An Undead Grudge

Maniac Cop 2

1988’s Maniac Cop wasn’t exactly a good film. It was largely panned by critics, and ignored by audiences, leaving it to only make back a little over half its $1.1 Mil budget (tiny even by the standards of the late 1980s). It also, honestly, wasn’t that interesting as a horror movie. Its kills were largely lackluster, its gore minimal, and it really didn’t know how to get scares out of its scenes. And yet, with the passing of time, its basic message, “maybe you can’t trust the cops,” actually seems more prescient now than it did back then. “What if cops are the bad guys,” seems less like a major twist for the film than something people should just accept, and it was refreshing to see a film from the 1980s that actually thought about that.

It didn’t think about it well, mind you, but it did think about it. That counts for something.

Of course, the 1980s were a very different time for studios, large and small, than where we’re at now. Here, in a land without rental shops, when home video is dying and everything is moving to the miniscule returns of streaming, a film that only made back half its budget would be considered a total failure. Back in the day, though, when rental shops and home video and cable sales could actually boost a film’s bottom line, a movie like Maniac Cop could do well enough from those revenue streams to get a sequel. And two years later it did, Maniac Cop 2, a film that seems to want to be the first movie all over again even if it can’t do any of it as surprisingly or as well.

Picking up just a few months after the events of the first film, the sequel opens with our previous heroes, Jack (Bruce Campbell) and Theresa (Laurene Landon) finding out from Deputy Commissioner Ed Doyle (Michael Lerner) that the Cordell case is closed. As far as the department is concerned, Matt Cordell (Robert D’Zar) died in prison. Whoever our heroes fought out by the junkyard at the river (at the end of the first movie) it wasn’t Cordell. And, besides, they’re dead so who cares? Move on, get back to your careers. Except this is impossible when both of them, along with a few other cops, are then killed over the next few nights by Cordell (not dead, and seemingly now undead and immortal).

Lieutenant Sean McKinney (Robert Davi), assigned to the case of a serial killer stalking strippers and other “working girls,” ends up on the Cordell case when Cordell shows up at the scene of another victim of the serial killer. The girl is saved, but only barely, but the cops that arrived on the scene are beaten and seemingly killed. Cordell then goes off with the serial killer, Steven Turkell (Leo Rossi), and the two strike up something of a friendship. McKinney, aided by police psychologist Susan Riley (Claudia Christian) – who is on the case after witnessing Theresa’s death – tracks down and captures Turkell, but this only serves to piss off Cordell. Now the Maniac Cop is coming for the police to get his revenge on the whole system that betrayed him.

Although this sequel was better received at the time of its release, I feel like it’s actually a lesser entry for the franchise. It’s less of a horror film than a cop drama, and even then it isn’t really sure what kind of film it wants to be. Is it a story about chasing down Cordell? Is it about the serial killer stalking the streets. It doesn’t actually commit to either side of the story very well, and then awkwardly hangs them together simply to get the film to something of a conclusion. It has a confusing, and downright contradictory, story that really needed a number of rewrites before it was ready for filming.

To start, Cordell in this film targets exclusively cops. He was going after normal people in the last film (at least until he had to track down, and try to kill, Jack). This film, though, changes his modus operandi and that goes against not only what we knew of him in the first film but also the story set up for him in this movie. If he were the Cordell from the first movie he’d be out for revenge, specifically to take out the cops and lawyers that put him in prison (and Jack and Theresa as they’re his patsies and they have to die).

But the Cordell we learn about in this movie is, apparently, actually an honorable cop. That whole backstory we got in the first film (the film for which is recycled, one hundred percent, in this movie) where he was a dirty cop who had to be sent to prison, that was the lie. He was framed, and the people that framed him wanted him dead so they could continue being dirty cops and making money off criminals. So, that guy should, frankly, be out for revenge and would be all for taking out bad cops and other bad guys. That guy wouldn’t want to help a serial killer (or be friends with him) because that’s not what a good cop does. It doesn’t make any sense.

There’s also the serial killer storyline which feels like it was grafted onto this film to fill time. The serial killer is mentioned once, early on in the movie, but then it’s dropped for two full acts until Cordell and Turkel cross paths. Only then does the film commit to it and actually devote any time to this character. Frankly it would have been better if the serial killer were the focal point of the story and Cordell flitted in and out, killing people (maybe other girls) and pinning it on Turkel. Then the serial killer could have been pissed about a copycat stealing his thunder, and we could have had two killers going after each other instead of another story about cops stalking an undead dirty cop.

Of course, the whole realization that Cordell wasn’t a dirty cop should also have been removed from the story. It doesn’t add anything and it only confuses the story. Cordell being a good cop (who then goes out of his way to have a cop-killing murder spree, mind you) feels at odds with everything else he does in the movie. When his name is cleared, and Cordell is seemingly dead (again) he even gets a full funeral as due to someone who fell in the line of duty. Would they really do this for someone that has killed over thirty cops across two films, whether he was unjustly sent to prison or not? I kind of doubt it.

While we’re picking this apart, what is with Cordell being essentially an invincible, undead murder machine. He can take bullets, stabbings, a metal pipe through his chest, and shrug it off. He doesn’t bleed, he doesn’t even notice pain at this point, and it seems like nothing can kill him (at least until the plot needs him to die). He’s a dirty cop version of Jason Voorhees at this point, but at least the Friday the 13thOne of the most famous Slasher film franchises, the Friday the 13th series saw multiple twists and turn before finally settling on the formula everyone knows and loves: Jason Voorhees killing campers 'round Camp Crystal Lake. films had the good grace to officially make him into an undead murder machine by the sixth film. Maniac Cop 2 doesn’t give us any explanation for how a living human could survive all of that, nor does it give us any magic of any kind to solve the undead problem. It just doesn’t work.

Finally, the new heroes of this film, Sean and Susan, don’t work in the lead roles. The film kills off Jack and Theresa so early into the film we actually didn’t need them here anyway, but it then replaces them with another guy and girl with less investment in the story and less personality between them. They’re rote, filler roles for rote, filler characters. The film either needed to reuse Jack and Theresa as the heroes this time as well, or it should have spent the needed time to actually build Sean and Susan up properly. Sean needed to be one of the people on the Cordell case from the start, and Susan needed to be his psychiatrist who worked with him regularly. That at least gives us connections to the story, and between the characters, so we could care. We don’t care here. At all.

It’s not that Maniac Cop 2 is a bad movie, per se, it’s just that it’s not a good one. It’s lackluster and plain, with a confused plotline and not a lot of action. By the standards of the 1980s horror genre it’s not the worst thing out there, but it barely qualifies as watchable. It just… exists.