“There’s a piece of Cordell in every cop.” – Maniac Cop 2 (1990)
Back in February of 2021, I watched Maniac Cop for what turned out to be the first time. I had seen the ending before, as it happened, but not the rest. I didn’t revisit it before sitting down with the new Ultra HD release of Maniac Cop 2 and 3 from Blue Underground, but that’s okay, because Maniac Cop 2 recycles a bunch of the footage from its predecessor, including pretty much the entire climax.
Not that we need a ton of context anyway. A back-of-the-box-length synopsis will do the trick: Matt Cordell was a cop who got wrongfully accused of a crime and sentenced to prison where he was shivved to death by the very cons he’d put away. Now, back from the grave, he’s out for revenge – and also inclined to murder anyone else who happens to cross his path.
The first Maniac Cop at least seemed like it was trying to have some real social commentary with its whole “killer cop” routine, even if it feels hopelessly dated here in 2021. The sequel… has largely abandoned any such ambitions, replacing much in the way of subext with a whole lot of set pieces. In fact, my Letterboxd review of Maniac Cop 2 reads as follows:
“How many stunt people got injured making Maniac Cop 2? All of them, probably.”
For real, though, this is the Mos Eisley Cantina sequence of unnecessary and inadvisable stunts. Elaborate stunts happen all the time in this movie. At one point, a nameless mook who dies immediately is introduced by falling out of a window onto a van, while the literal entire climax of the movie occurs while several stunt people are wandering around on fire for extended periods of time.
It is, in short, a blast. In no time, Bruce Campbell and Laurene Landon – our two protagonists from the first movie – have been dispatched (albeit not before Landon manages to go at Cordell with a chainsaw) and replaced with Claudia Christian (the voice of Helga in Atlantis: The Lost Empire, among others) and Robert Davi, who is a perfect fit for this kind of material.
At the same time, Robert Z’Dar’s Cordell has abandoned the relatively human look of the previous film for something that is more overtly a walking corpse – Maniac Cop by way of Solomon Grundy or Jason Lives. The themes may be less ambitious this time around, but the picture sure isn’t. Cordell lays waste to a police station in a sequence that prefigures this year’s Malignant and there’s a nice subplot that feels eerily prescient in this era of Trumpism in which Cordell befriends another serial killer who idolizes him. And did I mention the stunts? Cuz there’s a bunch of them.
Hell, Maniac Cop 2 even has a theme song, the “Maniac Cop Rap.” Here is a sampling of the lyrics: “Set him on fire, shoot him with an Uzi; he’ll show up in your jacuzzi.” Listen to the full theme song below.
Plus, Maniac Cop 2 takes place around Christmas. What could be better?
“What can only be described as a black rainbow of terror…” – Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1993)
Maniac Cop 3 is a whole lot of things and none of them are Maniac Cop 2. While that flick was a high-water mark not just for the franchise but for ‘90s action horror movies featuring very inadvisable stunts, this sequel from three years later just feels like a mess.
Which maybe isn’t terribly surprising. While director William Lustig and screenwriter Larry Cohen are back once again, both have since disowned the movie, and Lustig did so pretty much immediately – handing the credit to “Alan Smithee,” the pseudonym famously used by directors who want to distance themselves from the material, in the opening titles. Rumor has it that he also turned in an initial cut that only ran 51 minutes, leaving producer Joel Soisson to fill out the remaining 34 of its still relatively brief running time.
Which might explain at least some of why the flick feels so disjointed. Why, exactly, does the voodoo guy resurrect Matt Cordell? Who knows? It certainly isn’t to avenge the lady cop who is wrongly accused of using excessive force, even if that’s what he spends most of the movie doing, since she hasn’t actually done that yet when he first comes back.
The closest thing to a raison d’etre that we get for… well, much of anything in this picture is the “Bride of Maniac Cop” subplot involving the aforementioned lady cop, who is in the hospital that provides pretty much the flick’s only location besides a drugstore shootout and a brief stop at what I am pretty sure is the church from Prince of Darkness, and even that is dropped like a hot rock in the final reel.
I couldn’t conveniently find a figure for the budgets of either movie, but Maniac Cop 2 certainly feels like it cost a lot more than Maniac Cop 3. Besides the limited scope of the third franchise entry, it also just doesn’t do as much as either of its predecessors. There’s nothing approaching the go-for-broke stunts of the second film, or even the police station assault of the original, even if Cordell does at least end up driving a car while on fire before all is said and done.
Roberts Davi and Z’Dar are back in their respective roles, but pretty much everyone else is a new face, playing characters who appear and disappear from the plot basically at random, including a tacked-on love interest between Davi and Dr. Discount Veronica Lake, played by Caitlin Dulany, who was also in the sequel to Class of 1999, if that says anything.
She’s also the only doctor featured who doesn’t seem like a total sleazeball. This flick has a very dim view of doctors, which is perhaps unsurprising given that it was made just a few years after Cohen helmed The Ambulance, another slice of ‘90s cheese with a very negative opinion of the medical profession.
Which is all a lot of words to say that Maniac Cop 3 is disjointed and nonsensical and isn’t fit to wear the uniform of Maniac Cop 2, even if the 4K Ultra HD Blu from Blue Underground looks just as good as its limited ambitions will allow. While you’re here, though, why not enjoy a bad guy performance by a young-ish Jackie Earle Haley, more than a decade before Watchmen?
Besides his work as Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Grey is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a film writer with bylines at Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and he is the author of two collections of essays on vintage horror film.