Color, 1990, 87m.
Directed by William Lustig
Starring Robert Davi, Robert Z'Dar, Claudia Christian, Michael Lerner, Laurene Landon, Leo Rossi, Bruce Campbell, Charles Napier
Blue Underground (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), First Look (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Prism (UK R2 PAL)
A genuine rarity in horror cinema, Maniac Cop 2 was made two years after the cult classic original and in many respects outdoes it. The return of both its original director (Bill Lustig) and writer (Larry Cohen) had a lot to do with it, not to mention the gleeful desire to ramp up the entertainment value thanks to some genuinely eye-popping stunt sequences, rampant sleaze, oddball humor, and a cast clearly picked to please the fans.
After a quick reprise of the climax from the previous film that left unstoppable monster cop Matt Dordell (D'Zar) plunging into the Hudson River, our story picks up with the two surviving heroes, officers Jack Forrest (Campbell) and Teresa Mallory (Landon). No one believes their claims that Cordell was responsible and could still be at large, and they disagree about how to proceed when the denials continue to escalate. Police psychological evaluator Susan Riley (Christian) isn't quick to believe the story either, but when she finds herself handcuffed outside a careening car by Cordell and barely escaping with her life, she realizes the reign of terror is only going to get worse. Both Jack and Teresa exit the story quickly (how and why won't be spoiled here), but Susan finds herself teaming with another cop she's evaluating, Detective Sean McKinney (Davi), who has his share of dark trauma in his past. Meanwhile a serial killer is preying on strippers in the area, a case for McKinney that leads to an unholy collaboration between Cordell and a quirky psychopath, Turkell (Rossi), who are hatching a plan no one could have expected.
Drawing inspiration from the actor/horror hybrid approach of films like The Terminator and The Hidden, right down to including a police station siege and the latter film's Claudia Christian in a major (albeit more heroic) role, this is prime guilty pleasure entertainment from start to finish. The breakneck pacing manages to cram an astonishing amount of incident into the short running time, including some terrific highlights like that handcuff bit, a climactic prison attack (featuring an amusing stunt gaffe with a bouncy wall), a lot more about Cordell's past (which includes, of course, a naked martial arts shower fight), and what may be a world's record for the number of smashed windows in one movie. On top of that you get some hugely enjoyable, scenery-chomping performances from Michael Lerner (who incredibly made this back to back with Barton Fink!) and Rossi (reteaming with Lustig after Relentless) as the screen's goofiest stripper murderer. Add to that another solid score by Jay Chattaway and you've got a real winner.
Unfortunately, Maniac Cop 2 has had a bumpy history on home video since its very marginal theatrical release in Europe in 1990. Apart from a handful of screenings it was sent straight to video in 1991 courtesy of Live Entertainment, with a laserdisc release from Image to match. That was fine for the time, but the same master was recycled for years including a marginal DVD release from First Look and an equally indifferent UK edition. Fortunately you can scrap all of those courtesy of the dual format Blu-ray/DVD 2013 release from Blue Underground, with the HD option looking dramatically improved. The transfer from the original negative looks very fresh and clean with better black levels and far more detail; the film doesn't really pile on the stylized color schemes, but when it does (especially the strip club scenes) the difference is dramatic.The DTS-HD 7.1 mix also sounds great, through purists will note that the music has been heavily channeled to the rear speakers instead of the front ones as is the norm. It's a nicely engrossing experience, but if you want something that sounds closer to the version fans know and love, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX and 2.0 surround mixes are included, too. (There's also D-Box encoding if you want to feel like you're getting blown out of a window, too.) You also get optional subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Russian, Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish. (Yes, really!) In another rare but welcome touch for the label, the effective score by Jay Chattaway (who also scored the previous film as well as Lustig's Maniac) is included as an isolated audio track, which is especially nice since it never had a commercial release in any format.
Now on to the extras, starting with a lively audio commentary with Lustig and Nicolas Winding Refn (director of Drive and the Pusher series), who's involved in a proposed remake of the first film himself. It's up there with Lustig's prior chat tracks for his other films especially when it comes to location details, pointing out which bits were shot in New York vs. Hoboken, New Jersey. Keep an ear out for one particularly funny bit in which he mentions the inclusion of "the worst Italian restaurant in New York," too. Lustig returns for the 47-minute "Back on the Beat: The Making of Maniac Cop 2," in which he's joined by Cohen, Z'Dar, Davi, Lerner, Christian, Rossi, and stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos. Everyone's in good spirits and very frank about their experiences, with Lustig and Christian openly discussing their animosity during the shoot and Lerner sharing a great anecdote about stepping into the role of an Irish police chief as a welcome change from his usual run of Jewish characters. Rossi's a terrific storyteller, too, as anyone who's seen the Halloween 2 Blu-ray from Scream Factory knows, and he's in fine form here as well sharing some hilarious memories of prepping for his role (in which he's almost unrecognizable thanks to his big bushy beard). A separate Lustig Q&A (29 mins.) from a Cinefamily screening at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles is also included, covering the shooting of some of the highlights and reflecting on the film's place as a frequent favorite among the trilogy. (The troubled third film also finally wound up in Blue Underground's hands for the same release date.) Finally the disc closes out with a batch of theatrical trailers (UK, international, French, and German), a poster and still gallery, and finally, a deleted scene that finally explains the end credits listing of a newscaster played by Sam Raimi.
Reviewed on November 3, 2013.