Film restoration and preservation are essential in growing audiences long after a film’s release. Some of the greatest filmmakers have stepped into that realm to do their part in keeping cinema alive. Martin Scorsese started The Film Foundation, a non-profit that restores and preserves classic features from around the world. Quentin Tarantino has his New Beverly Cinema, a revival house that almost exclusively shows 35MM and 16MM prints of older movies and select new releases.
Blue Underground, a distribution company that specializes in releasing cult and foreign films to DVD, is headed up by William Lustig. Lustig is better known as director of New York movies like Maniac and Maniac Cop. Lustig has transitioned from director to distributor, allowing him to regain some form of control of his work, years later. Maniac Cop 2, one of Lustig’s best films, was acquired as part of the Blue Underground slate of films and is currently being rereleased for the first time in 4K Ultra HD.
Maniac Cop 2 is an action-packed slasher written by Larry Cohen, writer of the original Maniac Cop. The first film was enough of a success that Lustig was able to acquire three to four times the original budget for the sequel. He was given total freedom to make his picture, working independent of a studio. Lustig successfully elevated everything from the first film. Within six months, he had a cut to show at the Cannes Film Festival. The flick sold immediately, making back its entire budget. The financiers, however, avoided the risk of releasing the film in theaters. Maniac Cop 2 was relegated to the straight-to-video market, where it became an international hit. Unfortunately, Lustig and audiences were robbed of being able to see some of the greatest action sequences ever filmed on the big screen.
One of the many appealing aspects of Maniac Cop 2 is the cast. The flick features Robert Davi (The Goonies), Claudia Christian (Babylon 5), Michael Lerner (Barton Fink), Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead), Laurene Landon (Maniac Cop), Robert Z’Dar (Samurai Cop) and Leo Rossi (Relentless). Like any good Cohen script, every character is given the attention they deserve. Weaving those performances between Lustig’s wild sequences of car chases and men on fire is truly a thing of beauty.
Stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos, responsible for many great action sequences from today’s films all the way back to the ’80s, really brought his best efforts to this picture. Lustig has mentioned how Hong Kong cinema was a big influence on this picture, especially the films of Jackie Chan and John Woo. Whether driving taxis on New York city sidewalks or jumping out of buildings on fire, Razatos adds tons of thrills and excitement to help elevate this sequel.
The music in Maniac Cop 2 is another element worth praising. Composer Jay Chattaway really adds another layer to Lustig’s film with this score. Outside of Omar from The Wire, there’s no scarier whistling than what Chattaway does with the music in this film. His end credits rap song is a perfect ending to what is truly an amazing adventure in horror and fantasy.
An international cult classic, Maniac Cop 2 is taking the next step in the home release market. Blue Underground is issuing an unrated version in 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision HDR and a new Dolby Atmos audio mix.
The 4K version features audio commentary, an isolated music track and trailers. The Blu-ray version shares those features and more. There’s a Q&A from 2012 with William Lustig at the now defunct Cinefamily and a deleted scene featuring Sam Raimi as a newscaster. Delve deep enough and you may even find an Easter Egg hidden within the DVD menu.
A featurette titled “Back On The Beat – The Making of Maniac Cop 2” is another extra on the Blu-ray disc. A near hour long look into the making of Maniac Cop 2 tells the fun facts and hard truths by many of the main contributors to the film. Interviews with Lustig, Cohen, Christian, Davi, Lehrner, Rossi, Z’Dar, Razatos, and Chattaway give a well-rounded version of what it was like making the sequel.
One of the sillier moments in the mini-doc is when Rossi talks about trying to get into character before shooting his scenes. He details how he went so far as to get kicked out of a strip club for leering at the women in a way he thought his character Turkell would. All I will say about that is that Turkell is the best character in the sequel, and possibly in any of Lustig’s or Cohen’s other films.
Another special feature that offers a surprising amount of content is a poster and still gallery. A variety of one sheets, advertising material, VHS box art, lobby cards, color stills, black and white stills, and lots of behind-the-scenes images including Lustig on fire and Lustig being interviewed by Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants) are included for your scrolling pleasure. Personally, I can never see too many pictures of Laurene Landon holding a chainsaw.
Another excellent feature in this release is an audio commentary with William Lustig and his friend, Nicolas Winding Refn. Director of such films as Bronson and Drive, Refn is currently working on an HBO series based on the Maniac Cop franchise. While watching the film together, Lustig fondly reminisces about the making of Maniac Cop 2, possibly the last good experience he had as a director. Refn curiously asks throughout how much of the film was spontaneous and how much was planned. Lustig eagerly admits that, oftentimes, the best moments and ideas were born on set.
Lustig boasts throughout the special features that the film was truly a collaborative effort. Still, it helps when a bonafide director can work with one of the best stuntmen in show business. And the script just happens to be written by one of television and cinema’s pioneering storytellers. Add to that a fairly cohesive cast and crew that fought through a cold New York winter to make one of the most exciting action films ever, Maniac Cop 2 is a true gift to cinema lovers. Arguably, it is also one of the best sequels ever made. It thrills with each repeated viewing and will continue to excite audiences as film restoration continues to advance.