Tuesday 20 May 2014

Maniac Cop 2 [1990]

MANIAC COP 2 is an American action / horror movie that was directed by William Lustig and originally released in December 1990.  It stars Robert Davi, Claudia Christian and Robert Z'Dar with supporting performances from Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Leo Rossi and Michael Lerner.  Very much like the original, this sequel concerns the havoc caused (again) by crazed, undead cop Matt Cordell (Robert Z'Dar) who has returned from the grave (again) to seek vengeance (again) against the baddies who did him in.

The first film in this series was well received even by the mainstream film critics.  I think what they admired was its energy, the engaging cast and the right blend of horror, action and investigation.  For the most part the same can be said of this sequel although on the down side it suffers from the inevitable familiarity inherent in franchises.  Lustig tries to cover this up by introducing a rather disturbing and incredibly hairy serial killer (Leo Rossi) character who teams up with Cordell.

Cordell and Turkell compare blades

I don't think I'm spoiling the fun too much to say that Campbell and Landon briefly reprise their roles from the first movie before they are killed off to introduce two new 'heroes' in Davi and Christian.  I say 'heroes' not as some sort of homage to David Bowie but because basically they're not hugely likeable people.  Davi plays guilt-ridden detective Sean McKinney who is gruff, unfriendly and deeply suspicious of police psychologist Susan Riley (Claudia Christian) whom he believes is responsible for getting good cops suspended from duty.

Laurene Landon and Bruce Campbell

However, they quickly cotton on to the fact that a series of cop slayings must be the work of Cordell; attempting to convince slimy police commissioner Doyle (Michael Lerner at his oiliest) they are met with scorn and a marked lack of cooperation.  What then follows is a series of set pieces, usually involving violent action the odd couple try to track down their man / zombie.

Matt Cordell goes to work

Lustig directs in a style reminiscent of Larry Cohen, which comes as no surprise because Cohen wrote and produced the film.  What they have in common is a lean, kinetic style, a good eye and a terrifically imaginative use of urban locations.

I think Lustig isn't quite in Cohen's class: Cohen has a better control of pace and mood. whereas Lustig is rather too keen on the violent action, which has the effect of making his films feel relentless. By way of underlining that point I can say that the body count in this film is astronomical and more police cars are smashed to bits than in any film save THE BLUES BROTHERS [1980].

Robert Davi as Detective Sean McKinney

Having said that, there are a couple of touching moments: a blind newspaper seller recounting how he lost his sight in WW2, and a stripper speaking to her mother on the phone, reassuring her that her secretarial career is going well.  Lustig also elicits good performances from his cast although Laurene Landon, bless her, is no great shakes despite playing a character she has played once before.  As does Robert Z'Dar although little is required of him other than to be a great hulking menace which is to be said he does with aplomb.  There is some spectacular stunt work too, especially a couple of full body burns which you don't see that often these days.

Lustig has only directed a few pictures, three of which are in this MANIAC COP series.  Of the rest I think all of them are urban action thrillers or, in the case of his debut feature MANIAC [1980], a horror movie. MANIAC has a great central performance from Joe Spinell, the fearless character actor, who was slated to play Leo Rossi's role in this film but sadly passed away before shooting began.  I ought to say that MANIAC isn't strictly speaking Lustig's debut feature: whisper it quietly but he made a couple of porn movies in the '70s.  He's obviously very fond of the word 'maniac', and why not?  My friend Marshy reckons 'Maniac Cop' is the best exploitation film title ever; it's certainly up there with Larry Cohen's THE STUFF [1985], that's fer damn sure!

Claudia Christian as Susan Riley

Bruce Campbell is familiar to millions from THE EVIL DEAD movies and plenty of other delirious movies. Like Jeffrey Combs, he just has one of those face that are impossible to take seriously.  Laurene Landon isn't a prolific actress but nevertheless has been in plenty of genre fare, much of it in concert with Larry Cohen. She's also in an excellent film about women's wrestling called ...ALL THE MARBLES [1981] directed by Robert Aldrich; it's well worth a look.  Robert Davi is another familiar face albeit one that is only ever going to get him work as a tough guy.  Still, he's had a long and successful career out of it so who's complaining? Maybe Mrs Davi, I guess.  Claudia Christian who is a whole lot prettier than Robert Davi has also had a good career although mostly on TV, notably in BABYLON 5.  I think this was only her second feature film, after Jack Sholder's terrific little B-picture THE HIDDEN [1987].  Robert Z'Dar makes scores of films and is instantly recognisable as he suffers from cherubism which causes the face to grow abnormally large.  That sort of makes him a modern day Rondo Hatton but it's something he has embraced and turned to his advantage; I don't anyone could claim that he is being exploited.  Finally, there are a couple of blink-and-you'll-miss-'em cameos from Charles Napier, B-movie king de nos jours Danny Trejo  and, somewhere, because I didn't spot him, Sam Raimi.

I can't resist this still to end on: Laurene Landon about to duke it out with Matt Cordell.  With a chainsaw.


  1. Another excellent piece of work, on a blog filled with them. I stand by my..er... comment. You know that I'll have to watch this one now, don't you?

  2. I would expect nothing less from a connoisseur such as yourself Marshy. Now that I've seen two I can't really miss the third one. Watch this space!