Twelve Days of Axe-mas / The Cohen Case Files: Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

Written and Produced by Larry Cohen

Note: This review will contain spoilers concerning the first Maniac Cop. I urge you to watch the first film before reading this review.

I am taking part in The Chicago Creepout’s Twelve Days of Axe-mas holiday viewing event. This is my day twelve.

Admittedly, Maniac Cop 2, like the similarly titled Maniac, has next to nothing to do with Christmas, but both films take place within the horror realm and are set during the holiday, so I’ve included both of them as part of my special series of films for the season. Maniac Cop 2 also has the added bonus of being a part of The Cohen Case Files, so I get to kill two homicidal, undead cops with one stone.

Maniac Cop 2 is that rare genre sequel that realizes what failed to work about the first film, eliminates those problems, and emerges as a solid piece of exploitation filmmaking that is much better than it has any right to be.

Literally picking up at the end of Maniac Cop, the story follows Officer Forrest (Bruce Campbell) as he is cleared of all wrongdoing in the murders from the first film. But as is made clear to him by the new police commissioner (Michael Lerner), he is expected to forget about Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar), the possibly undead titular character. Desperate to keep his job, Forrest agrees, but Mallory (Laurene Landon), his girlfriend and fellow officer, is not so eager to let the issue go, especially when Cordell’s body was never recovered from the wreckage of the police van he drove into the East River.

Trying to convince Mallory to drop the investigation, the commissioner has Detective McKinney (Robert Davi), attempt to chase her off what everyone considers a wild goose chase. But McKinney comes to believe that Mallory’s story might be the truth and, assisted by police psychologist Riley (Claudia Christian), he digs into the conspiracy that sent Cordell to prison.

Add to this plot a nifty twist that has Cordell partnering up with Turkell (Leo Rossi), a serial killer who targets strippers, and you have the makings for one of the better low budget action/horror films of the late ’80s/early ’90s.

Gone from the first film is the confused reasoning behind Cordell’s rampage. Thanks to his interactions with Turkell, there is an understanding of the method to Cordell’s madness as he is revealed to be more than the mindless killer who might kinda sorta be out for revenge from the first film. In this film, he is a cold-blooded killer with a purpose that finds him using criminals and cops to definitely advance his agenda for revenge against those he did not punish in the first film. This allows for some moral muddying of the waters as Cohen and director William Lustig show some sympathy to the killer who does deserve his revenge against certain people. But they never allow that sympathy to get in the way of the fact that Cordell is also a remorseless killing machine who will slaughter scores of innocent people in his attempts to get to the truly guilty parties.

As much as I usually love Bruce Campbell in anything, he was wasted in the first film and is largely left to dangle in the sequel. These films never took advantage of his gift for physical comedy and saddled him with a grim-faced character lacking a funny bone. It’s a relief when he is pushed into the background in favor of Davi who is right at home as the gruff, no-nonsense lead detective who doesn’t care who he offends—or shoots—in his pursuit of criminals. Christian is also a huge upgrade in the female lead department over Landon. She brings a steely presence but never misses the humor in the situation or her character. It’s also a kick to see the supporting cast populated by great character actors. Beyond the always reliable Lerner, Z’Dar, and Rossi, Lustig finds room for actors like Charles Napier, Clarence Williams III, and Lou Bonacki. Every member of the cast delivers at least one memorable moment that often elevates scenes of exposition to oddball comedy.

While the film largely occupies the supernatural horror/suspense genre, Lustig stages some impressive action sequences: a fight between Mallory and Cordell in which she employs a chainsaw, a potential victim does her best to avoid a grisly fate when she is handcuffed to a runaway car, Cordell’s jaw-dropping assault on a police station, the climactic scene in the prison to which Cordell was originally sent. All of these set pieces are put together with nothing but solid stunt work, clever camera movement, smooth editing, and lots and lots of squibs. If you watch enough ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s action films, you might be surprised by how visceral these “old-fashioned” techniques are, especially when compared to the CGI fests of the last fifteen years.

As is common when it comes to films Cohen wrote but did not direct, there is the lack of social or political commentary that marks his best work. But it is a fun movie. All Cohen and Lustig are trying to do with the film is to entertain the audience. By that measurement, Maniac Cop 2 is a rousing success.

James Dixon Sighting: Carrying over his role from the first film as a uniform cop who is handy with exposition, he gets to exchange some fun dialogue with Riley at a police shooting range.

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