Welcome to Notes from the Last Drive-In where this week we go sequel-mode to Maniac Cop and Maniac Cop 2. We’ve not had a double feature of two films in the same franchise since the Halloween Hootenanny, so tonight is a rare treat. So, how do Maniac Cop and its sequel fair? Did Shudder dig too deep?
Maniac Cop (1988)
Opening: Psychics in our midst.
Ah, Maniac Cop. This 1988 crime horror film probably could not be made today given the level of tension surrounding law enforcement, and that is probably for the best because the existing film is already perfectly suited for its time. Maniac Cop is the result of the incredible team-up of the late Larry Cohen and director William Lustig. The film also features a remarkably stacked cast including Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, and Richard Roundtree. The movie belongs, however, to Robert Z’Dar as the titular crazy cop. The movie itself isn’t overly complicated with a ton of plot to get in the way – a vaguely undead cop, wronged by the system, returns to life and exacts violent vengeance on the city. Not a lot here, but the film does well with this stripped-down concept.
The film uses its setting very well, building off the scary New York City of the 1970s and 1980s that worked its way into so many crime films of the time. It is a perfect backdrop for a story about the corruption of justice framed around a hulking cop bashing heads in. And boy, do people get messed up in this movie. Z’Dar’s Officer Cordell is a monster. He offers up an incredible silhouette against the backdrop of night, perhaps looking even bulkier than Jason Voorhees. Z’Dar’s role is mostly mute, but there is an undeniable presence to the character, so it isn’t hard to see why three films were made, with him returning for all three. Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell, two leading men, play a form of a relay in the film with the role of lead protagonist switching from one to the other about two-thirds of the way through the film. It’s novel, at least, but between the two of them, Atkins should have carried the movie through to the end. Campbell is fairly flat, here, playing it straight. Atkins gets most of the actual development, Campbell gets a couple of action scenes.
The story is simple but perhaps overly so. The film also has a number of contrivances that allow it to move from set piece to set piece, including a particularly fun chase scene, but again, the plot is a secondary concern here, though perhaps maybe that shouldn’t have been the case. Still, elements of the film have a certain, and unfortunate, timeless quality. Issues of police violence against citizens and corruption of the legal system still persist to this day and were not necessarily new things when Maniac Cop was released. This is a grindhouse film, through and through, and one of the last of them.
The big bit of the first half of the night was the interview with “the chin” himself, Bruce Campbell. The remote-format interviews this season, given their necessity, have been fine. Would it be better to have Bruce Campbell at the cabin, sitting on the porch have been better? Undoubtedly. But these scripted interactions are still very much fun and generally showcase the guest in such a way as to remind us why we like them. Bruce was every bit as charming as he has been known to be across the convention scene and on movie sets. It’s almost like popping in on an old friend. His stories and recollections were welcome – and will surely be welcome again once Joe Bob and company return to the trailer. The night was also a reminder of the wonders of Larry Cohen, one of the finest writers in film, who left us in 2019. It seems to me that there are two kings of the drive-in movie, and Cohen is one of them, the other being Roger Corman.
Joe Bob Briggs gave Maniac Cop four stars, which seems fair to me. I have been poking fun at his generosity a bit this season, but a movie like Maniac Cop just hits all those marks for the type of movie we love at The Last Drive-In. It’s a grindhouse movie that plays fast and loose with storytelling in order to get to the next fun part? But you know what? That’s perfectly fine. Plus, it has Robert Z’Dar casting one of the most imposing silhouettes in film history, so that is a bonus. As for me, I do have my concerns with it, but Maniac Cop is a solid four out of five Cthulhus.(4 / 5)
Best Line: “Look at the size of those hematomas!” – Frank (Joe Bob was totally right about this one)
Maniac Cop 2 (1990)
Opening: Renaissance Faires, emphasis on the “e” in faires.
The back half of the evening revolved around 1990’s Maniac Cop 2. A solid sequel with an even greater make-up job on Robert Z’Dar as the titular maniac cop. The film again reunites writer Larry Cohen and director William Lustig, the second out of four times working together, and builds on the insanity of the first film, wiping out the remaining cast of the first movie. The film also does some interesting things with officer Cordell as well – he is still ill-defined as living or dead, but he does have some surprisingly new depth as well. Maniac Cop 2 stars Robert Davi, Claudia Christian, Robert Earl Jones, and Leo Rossi, with Z’Dar returning as Cordell. The film also has two blink-and-you-miss-it cameos with Danny Trejo and Sam Raimi.
Maniac Cop 2 is the better of the films, a rare example of the sequel being better than the original. Yes, I am comparing Maniac Cop 2 to The Godfather: Part II or Toy Story 2. It offers a stronger story than its predecessor, a more interesting, arguably richer take on the antagonist, and a better overall protagonist. It also blows past the first film regarding spectacle, with the last 30 minutes being a non-stop unfurling of chaos. Everything seems bigger and better. Z’Dar is at his best here as Cordell, and the make-up work on him this time around is even stronger. The addition of Leo Rossi as serial killer Steven Turkell is genius. He chews the scenery, and his unlikely team up with Cordell creates some fantastic complications for Robert Davi’s Lieutenant McKinney. It builds on everything established in the first Maniac Cop and makes for a fuller experience overall.
It is still a grindhouse type of film, though, so logical leaps, inconsistent characterizations, and going for what would be most “cool” come fast and frequent in the movie. Does Cordell being able to throw a man through a cinderblock wall make sense? Not really. It is just something you accept in a movie like Maniac Cop 2. The film also makes it very, very clear you don’t need to see the original to enjoy this one, given the amount of reused footage from the first film. It makes it charmingly accessible, if not a bit redundant.
The second guest of the evening was William Lustig. His enthusiasm was fantastic and his stories about old grindhouse theaters, bouncing back and forth with Joe Bob about New York and LA in the 1970s and 1980s were immensely entertaining. The remote format worked well enough here, but with any luck Lustig will be back on the show, in-person. His personality is too enthusiasm not to have on set and the collective film knowledge between him and Joe Bob Briggs in these segments was dizzying. Overall, an excellent guest who took his segment and ran with it.
Joe Bob Briggs gave Maniac Cop 2, unsurprisingly, four stars. I won’t poke fun of him here; the film is every bit a refinement of what made the original Maniac Cop so special. It has just about everything you’d want in an NYC-set horror film involving an undead cop – even more so than the original. Maniac Cop 2 is a four-and-a-half Cthulhu film.(4.5 / 5)
Best Line: “I can’t let someone out on the street with a gun that has emotional problems.” – Susan (if only this was true)
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
As always, Shudder has those drive-in totals straight from the show.
As for our own totals we have:
- 2 remote guests
- 5 drive-in legends
- 2 thugs 1 cop
- 80s worship
- 90s rap theme
- Attempted Muggery
- Patrol Beats
- Let’s learn about Cherubism!
- Chainsaw ranting
- Irish joking
- Frog joking
- Yuki Count: 3
- Silver Bolo Award: Cadavercast
- Darcy Cosplay: 2, Tom Atkins and the Maniac Cop.
A fine night at the drive-in, frankly. The crew is doing the best they can with the remotes and has adapted rather well to the challenges of the Coronavirus. Hopefully, by season four, we’ll be out of the woods and back in the desert. There were some other fun bits in the episode worth mentioning as well. A nice tribute to Joe Spinell closed out the Maniac Cop 2 credits, which was a touching tribute to the original Maniac. Joe Bob got a gift in the form of a 1990-91 Mark Jackson basketball card, infamous for the Menendez Bros. sitting in the background. And there was another brief chapter in Joe Bob’s ranting about chainsaws being a terrible weapon – the second in as many weeks.
But hey, no dead dogs this week.(4.5 / 5)
See you next week, folks. We continue to live-tweet the fun at the Haunted MTL Twitter account, so why not give us a follow there?