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Magnum Arcanum Posts

October Horror Marathon Movie 3: Maniac Cop 2 (1990)



Dir: William Lustig, Stars: Robert Davi, Claudia Christian, Michael Lerner, Robert Z’Dar

Notes: Watched this one on Hulu so I couldn’t get as many screencaps. I’m also switching up the title formatting a bit so I can stop pretending I’m watching one of these every day. My goal is to mainline 5-6 movies a weekend and see how close I get to 31 before the end of the month.

Maniac Cop 2 picks up where the first one left off, as the opening scene straight up reuses the footage from the climax of the first film as a way to quickly remind everyone what brought about the second “death” of the villain Matt Cordell. I’m not against reusing footage, but it’s done again later in the film, playing the exact same “Cordell goes to prison” flashback as in the first movie but without the good music and visual effects that made it effective there. It feels like they needed to pad the running time by a few minutes so they threw that in.

You know what else they threw in to pad the time? Strippers. Maniac Cop was relatively sober, for a movie about an undead cop wantonly murdering people, but 2 takes that same gritty vibe and just sleazes it up, throwing in an entire subplot that’s really only there so you can have a few women take their tops off and narrowly escape murder (or not). The secondary villain, a creepy military-surplus-jacket-wearing sleazebag is an absolute waste of space. He exists to do two things: choke women and, somehow, become the “monster-whisperer”, delivering all of the exposition related to the motives of the Maniac Cop.

The leads from the first film are quickly and unceremoniously replaced. Bruce Campbell’s complete lack of screentime makes me wonder if he wanted more money than was in the direct-to-video budget, or if he had something better to do. The replacements aren’t much of a downgrade, though. Robert Davi doesn’t really bring anything to the table as the grizzled old cop who serves as the “good” equivalent of Z’Dar’s loose cannon, but Claudia Christian is pretty great as an NYPD psychologist. She does all the heavy lifting in the film as far as being a relatable protagonist goes, and gets the second best action sequence in the movie when she’s handcuffed to the steering wheel of a car that inexplicably speeds away, continuing to accelerate through several scrapes and near-crashes.



Turns out, none of that matters. The end of Maniac Cop 2 is so incredible that it justifies every frame that came before it. The Maniac Cop, on fire, murdering every convict who wronged him and a bunch more besides before falling into a bus and exploding was immediately one of the most iconic horror movie endings I’ve ever seen. It’s. So. Good. It’s everything you want out of a horror movie. Practical effects are taken to an extreme as a good half dozen stuntmen are set on fire. Whoever’s in the Z’Dar costume has amazing stamina, as they hold on several long shots of him walking around slowly while his clothes burn, with no obvious cuts. My hat’s off to everyone involved.

Even if you don’t want to watch the whole movie (in the end, it’s alright), do yourself a favor and watch the ending on youtube.

October Horror Marathon Day 2: Train to Busan (2016)




Dir: Yeon Sang-ho, Stars:  Gong Yoo, Jung Yu-mi and Ma Dong-seok

I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that zombies are pretty played out. With two pretty popular zombie TV shows on the air, on top of decades of movies, it’s difficult to make your own space in the genre without being totally derivative.

Train to Busan uses its visuals to stand out from the crowd. The bright blue train uniforms, lit by the orange lighting, look great, even if they do bring to mind the worst movie poster trend I can remember. I know it’s basic color theory, but it’s a nice break from the drab settings of most zombie movies. The bright white uniforms of the baseball team stuck on the train are also great, they pop out of the screen and make the kids look really kinetic.


Even when the colors aren’t quite so saturated, Train to Busan is bright. Darkness, that staple of horror, is a rare event. The movie reinforces this color theming by making the darkness helpful to the characters, while well-lit areas become what’s dangerous by default. Two of the big action sequences are set in big, airy spaces, making for a striking break from the more claustrophobic confines of the train itself.

Unfortunately, the movie stumbles when it tries to tell a story alongside these visuals. It’s very cliche and moralistic, and there aren’t really any thematic twists to the narrative. The overworked business man learns that he should’ve valued his family more, the bad selfish people meet bad, selfish ends, etc. “Shades of grey” characterization is as much a cliche in zombie movies as anything else, but I was hoping for more of the subversion applied to the visuals to carry over to the rest of the film.


The characters are ciphers for the most part, but Dong-seok Ma played my favorite character, Sang-hwa, who spends the majority of his screen time punching zombies in the face and calling the protagonist an asshole (he’s totally an asshole). The hilariously evil bad guy is hilariously evil, and suffers for being more of a metaphor than a person.

Train to Busan gets a weak recommendation from me. I think it’s still worth seeing for the visuals, but it’s really disposable outside of that and I don’t think it’s a film I’ll be revisiting any time in the future.

October Horror Marathon Day 1: Maniac Cop (1988)

I got a late start, so here’s a catch-up.201407_ban7_fv_maniac4_hero_970


Dir: William Lustig, Stars:  Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Robert Z’Dar

I’ve never been to New York City, but I’m in love with the way it looks on film. When you get a movie that filmed there in the 70’s or 80’s, it has a character to it that’s immediately discernible, that adds a layer of grit to any story that wants it. Maniac Cop uses these qualities to quickly establish a tense setting, opening on streets that are simultaneously deserted and claustrophobic, with sidewalks hemmed in by canyon-like building walls and endless lines of empty cars.


Maniac Cop takes the tension of those streets and adds a psychopathic police officer to a film that ends up being a naked satire of both police-community relations and the very idea that the shoot-first-ask-questions-later, Dirty Harry-style cop is something you’d ever want around. As the idea that a police officer is murdering innocent people, all of whom are white, spreads on the news, you get a bunch of little reactions from people in the community. Uniformly, the white citizens are freaking out, while everyone else is completely unconcerned, informing the audience that this is business as usual.

The climax of the film takes place at a St. Patrick’s Day parade, that is proceeding despite there being threats of bombs and violence, and is being picketed by protesters decrying police violence. It’s all a sidebar to the quasi-supernatural murder cop that’s stalking all of the main characters, but it’s an amusing reminder that issues between the police and the people they’re charged with protecting aren’t anything new, no matter what your relatives on Facebook think.


None of the performances are remarkable. Tom Atkins does a good job as the grizzled old detective who really cares about finding the killer, despite being dressed in the worst suit I have ever seen in my life. Bruce Campbell doesn’t get to bring much comedy to his role outside of throwing himself around into walls and doors, so he’s pretty wasted. He manages to look really skinny and insane, though. Robert Z’Dar does well as the titular Maniac Cop, selling being an unstoppable murder machine with his lumbering but intense movements. The payoff where you finally see his face [link is spoilers] was pretty startling and effective, and I’m glad they saved it for the last few minutes of the film.

There were a few things that didn’t really work for me. Bruce Campbell’s subplot is boring, and one of those bad horror movie cliches where you and half the characters know exactly what’s going on and you’re just waiting for everyone else to catch up so the plot can move along. The flashbacks to Maniac Cop’s origins, while filmed incredibly effectively, didn’t do anything to really enhance the character for me. I couldn’t tell if the movie was trying to engender sympathy for him or not, but if it was, it didn’t work.

Overall I’d give Maniac Cop a solid recommendation for a horror movie night. It’s not excessively gory so it’ll work for most situations, and the pointed social commentary is novel enough to carry the slower bits.