Sunday, December 2, 2018

Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

Formerly half-undead serial killer cop Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar) is back from his watery grave, now even more dead, and still so angry about being framed for crimes he didn’t commit by THEM and then being murdered in prison, he is still murdering basically everyone he meets. In fact, he seems to put little effort at all into seeking out the political higher ups responsible for his fate and only in the very end of the film gets around to kill off their pawns. As an undead seeker of vengeance, Cordell’s not terribly impressive. He’s great at killing random people, though.

Because he has so much time off, Cordell uses the film’s first act to kill off the heroes of the first Maniac Cop (bye, Bruce Campbell, so long, Laurene Landon!), leaving the audience to the tender mercies of whiny, self-righteous, hard-ass cop Sean McKinney (Robert Davi) and police psychologist Susan Riley (Claudia Christian) as our new protagonists. After the usual dance of scepticism and mutual dislike, these two team up to get Cordell off the street and clear his name. Because that’s important after the dozens of innocents the zombie cop has slaughtered.

Cordell doesn’t want to be left out of the partnering up business this time around, so he shacks up with serial killer of Times Square strippers Turkell (Leo Rossi, wearing some sort of hilarious alien hair mop creature on and over his head, looking for all the world like one of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers).

As sarcastic as I may sound above, I really had a hell of an entertaining time watching the second of the three Maniac Cop movies from the dynamic duo of that great New York writer/director/producer Larry Cohen (only writing and producing here), and that loveable, semi-great sleazebag William Lustig. The plot makes little sense – though you can see the vague shapes of the sense it is probably supposed to make – but every scene here is basically written to provide either some intensely goofy shit (the scenes of Turkell and Cordell showing each other their knives, and Landon’s short chainsaw fight against Cordell stand as obvious examples), provide Lustig with opportunity to wallow in by 1990 old-school New York sleaze, or win the audience’s hearts with insane stunts and absurd violence.

As such, the film is a raving success. The goofy shit is indeed goofy as heck, New York has seldom looked more like some sort of crazy nightmare built out of trash and human desperation, and the action scenes are insane and gritty in idea and execution. Because Cohen and Lustig know and love actors, the film also contains a ream of fun performances. Even the in theory utterly unlikeable McKinney becomes great entertainment in the hands of Davi who is after all one of the guys who wrote the book on playing these types of characters in low budget films, and Christian pretty much wins my heart by playing her character absolutely straight even though she’s moving through a world made out of absurd nonsense.

Adding even more value to the whole proposition is Cohen’s patented dialogue that sounds sharp and fun (and often funny) in a way which tempts one to talk of realism; in truth nobody does talk like a character written by Larry Cohen, of course. It’s rather that one feels this version of New York should be populated by people talking this way, so there’s a feeling of veracity to the dialogue. Which beats boring realism any day.

Indeed, all of this adds up so well I hands-down prefer Maniac Cop 2 to the first one by a mile or two, and that even though it uses one of my least favourite horror movie tropes by killing the first film’s heroes off in the first act. But then, Davi/Christian are much more entertaining than the original pair (sorry, Mr Campbell), and the rest of the film clearly sets out to outdo the first one in everything, from grime to explosions, and succeeds wonderfully.

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