With 13 Days of Sequels I’ll be reviewing horror sequels every weekday for the last two weeks of October. You can view all entries HERE.
Also, full disclosure: this is a reprint of a piece I’d already written about Maniac Cop 2, for Shit Movie Fest’s Shitmas 2015. The original can be found on Shit Movie Fest’s site here. I highly recommend popping over and checking out their great site.
Sequels — especially ones of the action or horror ilk — seem to follow an unofficial yet unanimously agreed upon belief that they need to be bigger and badder than their predecessor in every conceivable aspect. If the first film had a car chase, the sequel should have three. Was there an explosion in the first one? Well now the follow up has no less than ten. The body count should triple, the nudity should double, and hell, why not introduce a completely arbitrary character if only to add to the insanity? Logic usually falls by the wayside in order to accommodate these new cranked-to-11 rules, but we the viewers are usually too awestruck to notice.
Such is the case with Maniac Cop 2, a movie which adheres to these tenets so much so that I am going on record and dubbing it “the ultimate horror sequel”. (I’ve also dubbed it Broken Glass: The Movie, but I’ll get to that in a minute.) In fact, it’s so full of over-the-top exciting visuals that I considered merely stringing together a thread of gifs from the film in lieu of a written article, but I figured that might be a bit much. I’ll do my best to describe the awesome, glorified excess of Maniac Cop 2 using words alone, but I assure you: it is a movie that is best watched, not read about.
From the second the movie starts, we’re hit with a flurry of horror sequel tropes and homages: the opening scene is actually the final scene from Maniac Cop — a device used to catch viewers up to speed, seen in everything from Halloween II to Friday the 13th Part 2. After we’re reminded of the events which ended the first movie, the screen goes black. We hear the voices of children giggling and reciting a schoolyard rhyme (which is exactly how Halloween begins, too.) We hear the haunting waterphone — an instrument that is inextricably tied to ’80s horror fare — and suddenly were in a junkyard and the opening credits are rolling. The camera pans over a sea of busted and rusted car skeletons — A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, anyone? The camera stops on one car in particular; the headlights flick on, the engine roars to life, and off it goes. And so begins our octane-fueled adventure.
So with that intro paving the way for what’s in store, let’s break down all the awesome components that make Maniac Cop 2 such a damn good movie and such a great sequel.
First, its location: The Big Apple. New York City has never been more New York than it is in Maniac Cop 2. The streets are perpetually wet, the sewers are constantly steaming, and the alleys are jet-black and ominous. Rats scurry down streets lined with the flashing marquees of strip joints and the cops simply throw their coffee cups and sandwich bags out the window of their moving squad car, too busy in hot pursuit to dispose of the trash in a garbage can. And what better time of year to showcase New York’s gloomy glory than Christmastime! The twinkling lights and holiday decorations make for the perfect backdrop for all the action-filled set pieces. Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan may have been released the year before, but in terms of accurately representing that scummy Big Apple vibe, Maniac Cop 2 knocks it out of the park.
Then there is Maniac Cop 2‘s incredible cast. While genre legend Tom Atkins doesn’t return for the sequel, we’re still treated to originals Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon and the late great Robert Z’Dar who reprises his role as Matt “Maniac Cop” Cordell, as well as awesome new editions like Claudia Christian, Charles Napier, Michael Lerner, Sam Raimi, and Robert Davi. Robert Earl Jones (that’s James’ brother) pops up as a blind newspaper salesman. Talk about a perfect sequel character. He does the distant stare while people toss change into his cup and take their papers from the stand, and at one point he describes the icy touch of the dead Matt Cordell by telling a story about when he was in Vietnam — perfect, I’m telling you. There are even cameos from Clarence Williams III and a then-unknown Danny Trejo, both playing prison inmates! However, it’s Leo Rossi’s strip club-frequenting serial killer “Steven Turkell” (Stefan Urquelle, anyone?) who steals the show. Taking pages straight from the Manson Family handbook, the bearded and shaggy-haired Turkell hoots, hollers, and bounces around like he’s got ants in his pants, all while spouting prophetic nonsense in a southern drawl. Through serendipitous circumstances, Turkell teams up with Cordell to “assemble an army”, which includes the aforementioned convicts. Watching Turkell fawn over Cordell like an obsessed fan is, again, the perfect direction to take the sequel. Rossi is wonderfully over-the-top, and this is one of my favorite performances by him.
Last but not least, one of the most important elements that elevates Maniac Cop 2 into ‘ultimate sequel territory’: the action! People are thrown through windows left and right, cops are thrown into mirrors, cars are crashed and piled up, and the third act sees Cordell go on a shooting rampage in a police station where he shoots more panes of glass than he does people. I need to go back and count how many times glass shatters in this movie; it has to be in the high double-digits, easily. I bet the fake glass budget on this movie was insane! There’s also a brief fight scene involving a chainsaw that I wish had been drawn out a little longer, but seeing as the person wielding the chainsaw had just been thrown through a storefront window, I can understand why the ensuing fight was abridged.
However, it’s two specific stunts that really stand out. First is one involving Claudia Christian who has just been handcuffed to the steering wheel of a cop car by Matt Cordell, who then puts it into neutral and sends it sailing down the side streets of NYC at breakneck speeds. Normally this could be remedied quite easily by simply applying the brakes and pulling the car over…except that Claudia is on the outside of the car, her hand cuffed to the wheel through the open driver side window. For an extended sequence, we see the cop car careen wildly against traffic, through tunnels, and into walls…all while a stunt person hangs from the driver side window, feet dragging on the ground. For a no-budget movie made long before CGI it’s an incredibly dangerous stunt, and I think it’s one of the greatest car chase sequences ever committed to celluloid, truly. Again, Maniac Cop 2 is a movie better watched than read about, so I implore you to check it out if just for this one scene alone. I guarantee you’ll be holding your breath and leaning from side to side throughout it.
The other great stunt is during the final scene of the film. Cordell has infiltrated the prison where he was ‘murdered’, in search of the prisoners who killed him. He finds them, but they fight back by hitting him with a molotov cocktail, setting him ablaze. Here’s the crazy thing: the entire final act plays out while Cordell is on fire. He walks through the prison halls, grabbing prisoners, throwing prisoners, smashing prisoners — all while burning up, like some sort of homicidal bonfire. It’s a great stunt and a really awesome final scene. I’ve heard before that Kane Hodder has the record for the longest uninterrupted on-screen controlled burn in Hollywood history for his stunt in Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood. But I assure you: in terms of actual screen time, it pales in comparison to Maniac Cop 2. In fact, I’ve never seen a stunt like it before or since.
In the end, Cordell is dead (or is he? It’s a sequel, so you know they have to include one last fake-out), and just as the movie wraps up and the credits are about to roll, BOOM: The Maniac Cop 2 Rap! Yes, it’s true: much like his contemporaries Freddy Krueger and The Cryptkeeper, Matt Cordell got in the rap game. It’s the perfect end to a perfect sequel.
I hope my long-winded rant has convinced you to check out Maniac Cop 2 if you haven’t already. And if you have, well, I hope this blurb has helped convince you that Maniac Cop 2 truly is the ultimate horror sequel. Ho, ho, ho-rror! Happy Holidays!