The Films: I vividly remember be instantly drawn to Maniac Cop from the very moment I saw the television ad and heard that hooky tagline: “You have the right to remain silent…forever.” Unfortunately I had to wait till the VHS release since I was too young to see it theatrically. At the time, Canada had a very severe ratings law that restricted anyone under the age of 18 admittance, regardless if he or she was accompanied by an adult or not. Well, when I did finally get my hands on Maniac Cop, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a top notch action/horror hybrid, led by Director William Lustig’s (Maniac, Vigilante) underappreciated direction and Larry Cohen’s (It’s Alive trilogy) typically loving B-type screenplay. Ensemble which includes the likes of Tom Adkins (in one of his most memorable performances) Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree and William Smith and Robert Z’Dar is unusually strong for such material. Maniac Cop 2 followed two years later and is arguably even better.
This sequel picks up where the original left off with the title character aka Matt Cordell returning from his watery grave to exact revenge on the people who wronged him. What makes him such a compelling antagonist is that he’s oddly sympathetic despite the vicious killing spree he goes on. He kills off characters you like and despite that, you find yourself rooting for him and his cause. Cordell is not unlike the Frankenstein monster in that case. It’s very easy to spot how the influence of those classic Universal Monster films had on Lustig and Cohen. As with most sequels, the scope and ante is stepped up. Z’Dar is back as the relentless Cordell and Campbell and Landon make brief appearances. New to the cast is the reliable Robert Davi (The Goonies, Licence to Kill), in total noir-mode as Detective Sean McKinney, Michael Lerner (Barton Fink, Harlem Nights), Claudia Christian (The Hidden, Babylon 5) and the gleefully scenery-chewing delight that is Leo Rossi (Halloween II, the Relentless series). They are totally in sync with the picture.
In hindsight, the plotting in these Maniac Cop movies are seriously preposterous yet it never hurts them. They somehow make sense in the context of the world the filmmakers have created. There is an EC comics vibe at its very core. The tone is established from the get-go and never strays. I found myself with the story all throughout. You either hop on the ride or you don’t…and boy, what a wild ride Maniac Cop 2 is. It’s jam-packed with surprisingly first-rate action set-pieces especially the police station rampage. The stunt-work commandeered by Stunt Coordinator extraordinaire Spiro Razatos (The Fast and the Furious franchise, to name one of an enormously long list) is genuinely impressive in execution. A lot here is equal if not better than what we presently see in present day blockbusters. They all hold up well since things were done practically. Maniac Cop 2 delivers a fresh experience while all along staying true to what fans dig about the original.
Maniac Cop 3 followed three years later, taking the filmmakers love of Frankenstein even further. Tough female officer Katie Sullivan is gunned down on the job and goes into a coma. If matters weren’t bad enough, Katie is charged after two freelance reporters edit the video of the shooting to make it look like she was using excessive force. With the help of a voodoo priest, Cordell rises from the grave, determined to reign down upon his no-nonsense style of justice onto everyone who’s wronged Katie, whose unfortunate situation is all too familiar to him. He may also be looking for a female counterpart to share in his torment à la Bride of Frankenstein. Maniac Cop 3 suffered a problematic production, so much so that Lustig dropped out of the picture during shooting, forcing Producer Joel Soisson to step in and complete the picture. Despite the baggage, the film somehow works well enough. The familiar and reliable presence of Davi and Z’Dar certainly help matters. This is one of those movies that’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable than I initially remembered it being. Along with Hellraiser: Bloodline, Maniac Cop 3 might be the only decent films under the Alan Smithee pseudonym.
It’s definitely the weakest of the bunch yet still delivers the qualities that have made the franchise sustain its cult following. Maniac Cop 3 is a darker, more mood-driven piece. The pacing is noticeably slower which despite dragging at times; helps enhance the gothic horror qualities that set it apart from its predecessors. The same level of surprising craftsmanship in this series continues here. The amazing Cordell-on-fire sequence from part 2 has been taken one step further with him being completely engulfed in flames for an entire car chase!? This is the kind of crazy stuff that has always endeared me to these films. It all sounds rather nutty when you sit down and think about it. The films’ idiosyncrasies lend them an appealing flavour unlike no other seen in horror cinema. Maniac Cop 2 and 3 are unpretentious, go-for-broke genre filmmaking at its most charming.
The A/V: These Blu-rays contain brand-new 4K HD transfers. The prints are in flawless shape. I never quite knew how handsomely-shot these B-pictures were till now. The video features rich colours, solid contrast and a nice uptick in detail than previously seen before. Also, film grain looks healthy throughout. It’s mind-boggling how amazing Maniac Cop 2 & 3 look here. Blue Underground has provided two of the more impressive transfers I’ve seen all year.
Maniac Cop 2 comes with four tracks to choose from: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Dolby Digital 2.0, as well as the welcome inclusion of the soundtrack in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. I have to commend Blue Underground in how they’ve handled upgrading these older mixes time and time again. The DTS-HD Master Audio track sounds rock solid throughout. The surrounds are utilized a lot more often than I originally anticipated. Dialogue and score sound clear, better than ever. It won’t compete with present mixes yet still offers an exciting experience all throughout.
Maniac Cop 3 is accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0. The lossless 5.1 mix is just as good as its predecessor. The bass channel in particular packs an impressive punch.
My only nitpick with these releases is the exclusion of lossless audio tracks for the original 2.0 mixes. Purists such as myself love the option to go with whatever audio we feel like listening to and in the best presentation possible. Nonetheless this is up and away the best these films have ever been translated to the home video market. Overall expectations are exceeded beyond my wildest imagination. The care put into these films’ A/V presentation is exquisite. These are upgrades of epic proportions.
The Supplements: As expected, Maniac Cop 2 is given much more of a spotlight of the two releases. “Back on the Beat – The Making of Maniac Cop 2” (47 mins) is the most substantial feature on this disc. This featurette gives a great overview of the entire production with a bunch of interviews with the likes of Lustig, Cohen, Davi, Christian, Rossi, Lerner, Z’Dar and more. “Cinefamily Q&A with Director William Lustig” (29 mins) is a neat conversation following a theatrical screening of Maniac Cop 2. It has some tidbits not covered in the other features. There is an audio commentary with Lustig, moderated by Filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive and Only God Forgives). It’s obvious the two get along. Refn does a good job steering the discussion. This is a treat from start to finish. There is an extensive poster and still gallery, as well as four theatrical trailers.
As expected Maniac Cop 3 gets the lesser treatment in the special features department yet what’s included contains more than enough info to satisfy curious fans. “Wrong Arm of the Law: The Making of Maniac Cop 3” (26 mins) nicely details the very troubled shoot from several perspectives which includes cast and crew members such as Lustig, Soisson (who directed a chunk of the film after Lustig jumped ship), Cohen, Razatos, Davi and Z’Dar, to name a few. While it would have been great to have a commentary by Soisson, this featurette gives a satisfying account of what transpired during the difficult making of the third installment. There are 13 minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes. The quality is much better than the usual exercised footage we generally see on these releases. There’s nothing here that screams to be put back in the film yet it’s still neat to get to see them nonetheless. The disc is rounded out with the trailer, poster/still gallery and the original synopsis. It’s totally bonkers in the manner we’ve come to expect from Cohen. A fun read.
Overall: I’ve always had a soft spot for the totally unique Maniac Cop franchise. They’re an eccentric, thoroughly entertaining lot. I dig how they combine genres in a manner they see fit – achieving creativity no matter how silly it may be. Lustig and Cohen play it with straight-faced with unwavering conviction. It’s wonderful to FINALLY have the sequels on my shelf, right next to the original. Never in a million years did I expect them to look this darn good, as well equipped with very fine supplements. Blue Underground has given us two of the more exceptional remasters released this year. Fans will not be disappointed.