Maniac Cop Trilogy (1988-1993)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #557


Suggested Audio Candy

Jay Chattaway “The Chase”


Where would we be without law enforcement? When frail senior citizens have their bags snatched at the dead of night and their assailants duck back into the shadowy recesses from whence they came to count their bounty, the sole consolation comes from spotting the nearest uniformed officer and relaying back the ordeal in the hope that justice will be done. However, for as much as most cops do things strictly by the book, there is always that one corrupt individual for whom too many years on the force have had an adverse effect and paperwork is just not worth the effort.


When Larry Cohen approached William Lustig with his idea for Maniac Cop, he was greeted with skepticism. Having already tackled the mean streets of eighties New York for both Maniac and Vigilante, Lustig was unconvinced that the concept had legs and far from sold on the premise. However, he had nothing but respect for what Cohen had achieved previously (often on severely limited funds) and, after reading his screenplay, soon changed his tune and signed up for active duty enthusiastically. While initially the film received a luke-warm response, it soon amassed a cult following and went on to become one of the most lucrative video rentals of 1988. Suddenly, a franchise loomed and, this time, Lustig wasn’t about to let the chance go begging. Maniac Cop 2 arrived on cue in 1990 and, three years later, Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence completed the trinity. In my infinite wisdom, I have decided to tackle all three in turn here and provide a three-in-one package deal as I’m feeling particularly magnanimous and, besides, it cuts down on all that unnecessary paperwork. So, without further ado, it’s time to grab a glazed donut, secure my tie pin, and twirl my baton.


Number of Views: Three
Release Date: May 13, 1988
Sub-Genre: Action/Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $1,100,000
Box Office: $671,382
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: William Lustig
Producer: Larry Cohen
Screenplay: Larry Cohen
Special Effects: John Naulin
Cinematography: James Lemmo, Vincent J. Rabe
Score: Jay Chattaway
Editing: David Kern
Studio: Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment
Distributor: Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment
Stars: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith, Robert Z’Dar, Sheree North, Nina Arvesen, Lou Bonacki, Victoria Catlin, James Dixon, Corey Michael Eubanks, Jill Gatsby, Rocky Giordani

Suggested Audio Candy

Jay Chattaway “Flash Back”


Maniac Cop wastes no time in introducing us to the terrorizer of its title. Once a highly respected and decorated officer of the law, the system ultimately betrayed Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar) and left him incarcerated with the very same punks and street urchins that he single-handedly brought to justice. He had little respect for following legislation and this didn’t sit well with his fickle superiors who considered him a loose cannon and packed him off to Sing Sing maximum security prison, where he found himself on the receiving end of some particularly inhospitable shower room justice. Left for dead and presumed D.O.A. when placed on the mortician’s slab, his battered bones were then shipped out by corrupt officials and the whole affair covered up conveniently.


After recuperating in an undisclosed location and being patched up by a similarly embittered insider, Cordell returns to his beat, only this time, with no intention of taking out the trash. Petty criminals and low-lives are no longer within his jurisdiction and, instead, it is the innocent that he once protected and served that he is looking to target. Moreover, anyone at city hall should be looking over their shoulders rather nervously as ultimately he has bigger fish to fry. Within five minutes, we are left in absolutely no doubt that this is the last cop on earth that you turn to in a crisis and, with the department struggling to keep a lid on affairs and New Yorkers losing faith in the boys in blue, our maniac cop becomes public enemy number one.


With push coming to shove and the body count rising rapidly, it is time to call in Manhattan’s finest and, in hard-boiled detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins), we have ourselves a grizzled veteran with the right credentials to make the streets safe once more. However, Frank receives little in the way of assistance from officials and a visit to unaccommodating Police Commissioner Pike (Richard Roundtree) throws up precious little in the way of assistance. Meanwhile, our less than lenient lawman has found the ideal scapegoat for his crime spree and, after being fitted up for his wife’s brutal murder, things aren’t looking particularly rosy for fretful flatfoot Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) or his low-key lover, spunky vice cop Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon).


85 minutes rattle past at a fair old clip and there is little time or reason to become distracted. However, your enjoyment will require a few leaps of faith as logic is far from its strongest suit and it asks us to suspend disbelief on occasions too numerous to mention. Characters make all manner of ill-informed choices, stumbling from one misstep to the next whilst displaying little to no scruples, and absolutely no light is shed on our superhuman maniac cop’s invulnerability. I’m more than happy to roll with the punches as long as my baseline requisite for enjoyment is met and Lustig’s film does precisely that without quibble. But where Maniac delved deep into the psychological fragmentation of a man teetering over his own gaping chasm, this opts for a far more accessible approach and is all the more shallow for it.


Atkins is predictably on-point as McCrae although lacking the sexual prowess of Dan Challis or wise-cracks of Ray Cameron. Cohen’s script asks no more of him than to put in a shift and it feels a little like a wasted opportunity to me. Landon performs her duties to the very best of her capabilities and impresses as the fast-thinking Mallory while, once again, Campbell proves that few can take such a thorough battering and still remain upstanding when called upon to save the day. As for square-jawed Z’Dar, he has just the right presence as the avenging fallen angel, although much of his screen time is spent shrouded in shadow.


It may feel as though I am being a touch harsh and, thankfully, Lustig’s film comes good in a number of other key areas. The action scenes are well choreographed and suitably pedal to metal, particularly the messy police station rampage and enthusiastically explosive finale. James Lemmo and Vincent J. Rabe assist the director in making New York City a suitably uninviting slayground and fill every shadowy crevice with impending threat and menace. Most critically, it stands up well to repeat views and is the kind of movie that is easy to dip back into from time to time. It may not do enough to be considered an out-and-out classic, but Maniac Cop is never less than arresting. In that respect, it’s a fair cop.


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5


Number of Views: Two
Release Date: July 18, 1990
Sub-Genre: Sub-Genre: Action/Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $4,000,000
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: William Lustig
Producer: Larry Cohen
Screenplay: Larry Cohen
Special Effects: John Carter, John Eggett
Cinematography: James Lemmo
Score: Jay Chattaway
Editing: David Kern
Studios: Medusa Pictures, Fadd Enterprises, Overseas FilmGroup, The Movie House Sales Company
Distributor: Metropolitan Filmexport
Stars: Robert Davi, Claudia Christian, Michael Lerner, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Robert Z’Dar, Leo Rossi, Clarence Williams III, Lou Bonacki, Paula Trickey, Charles Napier, Robert Earl Jones

Suggested Audio Candy

Buddy Miles “Children of the Night”


With the unprecedented success of the original and the sound of cash registers still ringing in their ears, it was only natural that Cohen and Lustig would return to the mean streets once again and request that Z’Dar put in a second shift as the mercurial menace of the title. With the crew pretty much unchanged and both Campbell and Landon reprising their roles as Forrest and Mallory, all signs were positive for more of the same, only this time with a larger budget at their disposal and some new faces to help keep things fresh. The sequel is very much business as usual and, for the leagues of Maniac Cop fans crying out for a second outing, that proved more than sufficient to encourage they empty their pockets.

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After a brief recap, Maniac Cop 2 picks up precisely where the original left off and, with McCrae now out of commission and any loose ends about to be tied up in no uncertain terms, its time to meet our fresh NYPD blues. Straight-talking detective Sam McKinney (Robert Davi) is on-hand to pick up the reins and police psychiatrist Susan Riley (Claudia Christian) soon finds herself relinquished from desk duties as the stiffs begin showing up once again. Meanwhile, new police commissioner Edward Doyle (Michael Lerner) hasn’t learned from his predecessor’s mortal mistakes and refuses to believe that Cordell is involved in the fresh batch of brutalizations. Will these dumb suits never learn?


Even psycho killers need to move with the times and, sensing that he cannot go it alone if he wishes to maximize his threat, Cordell finds himself a like-minded reprobate to boost numbers. Within no time, he has agreed to join forces with low-life serial sicko Turkell (Leo Rossi) in exchange for having a seedy hideout to lay low in between shifts. Conversation is a one-sided affair with Turkell running his mouth excitedly and his new buddy more than happy to play silent partner. However, together they concoct a plan to return to Sing Song Penitentiary and recruit themselves an army and, when Turkell is accosted by police for his prior crimes and placed under lock and key, it’s time for another visit to the station house and we already know how that plays out.


First things first, Maniac Cop 2 is clear from the offset about what it is looking to provide its audience. More of the same is the order of the day, only this time, it treads a distinctly different path than the original. With greater resources at their disposal and Cohen’s screenplay looking to take the series in a fresh direction, it feels far less confined than its forerunner and makes up for any lack of tension with numerous exuberant set-pieces and on a much larger scale. This works decidedly well and any thrill seekers amongst us are unlikely to be left wanting come its rip-roaring conclusion. Historically, follow-ups fall some way short of their predecessors in the overall scheme of things but, to both Cohen and Lustig’s eternal credit, the two films are pretty much on-par. Indeed, many regard this as the better overall movie.


The odd coupling of Davi and Christian works rather well and the former’s pitted features and gruff delivery are perfectly in sync with the character of McKinney. Whilst po-faced for the most part and single-minded in his pursuit of Cordell and his new cronies, he also brings a dash of straight-faced humor to proceedings and enough charisma to justify Lustig’s decision of resting much of the weight on his shoulders. Having enjoyed Rossi’s turn as chauvinistic paramedic Bud in Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, his casting as trash-talking Turkell seems inspired and beneath those scruffy facial furnishings is a grossly undervalued actor very much in his comfort zone.


One of the original’s standout moments was the police station massacre and Lustig puts his extra resources to stellar use with more bang for the buck than previously. With $4m in the kitty, Cordell has no reason to use door handles and, instead, strolls effortlessly through sheet glass, more than happy for the department to pick up the bill for any damages. The body count is ramped up and, while Schwarzenegger’s station house rampage from James Cameron’s The Terminator still reigns supreme, it’s a close run thing. Likewise, the closing act is one huge shot of adrenaline and watching a Cordell in full-on flaming fury is a joy to behold and provides him a fitting final flourish.


Maniac Cop 2 is everything a sequel should be and the perfect companion piece to the original. Cohen and Lustig know each other well by this point and their union bears more than enough fruit to justify their decision of franchising this beast. Two down, one to go and, with the pair in this kind of form and all set for one last push, the signs are positive for our debonair destroyer. However, perhaps a quick visit to the burns unit would be in order beforehand. Just a thought.


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5


Number of Views: One
Release Date: July 7, 1993
Sub-Genre: Sub-Genre: Action/Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: William Lustig, Joel Soisson (uncredited)
Producers: Joel Soisson, Michael Leahy
Screenplay: Larry Cohen
Special Effects: Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero
Cinematography: Jacques Haitkin
Score: Joel Goldsmith
Editing: Rick Tuber, David Kern, Michael Eliot
Studios: First Look Studios, NEO Motion Pictures
Distributors: HBO, Academy Home Entertainment
Stars: Robert Davi, Caitlin Dulany, Gretchen Becker, Paul Gleason, Doug Savant, Robert Z’Dar, Jackie Earle Haley, Julius Harris, Grand L. Bush, Robert Forster

Suggested Audio Candy

Joel Goldsmith “Main Theme”

maniac cop 3 2

Alas, things didn’t run quite so smoothly for the final chapter and it’s a marvel that Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence made it off the production line at all. A troubled shoot culminated in Lustig submitting 51 minutes of footage and flat refusing to film the additional scenes required to drag it to the finish line. With the director having washed his hands of the entire project, it was left to co-producer Joel Soisson to take over and editor Michael Eliot was left with an almighty task on his hands piecing it all together. As a result, numerous outtakes from the previous film are included to pad out the 85 minute running time and, what started so promisingly, ended on a decidedly dour note. Lustig was still credited as director until his own distribution house Blue Underground re-released it in 2013 and replaced his credit with Guild pseudonym Alan Smithee. Not quite the kind of closure fans had been hoping for.


Universally regarded as the weakest of the series and excluded from conversation by many when speaking of the Maniac Cop legacy, the third and final entry is nevertheless not quite the outright travesty it has been branded as. Granted, it is an uneven affair at best and lacks the sense of direction that led both its predecessors to become cult favorites but, when you take into consideration its turbulent shoot, things could’ve and probably should’ve turned out a darned sight worse. Somehow, inexplicably, it pulls off a minor miracle and deserves some credit for that feat, if nothing else.


A great deal of the praise must go to Robert Davi who reprises his role as Detective McKinney and supplies a highly creditable turn. While everyone around him was losing their heads, Davi did his level best with the tools at his disposal and Cohen’s script, while undoubtedly not up to earlier standards, supplies him with far more opportunity to make the character his own. He is a far more prominent figure this time and less content to simply chew scenery. Moreover, it appears as though McKinney has softened a little with age and developed a sense of humor in the process. This serves the third entry decidedly well as this movie needs a bankable hero to save it from capitulating.


When fellow officer and close friend Kate Sullivan (Gretchen Becker) is left brain-dead after a pharmacy shoot out, McKinney is understandably devastated. Nicknamed “Maniac Kate” by her colleagues, she has become known for her trigger happy approach to police work and the news that she is in a coma travels fast thanks to the scene being captured by a couple of freelance cameramen and broadcast nationally. Having recently returned from the grave thanks to a voodoo priest’s incantation, Cordell (Robert Z’Dar) takes an interest in her hard luck story and sets off to the hospital to bag himself his very own Bride of Frankenstein. Of course, before any nuptials can take place, there is other work afoot for our maniac cop and this involves snuffing out those responsible for placing her in a comatose state and anyone else foolish enough to stand in his way. Game on.


There is no escaping the fact that Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence falls short of the rousing finale that had been forecast. The plot is convoluted and, many of its characters, superfluous to proceedings. While Jackie Earle Haley is splendid as drug addled psychopath Frank Jessup and Caitlin Dulany perfectly fine as McKinney’s doctor sidekick, both Paul Gleason and Robert Forster are sadly wasted in miniscule roles. The same can be said, once again, for Z’Dar who is even more anonymous here than previously. This is largely due to the fact that Lustig and Cohen could never settle on a look for their terrible titan and his make-up drastically changes from one film to the next. Thankfully, Davi’s winning turn single-handedly rescues this from mediocrity.


For as much as this is pedestrian fare for the most part, the action scenes are actually rather well executed, with impressive stunts and a pedal to metal car chase finale that provides Cordell with the blaze of glory he so richly deserves. There can be no denying that Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence falls some way short of providing its fan base with the parting flurry they had been promised but, with its problematic transition from page to screen taken into consideration, it could have been a darned sight worse. And with that, our maniac cop’s reign of terror draws to a close and one can only imagine the amount of paperwork he’s accrued. May I suggest a change of vocation? Psycho Postman has a nice ring to it.


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Never quite the bloodbath we were hoping for, the Maniac Cop trilogy nevertheless provides us with a bloated body count and a varied roster of dispatches. Aside from shooting, stabbing and strangulating his victims, Cordell occasionally thinks outside the box and introduces defibrillator paddles, X-ray machines, and wet cement face packs to dish out his unique brand of justice. However, with Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero on SFX duties for his final patrol, a little more in-your-face splatter wouldn’t have gone amiss. Meanwhile, there’s a vague smattering of nudity shoehorned into the second film but little reason to break out the hand lotion.

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Richard Charles Stevens

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