Maniac Cop is one of the most incredible and underseen franchises in the action or horror spaces, and a little unique in that is seems to get stronger with each entry. Each entry is a smörgåsbord of familiar and beloved character actors, and while they’re mostly horror films, the action keeps amping up to an insane degree.
While the fans are definitely fervent, it hasn’t achieved the kind of recognition afforded to studio-backed contemporaries like, say, Child’s Play or Predator.
Thankfully the sequels’ home video rights are owned by director Bill Lustig, who just happens to own Blue Underground, one of the best home video distros in the biz. (The original Maniac Cop also has a great Blu-ray release from Synapse, so that’s not to shortchange them either).
Blue Underground has been doing a remarkable job of upgrading their catalog to 4K with one knockout after another. I’ve seen most of their restorations, and out of the many only one fell short of being a total stunner (the oddly color-timed House by the Cemetery).
If you’re a genre fan but haven’t seen the films, I’d implore you to not only check them out, but to keep going if you aren’t hooked by the first one alone. I doubt that would be the case, as it’s a blast, but these films get gnarlier and more intense with each entry.
Maniac Cop 2
The sequel picks up immediately after the first, even opening with a recap of the ending (you could even start with 2 and not feel left behind).
Sort of like the Friday the 13th franchise, the films get more explicitly supernatural over time. The maniac cop, Matt Cordell (the massively-jawed Robert Z’Dar, RIP), is originally known only as a disfigured and wronged police officer, believed to be dead. But in the sequel, his appearance becomes decayed and necrotic — it’s clearer that he’s not just a vengeful human, but a force of reckoning from beyond the grave.
More than either of the other two entries, Maniac Cop 2 is a marriage of sleazy exploitation, delirious action, and a mind-blowing who’s who of character actors. Not to mention it’s a Christmas movie!
The film pairs Cordell with a new partner in crime, a deranged psyhosexual serial killer named Turkell who has been racking up a body count of strippers (Leo Rossi). The chatty Turkell becomes attached to the silent Cordell, making for an odd-couple of murder pals.
Bruce Campbell and Lauren Landon return as supporting characters, but the story shifts to a new pair protagonists, with Robert Davi and Claudia Christian as combative cops (a police psychologist and her unwilling patient) united by circumstance. There are a ton of familiar faces that pop up all over this film, many in small roles: Charles Napier, Michael Lerner, Shelly Desai, Clarence Williams III, Bo Dietl, Sam Raimi, Robert Earl Jones, and Danny Trejo. This is a hell of a cast.
But to me it’s the delirious action that really sets this film apart. There are some truly incredible setpieces, the kind of stunts where you fear for the people involved. There’s a tense chase with sabotaged taxi riding on its rims, immediately followed by another vehicular stunt where Claudia Christian’s character is handcuffed to a driverless moving car as it’s careening down a busy street, crashing into multiple other vehicles and obstacles as she dodges getting smashed.
But most mind-meltingly insane is the fiery climax, in which Cordell is set aflame as he wreaks vengeance in the prison where he was murdered, before falling five storeys onto a bus. That explodes. Sure, there’s probably some tricks here with shooting the same stunt from multiple angles to play for time, but some of these stuntman-on-fire takes are distressingly, and I mean distressingly long.
Any of these incredible setpieces would be impressive enough on their own. All of them in the same movie? That’s just insane.
I previously covered the film as a pick of the week, so if you want to dive a little deeper into why I love Maniac Cop 2, by all means be my guest.
MANIAC COP 3
Maniac Cop 3 is loved by fans, but director Bill Lustig was so distraught with it at the time that he disowned it. Producer Joel Soisson stepped in and helped take it to the finish line, and the film carried an Alan Smithee directorial credit.
While I can certainly understand and apprecaite that behind-the-scenes difficulties probably contributed to a troubled production, the film that resulted is still really amazing!
Perhaps the weirdest aspect of it is that Matt Cordell, the “Maniac Cop”, isn’t quite as prominent. He’s the boogeyman in the background (sometimes literally), the looming threat. There’s also a more overt supernatural bent to the story.
Back from the dead (again), Cordell is distraught by a new development in the police department. A female police officer has been misrepresented by the media as brutally killing an innocent victim in a standoff gone wrong, even though the raw footage shows that she was actually acting in self-defense and the perpetrator was posing as a hostage.
It’s a sort of “Bride of Franksenstein” riff, and this time he’s back to vindicate and avenge woman he loved in life.
The story’s admittedly a little rougher this time, but the action is even more insane. Maniac Cop 2 had vehicular insanity and lit Cordell on fire for a full two minutes of screen time.
Maniac Cop 3 has a car chase WITH Cordell on fire… in a blistering finale that has him lit up like a candle across eight minutes.
Add to that a once again stacked cast with the likes of blaxploitation legend Julius Harris, Grand L. Bush (who played opposite Davi as the other Agent Johnson in Die Hard), a villainous Jackie Earle Haley, and hilariously smarmy turns by Paul Gleason (another Die Hard alumnus) and Robert Forster, plus a new costar in Caitlin Dulany opposite Davi, and you’re once again in for a great time with a murderer’s row of terrific character actors.
The UHD Editions
Maniac Cop 2 and Maniac Cop 3 are new on 4K UHD from Blue Underground. These 2-disc editions feature the film on 4K UHD with trailers and bonus audio tracks, and a Blu-ray disc with both the movie and additional features. They come in 14mm (wider than standard) black cases, giving them a bit of extra prestigious appeal.
These titles will also include limited edition embossed slipcovers for their initial run. They do not feature soundtrack CDs or lenticular artwork, as some of Blue Underground’s other recent 4K titles have.
As with most Blue Underground titles, these discs have a plethora of great extras. All the Blu-ray extras have ported over, while Maniac Cop 3 is treated to a new commentary. I can’t overstate how important this new feature is to this edition. William Lustig and Joel Soisson offer up an incredibly entertaining track about the film’s making and some of the reasons why Lustig in particular fell out of love with the project. He’s such a colorful guy, and very honest (but not unkind) in his recounting. They seem to come around a bit, with praise for their cast, and acknowledging that the film is actually beloved despite their less than enthusiastic feelings about its making. This is one of my favorite commentaries ever.
As I’ve mentioned, the true 4K picture quality is incredible. Maniac Cop 3 has an all-new transfer which is also included on the newly-authored Blu-ray disc — so if you’re not 4K-ready, you can still buy and benefit from this edition. Maniac Cop 2 had already featured a 4K restoration for its Blu-ray release, and I believe this 4K edition uses the same transfer, now in its full glory without any downsizing or compression.
I previously ran a comparison piece on Maniac Cop 3’s new and old transfers, you can check it out below.
Maniac Cop 2 Special Features and Extras – UHD Disc
- Audio Commentary by director William Lustig and Nicolas Winding Refn
- Theatrical Trailers
- Isolated Music Track
Maniac Cop 2 Special Features and Extras — Blu-ray Disc
- This is the same disc as the prior Blu-ray release.
- Contains all the extras on the 4K disc
- Back on the Beat: the Making of Maniac Cop 2 (46:52)
- Cinefamily Q&A with William Lustig (28:36)
- Vintage “Movie Time” featurette (2:40)
- Deleted Scenes
- Poster and Still Gallery
Maniac Cop 2 Special Features and Extras — UHD Disc
- NEW Audio Commentary with Director “Alan Smithee” (William Lustig and Joel Soisson)
- Theatrical Trailer
Maniac Cop 2 Special Features and Extras — Blu-ray Disc
- This is a newly authored disc which features the new restoration.
- Contains all the extras on the 4K disc.
- Wrong Arm of the Law: The Making of Maniac Cop 3 (25:05)
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (10:26)
- Poster & Still Gallery
- Original Synopsis
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system.