Written by: Larry Cohen
Directed by: William Lustig
Robert Davi as Detective Sean McKinney
Claudia Christian as Susan Riley
Robert Z'Dar as Matt Cordell
Leo Rossi as Turkell
We have here an example of that rare bird, the sequel that represents a significant improvement over its original source material (hell, even Lustig himself says so in interviews!). The first Maniac Cop was plagued with a confused, meandering script that left all the wrong things unexplained. While that's not a terribly uncommon complaint among low-rent horror flicks, when a script is written by someone like Larry Cohen who has such an impressive filmography to his credit, it makes the whole thing go down a lot harder. Handling the directorial duties, Bill Lustig managed to capture the grimy squalor of pre-Disneyfication New York in such a way that he brings out a certain strange beauty in it. Being visually interesting, however, wasn't enough to keep the audience from noticing the script needed more clean up work than a 42nd Street porno theater.
When we last left Officer Matt Cordell, he was flying off a pier, pinned to the seat of a van by a pole that had been impaled through his chest. Of course, that kind of thing is never enough to keep even a slightly financially successful horror character down, and so as the camera pans up from the bay and around a junkyard what I assume is later that night, the lights of an old police cruiser come on and the car speeds off into the darkness. We didn't get to see who got behind the wheel, but this is one piece of withheld information in these movies I can appreciate. I love a good inference. It lets you know the filmmakers aren't assuming their audiences are idiots, and you'd have to be one not to figure out that it was none other than the Maniac Cop driving that car.
Meanwhile, officers Forrest and Mallory are ordered by Deputy Commissioner Edward Doyle to undergo a psychological evaluation by the department shrink Dr. Susan Riley. He's sick and tired of the pair sitting in his office demanding a continuation of the hunt for Cordell, who Doyle insists has been rotting peacefully in his grave for years. Forrest eventually relents, realizing that no one is going to listen to him and he has better things to do than spend his days in Riley's office and getting suspended or even fired. Mallory, on the other hand, sticks to her story and refuses to let it go. Riley begins to realize there might be something other than the ooperzootics to blame for Mallory's seemingly mad story when Forrest turns up dead from a huge puncture wound to the throat, and the old blind newspaper vendor who was the only witness telling her that when he briefly touched the killer's hand, it felt like the frozen dead bodies he shared a foxhole with in the war instead of living flesh.
After she and Mallory are pursued by a huge cop with a horribly mutilated face and Mallory is killed while Riley barely survives a car chase while dangling out the window and handcuffed to the steering wheel (this sequence is worth the price of admission alone, right up there with some of the most insane Australian car stunt work), she's ready to believe the stories about Cordell are true. She also finds an ally in Detective Sean McKinney, who has been trying to convince Doyle that whether or not there's a vengeful zombie walking the streets, someone is out there dressed as a cop murdering people. He's been handling a lot of the cases himself, and whoever is responsible is making the citizens of New York more scared of cops than actual criminals. If something other than sweeping it under the rug isn't done about the situation, New York's finest are going to have a full-blown civil war on their hands.
McKinney and Riley get a lead after a stripper comes to the station reporting that she was nearly murdered by a psycho called Turkell before he was interrupted by two beat cops. Before they could arrest him, a third cop showed up on the scene. You get the fabulous no-prize if you guess who it was. Now Cordell seems to be running around with a psycho who targets strippers and prostitutes, so at least they have a slightly more concrete lead to follow.
After arresting Turkell at strip joint, they hope to get some information out of him, but all he'll say is that his friend will come and bust him out. Sure enough, in a scene that makes the police station attack in Terminator look like a skit from Sesame Street, Cordell shows up and blows away half the police force before breaking Turkell and all his cellmates out. One of those cellmates was destined for Sing Sing, and Cordell grabs his transfer papers as a way to get them past the gates of death row so he can get revenge on the stooges who killed him on the orders of the corrupt politicians who sent him up the river. What's more, once those few men are out of the way, Cordell is going to recruit an army of the most dangerous criminals in New York State and lay siege to the city.
Somewhere along the line, McKinney either became an expert in revenge zombie lore or is just flying by the seat of his pants. I'm inclined to lean toward the latter, since his plan to prevent the city from being overrun by murderers and rapists directed by an angry undead cop is basically to have Doyle show up at the gates of Sing Sing with a loudspeaker, apologize for being a dick, and ask Cordell nicely to stop.
I'm going to have to get hold of the Blu ray for this one because I'd love to hear Cohen and Lustig explain just what the hell they were trying to do. In what I assume was an attempt to clear up some of the hoodoo stuff from the last movie, they've streamlined Cordell's story a little bit. This time there's no mention of what brought him back at all beyond Riley guessing he just miraculously got better from multiple ruptured organs and massive blood loss while the coroner wasn't looking and got up and walked away. I realize there was never any more satisfactory explanation as to why Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers were unstoppable killing machines, but for some reason the usual slasher bullshit just doesn't fit in this case. Cordell is far more intelligent and resourceful a monster than other invulnerable murderers, and it just seems like he deserves a little better back story.
Even more aggravating is that Cohen dropped the angle from the first movie that Cordell was known for his use of excessive force and record of police brutality while he was on the force, suggesting that perhaps he wasn't entirely innocent of whatever crimes landed him in Sing Sing in the first place. Here, McKinney explicitly states that he was a good cop, which makes his penchant for murdering other good cops and innocent civilians while rescuing serial killers from jail even more baffling.
But hey, no one ever watched a slasher movie for the compelling story, right? We love these things for the mayhem, and holy shit but this movie delivers in spades. Besides the aforementioned car chase where Claudia Christian's stunt double goes flying down a highway getting sideswiped by other vehicles while tied by one wrist to the steering wheel and hanging out the goddamn window, and the slaughter in the precinct house, there are two other massive stunt set pieces. One involves an armored prisoner transport bus and more exploding cop cars than all the Smokey and the Bandit movies put together, and the other is the climactic brawl in Sing Sing where everyone is on fucking fire! That fight scene alone took three days to shoot. Sure, the story can get bogged down in its own bullshit sometimes, but these sequences more than make up for it.
It boggles my mind that this movie was released directly to home video. I can't think of a better example of how far DTV horror flicks have fallen. Just think of the massive amounts of hard work that were put into the action scenes in Maniac Cop 2. Not just the obvious things like the stunt people putting their lives in danger—although that's certainly at the top of the list—but how much work the entire crew put in. Getting permits and insurance, choreographing the stunts, the pressure to keep the crew safe through these phenomenally dangerous stunts that must have had Bill Lustig sweating bullets the entire time...people put their all into creating an exciting, gory, action packed horror movie for their fans. Now we get Tara Reid, tongue firmly in spray-tanned cheek, swinging chainsaws at CGI sharks in front of a green screen and it sells because audiences these days really are idiots, and irony is so much easier than risking life and limb for something you actually give a shit about.