Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Film Appreciation - Frankenstein Meets the French Connection


Matt Cordell returns in Maniac Cop 2 (1990) and again earns Cody Hamman's Film Appreciation.

Director William Lustig and writer Larry Cohen had established undead, homicidal former police officer Matt Cordell as a new force in the horror genre with 1988's Maniac Cop, and that movie was so successful that they were soon able to start production on a sequel with a much higher budget. While the original was made for just over one million, Maniac Cop 2 boasted a budget of $4 million.

The story picks up around nine months after the events of the first film, which means this one trades a St. Patrick's Day setting for Christmas time. Judging by his rotten, waterlogged appearance, Matt Cordell has spent those months submerged in the Hudson River, where he ended up at the end of part 1. But now, Cordell is back, and is soon stalking the streets of New York City with his blade-concealing billy club, terrorizing cops, citizens, and criminals alike once again as he seeks revenge on the corrupt system that wronged him and created the monster he has become.

A good cop in his natural life, Cordell takes a much different approach to the beat now. Showing up at the scene of a convenience store robbery, he kills the cashier and leaves the robber to get shot down by arriving police officers. Busting in on the serial killer who has been strangling NYC's exotic dancers while he's with an intended victim, Cordell brushes the killer aside and starts strangling the victim himself.

The serial strangler is a man named Turkell who sees himself as a heroic figure, "a crusader against the whores of the world", and also believes Cordell to be a kindred spirit. He becomes Cordell's own Igor or Renfield, a lackey as the maniac cop's mission of revenge ramps up.

Cordell's first order of business is to go after Jack Forrest and Theresa Mallory, the police officers who thwarted him nine months earlier. Given that Jack is played by Bruce Campbell, hero of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, viewers should be confident that he can handle himself quite capably in a rematch against Cordell.

But Lustig wasn't interested in focusing on Jack and Theresa again. Like the first movie seemed to be presenting Tom Atkins' Lieutenant McCrae as the hero of the piece before dispatching him and settling on Jack and Theresa, this movie knocks off our previous heroes in the first half hour or so and introduces a new pair of characters who get wrapped up in the situation by investigating what's going on with Jack and Theresa - Claudia Christian as police psychologist Susan Riley and Robert Davi, fresh off playing the villain in the 1989 Bond film Licence to Kill, as Sean McKinney, a hard-boiled, hat-wearing, trenchcoat-sporting detective who's like a film noir cop who has somehow found himself in a horror movie.

The fact that Lustig had a lot more money to play with on part 2 is plain to see when you watch the movie, which looks much more slick and polished, and contains some big setpieces.

The rampage Cordell goes on in this installment allows for several awe-inspiring action sequences filled with thrilling mayhem and incredible stuntwork. Susan is handcuffed to a car that is sent rolling downhill through traffic-filled streets as she dangles off the side, Cordell wipes out an entire police precinct in what I've always thought was one of the coolest assault sequences ever, there's even a raid on Sing Sing prison and some very impressive fire stunts as Cordell walks around attacking people while his body is engulfed in flames. Burning doesn't bother him at all.

Lustig again brought together a great cast to bring Cohen's words to life on the screen. In addition to Robert Davi, Claudia Christian, the returning Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, and Robert Z'Dar as Cordell, Michael Lerner, Clarence Williams III, Charles Napier, and Marco Rodríguez (in a variation on his role in Cobra) join the franchise, and the standout of the new additions is Leo Rossi as the sleazy, insane redneck Turkell.

A pre-fame Danny Trejo makes a cameo, and Sam Raimi reprised his role as a newscaster, but his screen time ended up on the cutting room floor (and in the deleted scenes section of the recent DVD/Blu release.)

In my Maniac Cop write-up, I said I loved the sequel just as much as the original, if not more. After rewatching the sequel, there's no question about it. The first movie is great, but I do indeed get even more enjoyment from this one. Maniac Cop 2 is one of the rare sequels that isn't just bigger than its predecessor, it's also even better.

The Maniac Cop trilogy is somewhat obscure, at least when compared to heavy hitters like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, or Halloween, but the series definitely deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with its more popular peers, and Matt Cordell is very worthy of being considered a horror icon.

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