The video rental business was booming throughout the ’90s. From mom and pops to huge chains and even several well-known grocery stores, it seemed like everybody wanted in on the action. With the increasing rise and revenue of VHS rentals, filmmakers saw a big opportunity: bypass theaters altogether and release movies directly to the video market. The horror genre, which is well-known for smaller budgets and a rabid fan base, was ripe for success within that relatively new business model.
For Nightmare on Film Street’s “Cops n’ Killers” month I’m taking a look back at 1990’s Maniac Cop 2. The film picks up where its predecessor left off, finding the maniac cop himself, Matthew Cordell, rising from the dead to continue his murderous killing spree; Cordell eventually teams up with serial killer Steven Turkell and concocts a plan to release the inmates of nearby Sing Sing Prison.
The first film is full of twists and turns and takes the story in several unexpectedly weird and wacky directions, most notably Cordell‘s backstory featuring his wife Sally Noland, portrayed by Sheree North. At the time of its release, Maniac Cop‘s New York City setting was a welcome diversion from the more common and widely seen slashers set around campgrounds and suburban areas. Maniac Cop was a box office dud with reported earnings less than $700,000 against a budget that was slightly over $1 million. Despite the lack of return, the series continued on home video with 1990’s Maniac Cop 2.
“[Matthew] Cordell […] teams up with serial killer Steven Turkell and concocts a plan to release the inmates of nearby Sing Sing Prison.”
Maniac Cop 2 stars Robert Z’Dar (Maniac Cop), Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead), Laurene Landon (The Stuff), Robert Davi (Die Hard), Claudia Christian (The Chase), and Leo Rossi (Halloween II). Like the first film in the franchise, Maniac Cop 2 was directed by William Lustig from a screenplay by Larry Cohen. Maniac Cop 2 was released direct-to-video on July 18, 1990.
In Maniac Cop 2, Lustig and company do a stellar job with continuing the overall story while remaining true to the already established tone and aesthetics that were presented in the first film. The New York cityscape is compelling and lends a hard-boiled style and seedy atmosphere to the unfolding action. Like its predecessor, Maniac Cop 2 relies heavily on action movie tropes and scenarios to create a unique action/horror genre hybrid, particularly in the form of car chases/crashes and shootouts. The visuals are often beautifully tinted in red and blue lighting. It is an appropriate touch considering the cop thematic and brings to mind the work of Dario Argento.
Maniac Cop 2 sees several cast members returning from the original, including stars Bruce Campbell and Lauren Landon, portraying Jack Forrest and Theresa Mallory, respectively. But don’t think for a minute that Campbell and Landon will remain as the central protagonists through the rest of the series. In true horror franchise fashion, both characters are killed off early on in the sequel. The structural move of the story refocuses the attention to Robert Davi’s Sean McKinney and Claudia Christian’s Susan Riley as they pursue Matthew Cordell. Both cast members do a great job with establishing the pair of new characters. Davi is a particularly good addition to the cast, as the presence of his detective lieutenant character gives the film an additional noir-esque element.
Even with the familiar tone and beats, there is enough new material to keep the story fresh and entertaining. Director William Lustig takes the approach of making a sequel that’s larger in scope than the original. While the New York City setting remains the same, several set-pieces that were featured in Maniac Cop 2 are amped up to another level. One particular action sequence that involves heroines Theresa Mallory and Susan Riley evolves into something so over the top fun that viewers can’t help but to cheer on the filmmakers and what they have created. The supernatural elements which were only hinted at in the first film are made more blatant here, especially in the form of Cordell’s undead countenance and the cemetery-set, jump scare finale.
As a franchise killer ala Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers, Matthew Cordell may not be as a well-known name as his counterparts, but Robert Z’Dar’s admirable portrayal of the character is memorable. Cordell is often shown in dark shadow, quick cuts, and fast movement. From the initial intro, the killer cop character is frequently accentuated with close-up shots of his uniform and weaponry. While the first movie only showed glimpses of Cordell‘s scarred face, Maniac Cop 2 often puts the makeup effects front and center. In all honesty, the look of Cordell is nothing to write home about, but the prosthetic screams late ’80s/early ’90s horror. Aside from the “zombie” imagery of Cordell, the effects department does a fantastic job of drenching the screen with blood. Over the closing credits, Maniac Cop 2 ends with a Maniac Cop rap song that makes it clear the filmmakers intended to cement the character as a horror franchise icon.
“The supernatural elements which were only hinted at in the first film are made more blatant here, especially in the form of Cordell’s undead countenance and the cemetery-set, jump scare finale.”
Fortunately, Maniac Cop 2 was a big enough hit on home video to warrant another follow-up. Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence was released direct to video in 1993. Once again, William Lustig and Larry Cohen serve as director and writer. Robert Davi is back as the lead protagonist, and Robert Z’Dar returns as Matthew Cordell. The story line takes the series in another unexpected and fun direction while continuing to add layers to the overall mythology. The film ends on a final note that hints at another installment. Sadly, a fourth film was never made. However, the franchise and character has garnered a large cult following over the years.
Recently there has been much talk over a Maniac Cop reboot. Most recently the project has been touted in the form of an HBO series by director Nicolas Winding Refn of Drive (2011) and The Neon Demon (2016). Based on Refn’s previous work, I think he would be perfect for the job.
I recently had a blast watching all three Maniac Cop movies back to back. Together they make a fun filled and entertaining triple feature of late ’80s/early ’90s horror. Are you a fan of William Lustig’s Maniac Cop series? Which is your favorite? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!