BluRay/DVD Reviews

MANIAC COP 2 (Blue Underground)

By • Mar 11th, 2014 •

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MANIAC COP 2 brings to mind the horse’s leg from de Mille’s 1956 version of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. I’ll shed a little light on that curious remark shortly.

This unusual piece of celluloid is a horror-thriller version of Max Ophuls’ LA RONDE. As director Bill Lustig puts it, “Everyone has their song.” You pass from one character narrative to another (Leo Rossi, for example, doesn’t enter till the 38 minute mark), and it isn’t until halfway through the film (45 minutes) that it settles into the main story line, if even then. Surprisingly, the narrative- hand-off device works, dragging you anecdotally along, submitting you to one action set-piece after another, until you surrender to the form, waiting to see where it takes you next. Stripper Paula Trickey could have been just another murder scene casualty, but no, she’s got her homecoming queen crown on the side of her mirror. That and other generous character touches develop her enough to qualify as the latest spoke in the La Ronde wheel.

The 45-minute mark, when Leo Rossi’s serial killer character pals up to the supernatural maniac cop is what Lustig compares to Frankenstein’s monster and Igor in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. It has indeed suddenly morphed into a bizarre buddy film. Robert Z’Dar is relentlessly menacing as the spectral figure, and his makeup (kind of like James Arness’s Thing with acromegaly) is unconvincing, so wisely we glimpse it more than we see it. Late in Act three, when Z’Dar is torched, we are treated to something akin to the fire sequence from THE THING, only exponentially extended. And that’s what constitutes much of the fun here. When Lustig & Co. give you a set piece, it isn’t over until you’ve been inundated with it. A dizzying runaway car sequence with a police psychologist hand-cuffed to the steering wheel (from outside the vehicle!) is one of these insane treats. I mean, she’s literally hanging onto that car long enough to have descended from Benedict Canyon to the flatlands below.

Rossi gives an excellent performance – by turns demented and joyous. Buried under a thick beard, I didn’t connect him with any other performance despite the fact that he has a formidable list of film and TV roles. He’s always in the moment, and invests the part with sardonic humor.

Robert Davi, nominally the lead, has a film noir look about him (a touch of Eddie Constantine) that neatly anchors the floating narrative. Claudia Christian and Michael Lerner are good. It’s great to spend a little time with Bruce Campbell. And Laurene Landon is one of those products of a lucky configuration of genes that you simply can’t take your eyes off.

Recently, in VideoWatchdog, Quentin Tarantino compiled a top 50 list of his favorite film sequels. Having finally seen MANIAC COP 2, I’m chagrined that it wasn’t on that list somewhere. Similarly, whenever I look up films on IMDB in order to research crew members, etc., I can’t help but see what the readers have rated the films. In the case of MC2, they gave it a 5.7. Way off. It should be a 7+. But time adjusts these things. STREET TRASH was considerably lower a decade ago than it is now, and I imagine it’ll continue to heat up the IMDB thermometer as the years go by. MC2 is destined to enjoy the same fate.

And now, back to Yul Brynner’s horse. This will perhaps be the best compliment I can give MANIAC COP 2. Put on de Mille’s 1956 THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and skip to 1:09:30 on the second BluRay disc. You will see, off to the lower left of the screen, in one of the remarkable optical shots, Pharaoh’s horse become so spooked by the parting of the sea that its leg slips off the promontory for a moment, after which it regains its footing. This is an exquisite detail, not unlike the water tank that gets hit by the Martian ray in George Pal’s WAR OF THE WORLDS (1:15:04), shifts sideways from the force of the impact, and then explodes. These gorgeous little nuances seem to be missing in all the current tent-pole CGI extravaganzas, or perhaps they’re there, buried too deep in deluges of foolish effects work to be appreciated. (At the end of last year’s SUPERMAN film, when the battle between Kent and Zod began,someone behind me said to a friend,”Okay, we can leave now.” And they did.)

MANIAC COP 2 has this invigorating, cinematic imagination for the wondrous detail. At 109:45, for instance, a police car hits the side of a building and keeps going. But it also hits an overhanging corrugated awning and practically takes that off the building. I’ve never seen that stunt done before, and I’ve seen scores of car chases. It was new, and it was a loving detail. I’m sure credit for this kind of thing is spread among several key production team members, not least of all Spiro Razatos, the stunt co-ordinator and 2nd Unit director (there are 48 stunt players listed!). “There’s no geniuses on a set,” Lustig explains. “Everyone comes up with ideas. The best thing you can have as a director is an open door policy.” My research confirms this to be surprisingly true with directors like Chaplin and Kubrick who one would think were far too egocentric to listen to advice from their cast and crew. But they did.

A film made by passionate film lovers and guerrilla filmmakers. It’s a special piece of work.

A few words about MANIAC COP 3. This one is signed by Alan Smithee, and we all know what that means. Generally the backstory on a Smithee signature project remains tauntingly shrouded in mystery. But here, in a supplemental, we get the dope from all involved. Very interesting.

And despite everything detailed in the supplemental, it’s actually a good film. Not up to MC2, but lots of fun, with Davi returning in his noir-cop role and Robert Z’Dar reprising his avenging specter. New to the franchise is one of the most gorgeous actresses ever to grace the screen – Caitlin Dulany – playing a doctor who gets dragged unwillingly into the scenario. She’s done a lot of TV work since, but never gave the breakthrough performance that would have catapulted her to stardom.

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