movie murderer. Other small parts of note include a sleazy robber who is reduced to making the clerk scratch off lottery tickets when the safe can't be opened and a blind news vendor played by James Earl Jones' dad.
Director Lustig, stars Campbell and Robert Z'Dar, and screenwriter/producer Larry Cohen are back on board, though Campbell has a much smaller part this time around. Cohen and Lustig make a good team. Cohen is one of the giants of B-movie filmmaking. As a writer/director, he's made some of the most wildly interesting cult films of all time. Look at some of these titles: the oddball character study Bone, which plays like a cross between a Cassavetes and Polanski film; the blaxploitation classics Black Caesar and Hell up in Harlem; the killer baby movie It's Alive and its sequels; the Hoover bio-pic The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, which has more wit, energy, and style than every Hollywood bio-pic combined; God Told Me To, the finest mass psychosis/murder spree/detective thriller/alien abduction/artificial insemination/hermaphroditic Christ figure movie with an Andy Kaufman cameo ever made; Full Moon High, a teenage werewolf comedy that preceded Teen Wolf by three years and featured hilarious cameos from Alan Arkin, Ed McMahon, and the guy who played Sanford's son on Sanford & Son; Q: The Winged Serpent, an awesome combination of gritty urban crime film and the giant-monster-terrorizes-a-big-city genre; the Hitchcock by way of De Palma homage, Special Effects, with Eric Bogosian and Zoe Lund; The Stuff, which I still need to see; and The Ambulance, which I can't even begin to describe. I love Larry Cohen. William Lustig is not in Larry Cohen's class, but he's made some fine B-movies himself, including Maniac and Maniac Cop. He hasn't directed a movie since the zombie Gulf War vet film Uncle Sam in 1997, also written by Cohen, but he does quality film restoration work for the Anchor Bay and Blue Underground video companies. I highly recommend those labels. And I recommend Maniac Cop 2.
By the way, Maniac Cop 2 is only available on used VHS and is hard to find in video stores. However, Netflix has recently started offering on-demand copies of movies that aren't on DVD yet, so if you have Netflix and are set up for its instant play feature, you can see Maniac Cop 2 even if your VCR is broken or no longer in existence.