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LASER LUSTIG:

MANIAC COP ONE AND TWO ARE OUT!

Elite Entertainment's recent laserdisc release of MANIAC COP will undoubtedly create hordes of new fans of this film. In addition to the superb presentation, Lustig and Cohen, along with composer Jay Chattaway and star Bruce Campbell, are on hand on the second audio track to tell us about it. It is clear by watching the film and their commentary that it was a fun film to make. MANIAC COP has a much lighter tone than the original MANIAC. The basic premise of a cop as a serial killer provides a target the audience won't mind poking a little fun at.


The basic premise of a cop as a serial killer provides a target the audience won't mind poking a little fun at.


The presence of Bruce Campbell, veteran of all three EVIL DEAD films, as the hero adds a quality that is campy and fun, yet serious. Campbell delivers his lines with a hard-boiled sense of urgency reminiscent of film noir B-movies, adding to the general "RKO film noir look" that Lustig speaks of in the audio commentary.

Composer Jay Chattaway, longtime collaborator of Maynard Ferguson and writer of five film scores for Lustig, also adds greatly to the texture of the film. His music for the suspense scenes is urgent and dynamic and he gives the title character a theme: a bittersweet whistling melody that is used effectively throughout the film. Early on, the theme serves as a red herring, associating the melody with possible suspects. Later, after the killer's identity is disclosed, there is a flashback explaining the birth of the "maniac cop," in which the theme adds sentiment to an otherwise violent and tense scene.

The structure of the film is masterful, with substantial credit due to screenwriter Larry Cohen. The first part is a whodunit. There is a maniac dressed in a cop's uniform killing innocent crime victims while the perpetrators run free. We suspect it's a cop, based on some great dialogue delivered by veteran character actors Tom Atkins and William Smith. The killer could be any one of the main characters. Hitchcock's influence, evident in MANIAC, shows in this film as well. For example, towards the middle of the film, the real murderer frames the wrong man. In addition, the detective investigating the murders, one of the main protagonists, is killed relatively early, a la PSYCHO. (In the commentary, Lustig jokingly says that "we should have never let Hitchcock see this movie.") After an hour of suspense, the killer's identity is revealed, in a surprisingly touching scene. He is portrayed as a victim of the system, and, as in MANIAC, this opportunity to get inside the killer's head evokes both fear and sympathy.

Once the killer's identity is established, no time is wasted in getting on with the action. The last third has a frenetic pace that includes a blood-bath at the police station, a spectacular car chase (in which perennial whipping-post Bruce Campbell is violently and hilariously thrown around the rear of a paddywagon), and the final confrontation between Campbell and the "maniac cop" at his home on Pier 14. There Campbell jumps onto the paddywagon in which the "maniac cop" is trying to escape. A fistfight ensues as the wagon is moving, and suddenly we see a large pole aimed straight for the camera and "maniac cop."


A fistfight ensues as the wagon is moving, and suddenly we see a large pole aimed straight for the camera and "maniac cop."


The pole drives through his heart and the van flies off the pier. This sequence is executed perfectly, with five cameras shooting the scene—one inside the van and the rest surrounding it. As the van nears the edge of the pier, Lustig cuts back and forth between the cameras, making every shot of the climax fresh and exciting. Often directors, when faced with the challenge of killing the monster, try to be inventive, while just rehashing what's been done before. Not here. The cinematography, editing, direction and dazzling stunt work by Spiro Razatos (in a stunt that looks like it could have killed him had he been an inch off) make the conclusion work amazingly well.

At the very end of MANIAC COP, a hand creeps out of the water. "Sequelitis!" cries Lustig on the audio commentary, keeping with the campy spirit of the MANIAC COP films.

There is a side to these films that doesn't take itself too seriously; the horror is so over-the-top that some humor is needed for balance. MANIAC COP 2 is loaded with this comic relief. Lustig and Cohen had a free hand in making MANIAC COP, and its success, combined with the same producers and a budget four times as large, permitted them to have even more fun in their no-holds barred approach in MANIAC COP 2. With the basic storyline already established in the first film, they plunge right into action.

The film begins with the robbery of a convenience store gone awry. The cop character shoots the clerk and the robber gets shot through a plate glass window. When the dust settles after this very tense scene, we see a neon sign flashing over the now-dead robber:


"Miller, Made The American Way."


This comic bit comes at a perfect time to release tension. In fact, after nearly every violent set piece Lustig creates, Cohen's script counters with a moment of comic relief. The idea of catharsis Lustig speaks of on the MANIAC disc is taken to another level: there we confronted our fears and left them behind in the theater; here we can both leave our fears behind and laugh at them.

The storyline contains plenty of black humor. In this film, our maniac cop makes a friend: rapist/serial killer (Leo Rossi), who could easily pass for MANIAC Frank Zito's idiot child. This killer has pictures of women all over his dingy pad so he can possess them, and claims to be a "crusader of the night against the whores of the world." He's a real lowlife, but he's able to break through the Maniac Cop's shell, and gets him to speak for the first time. However, he's soon arrested, all the while claiming that his friend, "maniac cop," will get him out. This sets the stage for a firing range blood-bath at the police station (littered with signs about gun safety), and a final showdown at Sing Sing prison.

MANIAC COP 2 features great performances by returning stars Bruce Campbell and Laurene Landon, as well as Rossi and Claudia Christian. Rovert Davi's leaden performance as the cop who wants to save the day made me miss Tom Atkins, who played a similar role in the first film, and really made you believe in what he was doing. Tom, however, went flying out a window, leaving Davi to fill his shoes. Davi's performance is passable, but not much more.

With four times the budget, bigger explosions, more spectacular car chases, and crazier stuntwork, MANIAC COP 2 is almost more fun to watch than its predecessor. It has a little less story, but more action scenes. It's the one I've watched the most, but don't take it from me. Ask William Lustig which of his films is his favorite and he'll tell you in a heartbeat: MANIAC COP 2.



I would like to thank William Lustig very much for his cooperation in the making of this article.
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