In 1980, director William Lustig struck video nasty gold with his low-budget horror Maniac - the tale of a deranged serial killer (actor Joe Spinell certainly looked the part) who assaults, kills and scalps his female victims. This was the kind of slasher that got everyone upset, because women were victims, stalked at length and then realistically scalped (courtesy of Tom Savini's bloody FX). Graphic, controversial, usually censored and therefore a hit on dodgy VHS.
While the killer is being tracked down in a city in panic, we also get his backstory and meet everyone involved - it's all very plot heavy. Also Bruce Campbell's trademark humour is forcibly subdued here. Lustig cashes in on his Maniac reputation, but pulls back on the violence, traded for pumped up action scenes. There's a nighttime car chase where one of the vehicles is on fire, and a superb and highly dangerous-looking crash. It's all fun enough, but the sequel would takes everything up a notch
Maniac Cop has been released twice on DVD in the US, first remastered widescreen (above) and also recently in a Synapse Special Edition.
MANIAC COP 2
The sequel generously kicks off with a repeat of the dynamite climax of Maniac Cop. As the cop continues to kill, the police discover they've been after the wrong man. Maniac Cop ups his game by teaming up with another serial killer in a diabolical plan to avenge himself, (and conclude some unfinished business left hanging in the first). Bruce Campbell is back, but Robert Davi (the Bond baddie in License To Kill) and Claudia Christian (sensational as stripper turned alien killing machine in The Hidden) are new on the case - Davi plays a disillusioned hard-boiled detective, Christian a street-smart lawyer.
There follows a series of astonishing action scenes, all expanding on the stunts in the first film. They all benefit from being shot at night. A car chase where one vehicle has its tyres ripped off, causes sparks to fly off the bare wheel rims - the entire car chase is spectacularly lit by the sparks alone. There's a gob-smacking runaway car stunt, with a stuntwoman handcuffed to the steering wheel, from the outside! Then there's a huge slow-motion brawl, while Maniac Cop is on fire, but just carries on fighting, letting his victims catch fire as they try to defend themselves - a prolonged series of astonishing stunts...
It's action-horror! Way before Jeepers Creepers, there was a unique sub-genre of car chase action, starting in 1970s horror movies. Death Race 2000 mixed elements of gory horror into a futuristic road race. Race With The Devil piled on the atmosphere, with satanists racing and chasing their victims along America's backroads. The Car was possessed by the Devil, bringing sacrifice to the highways. Later The Hitcher (1986) put the 'stalk and slash' into a road movie. Not to mention the Phantasm films adding high speed hearse action, including the incredible barrel roll stunt in Phantasm III.
Anyway, the 'serial killer team-up' sub-plot gets a little annoying, but the story regains a sense of purpose towards the climax, which brings a spectacular and logical closure that the first film lacked. I rate Maniac Cop 2 over most Friday the 13th and Halloween sequels in the category of most entertaining 'undead killer'.
I've given up waiting for a Special Edition of Maniac Cop 2 - it isn't even on DVD in the US, and no sign of happening in the near future. Instead, I bought the UK region 2 DVD (above) - the 1.33 aspect ratio is a little tight, but it's a clear good-looking transfer. Two original trailers are included - the one made specifically for home video has snappier music and a sharper choice of money-shots. The classic movie trailer tagline is "You have the right to remain silent... Forever... Again". As you can see, the video covers misquote this, and just repeated the tagline from the first film, for fear of looking silly.
MANIAC COP 3: BADGE OF SILENCE
My hopes were way too high for this sequel, and it was by all accounts a troubled production - the trailer credits another director as well as Lustig. (There's a couple more clues in this interview on Slasherama). It's still a very watchable film, but the story is more of a cop thriller, with Maniac Cop only really appearing in a feeble retread of scenes from Halloween II, stalking around a hospital. It's not until the final action sequences and the spirited climax, when it begins to look anything like a Maniac Cop film.
The film really belongs to Robert Davi who holds everything together. He also has a great supporting cast, including Julius Harris (another Bond baddie, but from Live and Let Die), Robert Forster (Vigilante, Alligator, The Black Hole, Dragon Wars) in an uamusing cameo, Doug Savant (now a regular in Desperate Housewives), Bobby Di Cicco (no longer the fresh-faced star of Spielberg's 1941) and Jackie Earle Haley (The Bad News Bears, Damnation Alley - just before he took a long break from acting).
Maniac Cop 3 is available on DVD, once again only fullframe in the UK, and the cover art is uninspiring (the grittier VHS artwork is displayed above).
While Googling the trilogy, I hit the news that Maniac Cop 4 is now on the boards, as William Lustig and Larry Cohen have now regained the sequel rights. Check here for any more news and lots more Maniac Cop stuff. It's time for me to start getting my hopes up again...