Maniac Cop 2 and 3 Double Feature (US - BD RA)
Gabe doesn't invoke his right to remain silent with these superior sequels...
Maniac Cop 2
You Have the Right to Remain Silent…Forever!
The ‘Maniac Cop’ (Robert Z’Dar) is back from the dead and stalking the streets of New York once more. Officer Matt Cordell was once a hero, but, after being framed by corrupt superiors and brutally assaulted in prison, he sets out on a macabre mission of vengeance, teaming up with a vicious serial killer to track down those that wronged him and make them pay... with their lives! (From Blue Underground’s official synopsis)
Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember that, even in the exploitation/horror business, sequels quite often improve upon the original. Despite Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead 2, Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and Hostel II being high on my list of personal favourites, I sort of forgot to give the Maniac Cop series the same benefit of the doubt. The original film is charming and funny with solid performances from genre titans Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins, and Richard Roundtree, but it isn’t the best representation of Lustig’s particular skillset. I had seen the first sequel, but it was many years ago and I was watching it with little interest following my lukewarm reaction to the first film. As a home video reviewer, I’m regularly forced to revisit films I may have unfairly dismissed and, given its expanding reputation, I was very much looking forward to revisiting Maniac Cop 2 – especially since it was being presented in its uncut unrated version for the first time since…actually, I’m not sure the unrated version has ever been released anywhere.
Maniac Cop 2 is far and away the better film. The only things holding it back from fully-fledged ‘classic’ status are its ties to another inferior movie. The first act wastes too much valuable time tying up Maniac Cop’s loose ends. Otherwise, Maniac Cop 2 is effectively a thematic remake that could be accused of excessively revisiting the original film. But that’s fine, especially once Cordell has somewhat unceremoniously dispatched the previous film’s main protagonists. With the ties severed, the sequel morphs into a much sleeker, smarter exploitation vehicle. Even the additional flashback footage is included in support of this version of the story, not used as filler (as it is in the third movie). The characters are generally underdeveloped (due mostly to the set-pieces eating big chunks out of the svelte, 90-minute runtime), but, being based on a Larry Cohen screenplay, the film is still littered with interesting and unique people. Characters overcome a lack of development with charming quirks, funny lines, and uncharacteristically strong performances.
Lustig’s biggest achievement is evenly melding the action and horror genres like few other filmmakers ever have. He initially delivers a 42nd Street-flavored version of traditional slasher tropes (delivering more on the concept than Jason Takes Manhattan ever did), then flips the script with his first action set-piece, which begins as an average, crunchy car chase, then accelerates into a spectacular car stunt sequence that puts most Hollywood car stunts to shame. Lustig’s other film, the original Maniac Cop and Uncle Sam, for instance, look like they were made on a confined budget – there are no such limitations here, especially when Maniac Cop 2 is compared directly to the pricier crime movies of the early ‘90s, but scenes like the car stunt and the spectacular, Terminator-inspired police station massacre, bridge the gap between horror and action with style. The Lustig brand of gross, grindhouse grit is nestled inside a surprisingly mainstream-friendly framework, considering the subject matter. The unrated version is gorier than the 1990 MPAA was comfortable with (it would have no problem if it were released today), but the violence is punchy and entertaining, rarely disturbing.
It never fails to amaze me that a filmmaker can be the CEO of a home video company and still be unable to release his own films, due to tangled distribution rights. Until now, Lustig, who runs Blue Underground, has only put out three of his films on the format – Maniac, Vigilante, and Uncle Sam. The first Maniac Cop was released on Blu-ray by Don May, Jr.’s Synapse Films, minus any participation from Lustig. The Maniac Cop sequels, however, have never been available on US digital home video. The German, UK, and Aussie DVD versions of Maniac Cop 2 were better than nothing, but were all cropped to 1.33:1, making this new 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer the best on the market by mere default. But this is one of Lustig’s babies, so Blue Underground went the extra mile by scanning the original negative in 4K HD and remastered the film under the supervision of cinematographer James Lemmo. The results are spectacular. Maniac Cop 2 doesn’t look like a brand new movie, but it looks like a first-run print of an older movie. There has been no obvious DNR enhancement and grain levels appear normal, despite the steep increase in detail. Contrast is pushed higher than previous releases, leading to deeper blacks and harder edges, but no significant crush. The only ‘problem’ I can see is that the colour timing is perhaps a little warmer than the original release (skin tones lean a bit red), but I’m willing to defer to Lemmo’s expertise. Otherwise, the colours are spectacularly rich, especially the lurid reds in Turkell the serial killer’s creepy basement lair and livid blues of the strip club.
I’m not usually a fan of studios remixing original stereo/surround/mono soundtracks into 5.1/7.1, but I suppose Blue Underground earns the benefit of the doubt, since their boss was the film’s original director. That said, this DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is a little excessive for a film of Maniac Cop 2’s modest roots. Issues with over-done effects crop up almost immediately with footage from the first movie. Gun blasts, engine noises, and even the cocking of a shotgun are given a wide breadth of directional enhancement, but sound artificial and detached from the dialogue and incidental noise. Once we’ve moved on to the ‘newer’ footage, the additional effects work generally complements the ambient sounds, but stereo/surround additions and LFE boosts are distracting. The problem isn’t that the remix is badly done – in fact, many of the more subtle movements are adept, subtle, and natural – the problem is that the bad bits are jaggedly unbalanced. A key example is the crowd noise during strip club sequences. Clapping/cheering noises are placed in the middle of the rear channels to create the illusion of immersion, but their feeble sound quality makes the effect sound cheap. Returning composer Jay Chattaway’s score is occasionally pushed a little too far behind the other sound, despite the widened scope between the front channels. Overall, the new mix works more than it doesn’t, especially when Lustig is establishing the bustle of New York’s street life. Other nitpickers should be satisfied that the original 2.0 track is also included in lossy Dolby Digital, alongside a DTS-HD MA 2.0 isolated score track.
The extras include:
- An audio commentary with Lustig and an unexpected guest – Drive and Only God Forgives director Nicolas Winding Refn. I feared Refn would waste our time praising the film, but he actually makes a very good moderator/interviewer by asking a series of questions that Lustig himself wasn’t fully anticipating. The final effect is the best of both worlds – making time for Lustig to talk about the stuff he’d prepared while also acting as a more traditional interview track.
- Back On The Beat: The Making Of Maniac Cop 2 (46:50, HD) – A retrospective featurette that includes interviews with Lustig, Cohen, make-up effects designer Dean Gates, composer Jay Chattaway, and actors Robert Davi, Claudia Christian, Leo Rossi, and Robert Z’Dar.
- Cinefamily Q&A with Director William Lustig (28:40, HD) -– This repeats a lot of the same information in a different context (moderated by Joshua Miller).
- Deleted scene (1:30, SD)
- Poster & still gallery
Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence
The Wrong Arm Of The Law Is Back!
When Officer Kate Sullivan (Gretchen Becker) storms a hostage situation the whole incident is captured on tape by an unscrupulous media crew, who edit the footage to show her killing a helpless victim. Now in a coma, Kate's only hope is Detective Sean McKinney (Robert Davi), who desperately tries to clear her name. But unbeknownst to him, 'Maniac Cop' Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar) takes it upon himself to exact revenge upon those responsible for smearing her name.
I hadn’t seen Maniac Cop 2 in forever, but Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence shows up on TV every once in a while, so I was well aware that it would be a step back in quality. It’s still a pulpier, more entertaining film than Maniac Cop, but it just can’t pull itself together as consistently as its predecessor. The creative kills (Cordell makes great use of hospital equipment) and two very impressive action sequences (a bloody hospital shoot-out and another mind-blowing car chase) aren’t enough to overcome the cracks in the final execution. Following the events of the second film, it’s difficult to build a plot around the title character without him turning into a typical slasher movie hero, like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. But these films aren’t slasher movies – they’re B-horror-tinged cop flicks. Cohen finds Cordell a place in this story, but it’s a tangential place at best. The lead performances, especially Davi and Paul Gleason, are stronger and more natural this time around, but the characters are kind of mundane. The Lustig/Cohen brand of weirdo is only really embodied in bit parts, like Jackie Earle Haley and Robert Forster.
The problems with Maniac Cop 3 were apparently not lost on Lustig, who took his name off the film. Most prints bear the name ‘Alan Smithee’ as director, but Lustig was the main man behind the camera. At some point, he apparently walked off the set in frustration and was replaced by producer Joel Soisson (who is still a very busy B-horror producer). This probably accounts for the sloppy final execution. It feels like the end product was mashed together from two unrelated movies – the badass action/horror flick Lustig wanted to make and the cheaper, feature-length movie Soisson had to make. Both film’s virtues were sullied in the process. At the same time, it feels like Cohen was on to something with the voodoo angle. Black magic makes Cordell more of an old-fashioned zombie than Jason Voorhees and one that could maintain the Frankenstein-like sympathetic streak. Also, with his vengeance thoroughly consummated in part two, part three opens the door for characters to use Cordell as a sort of weapon or avenging angel in other sequels. There’s a good movie somewhere in this gnarled mess, the editors just couldn’t quite find it in time for release, it seems.
Maniac Cop 3 was also mastered from the original camera negative in 4K, though it was not supervised by cinematographer Jacques Haitkin. Unlike the second film, it was also available on US DVD, albeit cropped to 1.33:1. Also unlike Maniac Cop 2, it was released in anamorphic widescreen in the UK, but misframed at 1.85:1. This 1080p, 2.35:1 release is a massive improvement over previous versions, partially because it’s the first OAR release of the film. The image quality is quite as striking as the Maniac Cop 2 disc, but Maniac Cop 3 is arguably the better-looking production, so the upgrade is still very much worth the effort. In the past, the noir-like use of shadows was a huge problem. It was almost impossible to tell what was going on during the darkest shots on TV versions. In 1080p, the shadows don’t wipe out the finer highlights and Haitkin’s beautiful compositions can be judiciously appreciated. Grain levels are thin and details slightly tighter than the other release, possibly due to better chemical process/stock or simply because it’s a newer movie. Whatever the cause, the difference is clearest when scenes from the first two movies are cut into the mix. The sequences shot in brighter light aren’t quite as impressive, partially due to the lack of the hard black lines that give the image so much depth. Everyday situations (many of which were shot without Lustig, apparently) appear flat in comparison. The palette is a smidge subtler than the Maniac Cop 2 disc, but the hues are similarly uniform and crisp, without any notable macro-blocking or banding effects.
This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix is slightly less excessive than Maniac Cop 2’s 7.1 track, but is still pretty out there for a decades-old B-movie. The original 2.0 track already had more stylized stereo and surround effects than the first film, so the spread into discrete 5.1 is a bit more organic. The gunshots, explosions, and foley work all sound like original effects that have been augmented, not re-recorded for this release. The basic, centered dialogue and incidental effects are slightly less consistent. A handful of scenes are slightly flat and/or muffled compared to the track’s baseline sound quality. There are also a few awkward noise reduction effects when characters are conversing outside. Joel (son of Jerry) Goldsmith’s score is a little more complex and theatrical than Chattaway’s and, thus, becomes a heavier part of the mix, including more intricate instrumental placement and a warmer, more centralized experience. The music isn’t layered as simply on the right and left sides of the room.
The extras include:
- The Wrong Arm Of The Law - The Making Of Maniac Cop 3 (25:10, HD) – I had assumed that the behind-the-scenes process on this particular film was so traumatic that this featurette would be a fluff piece. Much to my surprise (and delight), this is a relatively inclusive expose on what went wrong, told via interviews with Lustig, Cohen, Soisson, Haitkin, stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos, and actors Davi, Z’Dar, Gretchen Becker, and Caitlin Dulany. The problems are all classic Hollywood angst (Cohen was mad about changes made, Soisson was mad about Cohen’s lack of interest, Lustig was mad about the whole process), but the story is fascinatingly told (the actors and Haitkin seemed to enjoy the process).
- Deleted and extended scenes (10:20, HD)
- Poster & still gallery
- Cohen’s original pitch synopsis (text)
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 19th November 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English (Maniac Cop 2), DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English (Maniac Cop 3), Dolby Digital EX English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French Canadian, Espanol Latino Americano, Portugues do Brasil, Espanol Castellano, Francais Parisien, Deutsch, Italiano, Mandarin (Traditional & Simplified), Korean, Japanese, Russian, Dansk, Nederlands, Suomen, Norsk, Svenska
Extras: William Lustig and Nicolas Winding Refn Commentary (Maniac Cop 2), Back On The Beat - The Making Of Maniac Cop 2, Cinefamily Q&A with Director William Lustig, Isolated Score (Maniac Cop 2), Wrong Arm Of The Law - The Making Of Maniac Cop 3, Deleted and Extended Scenes, Trailers, Image Galleries, Larry Cohen's Original Maniac Cop 3 Pitch, DVD Copies
Easter Egg: No
Director: Bill Lustig and Joel Soisson
Cast: Robert Z'Dar, Robert Davi, Claudia Christian, Michael Lerner, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Leo Rossi, Caitlin Dulany, Gretchen Becker, Paul Gleason, Jackie Earle Haley, Robert Forster
Genre: Action, Crime, Horror and Thriller
Length: 172 minutes
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