Navy SEALs vs. Zombies (2015)

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For some reason, “X vs Zombies” has been a remarkably durable sub-genre; I guess all you need is a few bags of fake blood and six or seven of any outfit. Anyway, filling in that X have been – Cockneys, Humans, MILFs, Cowboys, Bears, Pro Wrestlers, Santa, Models, Ninjas, Strippers, Bigfoots, Kids, Wiseguys, and Abraham Lincoln. They are all real movies.

 

So it really surprised me when I watched this, having been jokily recommended it by my friend Jamie, and it turned out to be pretty good! What the hell, movie? It looks like some serious coin was spent on it too, which is perhaps even more surprising – there’s one car wreck that looks like they set it up and did it without just stealing the footage, and there’s lots of real use of Government buildings. So kudos to the lunatic who put up a few million dollars (which they’re never going to get back) to make this movie stand out.

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Also unlike just about every other zombie movie of recent years, it’s got a decent cast. Michael Dudikoff (“American Ninja”) is the Colonel, who we only ever see in one room so they probably shot all his stuff in one day; same with the great Molly Hagan (“Some Kind Of Wonderful”, “Herman’s Head”) as the CIA agent who knows what’s actually going on. Add in Ed Quinn (“Eureka”) and Rick Fox (former NBA star turned actor) and this is the low-budget equivalent of star-studded!

 

The Vice President is doing a speech in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when zombies start pouring across the lawn of the building. Communication goes down, so the Colonel sends in a team of Navy SEALs, lead by Quinn, and with a new member who left his pregnant wife at home (fun fact, one of Quinn’s team – Kevin Kent – was legitimately a SEAL for 20 years, in case you were as impressed as I was by the real tactics, teamwork and communication showed by the group). As they’re about to wrap up the first rescue, Hagan tells them about a secret CIA lab which might have a cure for the zombie virus elsewhere in the city, so the majority of the movie is them – along with a reporter and cameraman who were covering the Vice President – getting across the city and trying to rescue the scientists.

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A rule of thumb for how much I enjoy a movie is how extensive my notes are – the better it is, the fewer things I’ll write. It’s difficult, after all, to write “I’m enjoying this” twenty times. My notes dried up after the halfway mark, pretty much, which is a very good sign. So, let’s go through the ways this movie shows up the huge majority of recently produced zombie movies, aside from the budget we’ve already mentioned.

  1. Action – stuff happens! Throughout!
  2. Characters – even the minor characters are given a bit of definition (it’s my fault I kept getting the bearded guys confused)
  3. No stupidity – no-one behaves like a dumbass, just to give the zombies something to munch on
  4. Tension – the ending could genuinely go one of several different ways
  5. Sense of humour – not so much jokes, as humour arising from the situation they’re in, which is a refreshing change

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For a “vs Zombies” movie, it’s far better than it has any right to be, and the people who made it understand what people like about these sorts of movies; they get the little stuff right too, like the competence of the soldiers, the locations, and so on. We have a first time director to thank – Stanton Barrett, a former NASCAR driver and stuntman, and I think he’s got a decent career ahead of him. I like the subplots, I like the ending, and I think you’ll have a fine time watching this.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

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Benjamin Smoke (2000)

What is the sound of the queer Southern blues?

What is the sound of the queer Southern blues?

Before we even talk about the music or the subject of this documentary, in the first ten minutes it illustrates better than any piece of journalism ever could the appalling poverty that some sections of the USA live in. Cabbagetown, a “suburb” of Atlanta, has houses in every state of disrepair, kids “who go to prison young”, parents addicted to pills and glue, no jobs, a derelict factory or two…a state of affairs that any civilised nation ought to be ashamed of, but one which Benjamin seems almost delighted by as he made Cabbagetown his home for most of his life.

 

Benjamin was a leading member of Atlanta’s alternative music scene, after coming back from New York (he moved there at 18 to sweep the broken glass up at CBGB’s for $20 a day, describing it as the filthiest place ever). He was a member of many bands, lastly Smoke, and his incredibly raspy vocals and unusual subject matter got him some comparisons to Tom Waits. Benjamin was gay, and a combination of being HIV+, long-standing use of amphetamines and other drugs, and contracting Hepatitis C resulted in him dying at 39, in 1999.

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The documentary was shot over 10 years by Jem Cohen (an amazing documentary filmmaker) and Peter Sillen, and is in a sort of chronological order, although it’s more just a selection of interviews with Benjamin, peppered with footage of his bands performing and the filthiest sections of Atlanta. His story isn’t particularly sad – which is weird to say for an HIV+ guy who abused drugs most of his adult life – but it’s an interesting portrait of a man who just seemed unable to fit in with the way the rest of society operate. Most of us who feel that the dominant culture isn’t ours can sort of manage, rebelling in little ways, but people like Benjamin just couldn’t. I think he’d have been an interesting guy to know. It’s sad that most of the interviews with him, he seems to be high (when, in the “bonus features”, he’s seen extremely lucid and sober at least a few times).

 

A word about how it looks in a minute, but “Benjamin Smoke” is structured beautifully. His death is announced on screen at the hour mark, which comes after he achieved his dream of performing with Patti Smith, who was so inspired by Smoke’s music that she wrote a song of her own about him. Smith then appears in the last segment, reading the song she wrote and talking about Smoke and her interaction with Benjamin. It’s a wonderful coda.

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The music’s great too! I’m sad I never heard Smoke while Benjamin was still alive, but his band is a wonderful mix of drone and Americana, very much like early Patti Smith but pushed to a weird extreme. I’m still figuring out the lyrics. Watching this movie, though, is like watching a random selection of clips from a late 80s edition of “120 Minutes” – that grainy black and white footage of roads and ugly houses, slowed down footage of band performances, poorly lit static shots of Benjamin being interviewed. Not to say it’s bad, but it feels like “indie music film by the numbers”. I don’t know.

 

If you’ve heard of “Benjamin Smoke”, it’s down to lists of music documentaries you really should watch, and I’d definitely agree with that. Don’t judge it based on the success of its subject, because who cares? Judge it based on how interesting the subject was, and if you see it that way this is an absolute triumph of a documentary.

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Rating: thumbs up

Deadly Friend (1986)

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As our “Nightmare On Elm Street” review series is on hiatus, it’s time to dip into another Wes Craven movie. While we decided that “Deadly Friends”, where someone turns the cast of the popular sitcom into zombie monsters, would have been a much more entertaining choice, we gave this a go anyway.

 

Paul (Matthew Labyorteaux) is a super-genius – even though he’s a high-school-aged kid, he’s already lecturing at University, and has built a robot called BB. BB is sort of a Johnny-Five looking fellow with a yellow plastic shell, but what sets him apart from other robots is artificial intelligence – at a level which the robots of today aren’t close to having caught up with – and a horribly weird voice. Imagine a cross between Stripe from “Gremlins”, a Minion and a Jawa and you’re nearly there. Paul’s not just a nerd, though, quickly making friends with Tom (in a scene that plays like romance) and Sam (Kristy Swanson, in a scene that plays like friendship). The three humans and one robot get up to all manner of shenanigans in the neighbourhood, with a little developing romance between Sam and Paul, but Sam’s drunk abusive father and Elvira, the evil old lady from across the street (the amazing Anne Ramsey, who could probably play this sort of role in her sleep) put a kibosh on their fun.

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I don’t want to just do a recap, because in a sense the movie itself is the least interesting thing about this movie. Elvira destroys BB with a shotgun and Sam’s father, becoming increasingly angry, kills Sam by shoving her down the stairs. Thanks to handy first act exposition, we know that Paul has the tools at his disposal to steal bodies and implant chips into brains, so it looks like Sam is getting BB’s brain-chip implanted. Nothing can go wrong with that plan, as I’m sure the title “Deadly Friend” will have reassured you.

 

Wes Craven and writer Bruce Joel Rubin (who also penned “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Ghost”) wanted to make a PG-rated science fiction thriller, with the darkness of the central teen romance front and centre. Not a bad idea, and teen movies were big business at the time, but apparently the villain of this particular piece is…well, one person and one group of people.

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GROUP – test audience. The studio showed the original cut of the movie to a group of Wes Craven fans, who crapped all over it because it didn’t have any gore in it. Thanks, awful horror fans!

 

INDIVIDUAL – Mark Canton, head of Warner Brothers at the time. The idea for the beyond-nonsensical ending was his, as was the insistence that Craven and Rubin put loads of gore scenes in.

 

When you discover all this, and the substantial edits that were done once the movie was out of Craven’s hands, things start to make a lot more sense. BB doesn’t get destroyed til halfway through, leaving an overlong first act, and the romance between Sam and Paul was trimmed down, leaving his decision to risk his entire life and future career for some girl he’s briefly kissed once a rather confusing one. And then there’s the gore. Elvira was supposed to die by being shoved through her own front door, but…her head is exploded when Sam throws a basketball at it. Now, if you’re thinking “the hardest thrown basketball of all time wouldn’t do much more than break your nose” then you’re a smarter person than the former head of a major movie studio. The effect is spectacular, but they really do a poor job of fitting it to the original footage of the killing and its aftermath – perhaps deliberately.

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It’s really a movie of two halves. And they aren’t always bad – look at the same year’s “Something Wild” to see a comedy that suddenly lurches into very dark territory, but done well. While I’ve got no idea what Craven’s original cut looked like, it can’t possibly have been worse than this, and the bits of the original version we see really give the indication it would have worked a lot better as a sort of dark comedy where Paul gradually realises his mistake – in the final version, he treats the reanimated Sam as an annoyance from her first waking moment.

 

Kudos to Kristy Swanson, though, who was 16 when she made this, her feature debut. She plays dead Sam as a cross between a robot and the Bride of Frankenstein, and does a pretty darned good job of it. One gets the feeling she figures out that being brought back to life is a bad idea before he does, too.

 

“Deadly Friend” never really had a chance, though. It sounds like the reshoots weren’t just cosmetic but completely altered the movie – if you look at the original lobby cards, they have pictures of scenes that disappeared, like Paul’s mum trying to help him with robo-Sam and more about their burgeoning relationship. Plus, Craven was forced to put in multiple dream sequences as soon as the studio figured out who they had directing that little dark romance movie.

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You can see bits and pieces of a really interesting movie trying to get out, but it’s buried under unnecessary gore and a shockingly bad ending (why was Paul not arrested for stealing a corpse? How did he get back into that hospital?) Sorry, Wes.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Xtro 3: Watch The Skies (1995)

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The good news is, “Xtro 3” is better than “Xtro 2”. But, watching a compilation video of cats being sick is better than “Xtro 2”, so it’s an extremely low bar to clear (can you call it a “bar to clear” when it’s below ground level?) And once again, it has absolutely nothing in common with either of its prequels – the aliens look and behave differently, no returning cast members, no similar locations, not a remotely similar plot.

 

There’s even what could be called a promising start, as a jokey old newsreel video introduces the movie. This brief moment of optimism will come to feel like a mouthful of cold ashes, though, so don’t get used to it. Robert Culp, who must have really needed the money, looks suitably embarrassed to have his military office in the middle of an empty warehouse as he gives orders to…you know what? I can’t remember his name, and there are two similar-looking guys in the IMDB listing. Let’s call him Captain Dull. So, Captain Dull gets sent to an island which has apparently been left off all the maps and unvisited for 50 years, in order to get rid of all the unexploded WW2 bombs there, preparing it for being turned into a refuelling station.

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He’s given the four worst fuck-ups in the Army to help him, along with a shady-looking Naval Intelligence guy, played by Andrew Divoff, and his assistant (who I’m pretty sure was called Watkins, which would make her Karen Moncrieff, now better known as a director and wishing she could wipe all traces of this movie from the historical record). And then the movie turns into “Predator”, a change from the last movie, which ripped off “Aliens”. Which one of the “Xtro” sequels is more blatant in its theft is a question I shall leave you to answer, dear reader.

 

There’s a large concrete block on the island with some aliens inside it, and while they’re pretty annoyed at being on Earth and having experiments done on them, aren’t the sharpest tools in the box. Example? Well, right at the end they get in their apparently space-worthy ship, located under the concrete block, and head off home…when they could have done that at literally any moment since the island was abandoned. Seriously, the Army guys have absolutely nothing to do with them escaping. When Divoff brings in a bunch of black-clad killers to take out the Army guys and the aliens, I just thought “why didn’t he do this in the beginning?”, as much as I could be bothered to have coherent thoughts by that point in the movie.

 

Oh, I’d forgotten the framing device, which is Captain Dull, having escaped from the island, trying to get a journalist to believe his story (he has photographs and papers he managed to take). Just to really leave you feeling miserable, he fails, the journalist calls in the police, and the last we see of him, he’s being carted away to a high-security psychiatric hospital. Hurrah for humanity!

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You really don’t need much more than this to tell you not to watch the movie. As honest as I think director Harry Bromley Davenport is about these movies, that doesn’t make them any better, and while this one isn’t quite as bad as part 2, it’s still really bad. Captain Dull, whoever he is, is a terrible leading man, and Divoff is the sole bright spark among the male actors, taking his part remarkably seriously. It’s merely an early example of a “people walking through the woods” movie, the kind we cheap movie connoisseurs have come to know and “love”.

 

I’ll leave with a feminist critique of this movie, and it might not be something you’d ever considered, but when you start thinking about it I guarantee you’ll notice it all over. There are two main female characters, the aforementioned Watkins and Banta (Andrea Lauren Herz), and they’re both trained military personnel. It’s all about the way the genders deal with getting injured or seeing their friends killed. Both women start crying, trying to find a man to hug, and completely breaking down; the men want to angrily seek revenge, or shout at the heavens, or whatever. Why are women portrayed in this way? Why are they seen as “less than” in these situations? It’s subtle, but it still sucks. This is, of course, leaving aside that Divoff smacks Watkins around on several occasions, leaving her sobbing on the ground (one time, after she abandons the building of a raft to get them off the island to go skinny-dipping with one of the soldiers, because women must be sexually available at all times, tee hee!) You’d think this physical abuse would make her a cert to survive, but no!

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The more I think about this movie, the less I like it. Mean-spirited, stupid and pointless.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Xtro 2: The Second Encounter (1990)

At least the box is honest

At least the box is honest

The thing about sequels is, even if the story doesn’t follow from one to the other, it’s nice to have some sort of continuity. Whether it’s a lead actor (“Bloodfist”, “Project: Shadowchaser”), a villain (“Predator”) or just an activity (“No Retreat , No Surrender”, “Bring It On”), almost all sequels will have some thread connecting them. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed by the way I’ve constructed this paragraph, “Xtro 2” is not any old sequel.

Trying to figure out just why the not exactly beloved “Xtro” got a part 2 is one of the very few entertaining things to do while watching this – and let’s just get it out of the way. It’s such an enormous rip-off of “Aliens” that I’m genuinely amazed James Cameron and his people didn’t sue director Harry Bromley Davenport – an additional problem being that the first movie is more similar in tone to a low-budget “Hellraiser”, meaning the two have literally nothing in common but a name. Researching, it seems Davenport only made “Xtro 2” because he retained the rights to that name, but not the story, and needed the money.

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Someone else who probably needed the money was star Jan Michael Vincent, formerly of “Airwolf” – we first see him in a cabin in the woods after retiring from his high-powered Government job, just in case you didn’t make the connection yourself. Now, Vincent has been an alcoholic and junkie since at least the early 80s, and is such a total mess he’s not acted for fifteen years; and it’s fairly safe to say this was filmed during a rough time for him. He looks awful and according to Davenport, refused to learn his lines and seemed not to care about acting at all (he had to feed Vincent most of his lines from just off camera). I’d normally try and be more sympathetic to Mr. Vincent but he seems to have had a habit of getting drunk and driving his car, and he’s extremely fortunate to have not killed anyone else.

I still haven’t mentioned this damn movie, have I? Scientists have figured out a way to beam people into alternate dimensions. Vincent is the only person to have done it and come back, and when they lose a team of three scientists, he’s brought out of retirement to assist with the rescue preparation. Evil Dr Summerfield doesn’t like Vincent, though, so he brings in a four-person “strike force” to go to the other dimension and bust some alien ass; before they get the chance to set off, one of the scientists is discovered in the other dimension and beamed back, but wouldn’t you just know it, he’s carrying something back in his chest cavity!

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That’s all the recap you’re getting, Go watch “Alien” and “Aliens” if you want to see the same plot done several thousand times better. The beats are the same, the ideas are the same, some of the props appear to be the same, but “Aliens” didn’t have a drunk asshole who couldn’t be bothered to learn his lines in the lead role. I’ve been trying to think of something nice to say about it, but there’s really nothing. Sorry! Well, there’s a bunch of perfectly serviceable supporting roles, but that’s almost the definition of damning with faint praise.

Perhaps the only thing of any worth to be gained from this was finding the 17 minute “Xtro Xposed”, an interview with Davenport, which is one of the most honest interviews with someone in the movie business I’ve ever seen. On the first movie: “there’s nothing to it at all. It’s rubbish”. “Everything about this film is dreadful”. And referring to this one: “it truly is a piece of garbage”. He’s kind to people who deserve it – Robert Shaye of New Line, Maryam D’Abo and Bernice Stegers from the first movie; but brutally honest about everyone else, including himself. I wish more people would do interviews like this – because you know he’s not on his own in his opinion of the movie business.

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Seriously, why are you still reading this? Nothing good can come of watching “Xtro 2”. Avoid at all costs.

Rating: thumbs down

Xtro (1982)

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I knew very little about “Xtro” before popping it on, so when I discovered it was set in England and made by an English writer/director, I was rather surprised (plus, it’s an early movie from New Line, aka the producers of the “Nightmare On Elm Street” movies). There’s something about English horror of the 80s – well, I can only think of “Lifeforce”, “An American Werewolf in London” and “Hellraiser” here, but please bear with this analogy – that seems dingy and miserable in a way American ones just didn’t seem to be able to manage. Plus, I just realise, all those movies have American actors in major roles, as if they knew to sell it over the pond would need an accent US audiences could relate to. But anyway, I’m wandering away from the point here. Xtro!

 

Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer) is abducted by aliens while staying at a cottage with his son Tony, an event that still traumatises Tony three years later. I mean, this is on the back of the VHS box, so I’m not giving anything vital away here. Sam’s wife Rachel (the strikingly beautiful Bernice Stegers) is now living with American photographer Joe (Danny Brainin), plus French au pair Analise (future Bond girl Maryam D’Abo, in her first role). They really don’t seem wealthy enough to need an au pair, but presumably someone went “this horror movie needs nudity, and Stegers is married to a famous director so we can’t force her into doing it” so whatever.

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One day, the aliens show up again and drop off one of their crew, in a scene that gets trotted out every now and again by particularly credulous believers in alien visitation before a thousand people shout at them “it’s from Xtro, you idiot”. This odd-looking fellow kills a few people on a dark country lane before…and perhaps I missed a bit here…laying an egg inside some poor unfortunate woman and then disappearing from the movie forever? Anyway, the upshot of all this is, she gives birth to a full-sized adult man, aka Sam from the beginning of the movie. After cleaning all the goo off himself and learning how to talk again, he pops off home to reclaim his family.

 

Obviously, he’s got ulterior motives, and one of these is sucking some of the lifeforce from his son, which also gives him alien powers. These powers are used to animate a midget clown and an Action Man figure to kill his nasty downstairs neighbour – played by Anna Wing, who shortly after this movie cemented her place in UK pop culture history by getting the part of Lou Beale on “Eastenders”. Oh, and he kills Analise because she’s insufficiently committed to a game of “Hide and Seek” – don’t worry, I couldn’t make any sense of that bit either. There’s one bit where he wakes up in the middle of the night, covered in blood, so a doctor is called, who can find nothing wrong with him. Horrible, right? Well, it’s just ignored the next morning, as if children waking up drenched in mystery blood is a terribly common occurrence.

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I’ve possibly made it sound more interesting than it really is. It grinds to a halt when Sam shows up again, becoming a sort of dull kitchen-sink drama for a good twenty minutes or so, and only really kicks off again when Sam and Rachel go back to the cottage to see if they can figure out what went on. I feel worst for Joe, who gets treated as an afterthought in the conclusion of the movie.

 

One thing “Xtro” got right was the special effects. The alien (as seen above, if I can get a decent screenshot) is extremely effective, and the liberal use of goo and gore is refreshing for a British horror movie too (director Harry Bromley Davenport said he wanted to make it even more disgusting, but New Line stopped him). That it’s mistaken for one of the 72 “video nasties” is completely unsurprising, because it is gross!

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Plus, I like how the inspiration for the plot feels English. I’d lay good money on this having something to do with the Rendlesham Forest incident – which happened two years before this movie was made. Complete nonsense, mind, but it’s got that home-grown flavour to it. Of course, it might have just been rush-released to get some of that “ET” money, but we shall never know (by which I mean I can’t be bothered to check).

 

SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING: Rachel, having seen her boyfriend die, and her husband and son go off to space, was (in the original ending) supposed to go back and find her home full of clones of Sam, but the special effects looked terrible. Then it was supposed to finish with her just sitting down in the field, but Davenport said that was too abrupt. The ending we’ve been left with is Rachel walking back into her house with a Mona-Lisa-esque knowing smile on her face, and picking up one of the eggs that Sam left behind. If it had cut off with her smiling at the eggs, it would have been quite creepy and interesting, but what they did was have one of the eggs pop open and attach itself to her face, killing her, which is stupid.

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It’s got one major positive (the special effects) but everything else works against it. The plot is about halfway to being decent, but just throws all that out of the window towards the end; the acting from the women is excellent, but the men – including the kid, who’s just awful – leaves a lot to be desired. It’s fun to see the British have a real crack at an exploitation film, but it could and should have been much better than this. And despite their other horror franchise pumping out the sequels regularly, New Line wouldn’t produce the second “Xtro” for another eight years, with part 3 a further five years after that.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1993)

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This movie has an interesting-ish bit of trivia about it. It’s the last one ever to use the Alan Smithee pseudonym, which would be discontinued in 2000. Although he’d been credited up to that point, original director William Lustig had his name taken off for the blu-ray in 2013, a release from his own company (he owns Blue Underground). It’s not like I needed that clue to be able to tell something was a bit off about “Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence”, though.

 

As you may remember, Officer Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar) had his name cleared and was given a full police funeral, which was a nice ending to two excellent movies…until, in true slasher fashion, his hand emerged from the coffin right at the very end to reclaim his badge. Well, the beginning of part 3 goes out of its way to tell us how he was framed and only went after the people who lied about him…unfortunately, for those of us who’ve seen the first two, this makes no sense. His first on-screen act is to snap the neck of a woman who was running away from a couple of muggers, and he murders dozens of innocent people. Dozens!

 

Turns out his resurrection this time is due to a voodoo practitioner called Houngan, and his motives are…a trifle unclear? By that, of course, I mean “completely 100% unexplained”. Well, there’s something about a Bride of Frankenstein-esque deal for him, but to call it half-baked is an understatement. Anyway, as he’s doing his thing, a couple of ambulance-chasing freelance TV cameramen are filming a holdup in a chemists’, where super-brave cop Kate (who’s been given the nickname “Maniac Kate” due to her excessive zeal) injures junkie thief Frank Jessup (Jackie Earle Haley) and kills the clerk, getting shot herself in the process; it turns out the clerk was Jessup’s girlfriend and was in on it.

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I’ll pause for a second to allow you to ponder the image of mad-eyed Jackie Earle Haley and a sweet-looking Hispanic girl being a couple before continuing. The camera guys decide to edit the footage to make it look like Kate murdered the clerk in cold blood – this being the aftermath of the Rodney King beating – even though she’s mortally wounded herself and in a coma; the news report with this footage is presented by Ted Raimi, a nice callback to brother Sam’s performance in part 1. This gets her friend Lt. McKinney (Robert Davi, who doesn’t exactly look like a “McKinney” now I think about it) riled up, and it really annoys Houngan, although why we never find out why. He dispatches Cordell to do his maniac thing in protection of Kate, and this involves killing her doctor, killing another doctor who’s going to turn off her life support, freeing Jessup from the bed he’s been handcuffed to and giving him a gun (not sure why he does that either), and then slaughtering those two camera guys, part of which involves handing over the unedited footage to the cops so Kate’s name can be cleared.

 

Stunt supremo Spiro Razatos is back for this one, and although I presume the budget was slightly smaller, he does manage one absolute gem of a scene, a car chase between Cordell – who is on fire the entire time! – and McKinney, plus his sidekick / love interest Dr Susan Fowler (Caitlin Dulany). And while we’re in the plus column, it’s fun to see a couple of big-ish names brought in for short cameos – Paul Gleason as the cop who wants Kate’s life support turned off, and Robert Forster as the doctor who agrees to do it. Plus, Robert Davi is again excellent, clearly loving being able to play a good guy for once.

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But we really need to discuss that “Alan Smithee” credit. Lustig’s original rough cut came in at 51 minutes (!) and when he was asked by the producers to film the extra scenes to bring it up to feature length, refused and walked off the production, never to return. It turns out the script was written for a black star, but someone decided black star = poor box office, and retrofitted it to be a “Maniac Cop” movie; also, Lustig refused to work with Laurene Landon again, so they had to introduce the Kate character. It sounded like a weird one.

 

One of those producers, Joel Soisson (whose recent career has been producing endless “Children of the Corn” and “Hellraiser” sequels) stepped in to finish things off – this must also have been tricky, as several of the scenes are very obviously outtakes from part 2. For instance, Cordell does the “walk up stairs while shooting cops” thing again, only in the footage used in part 3 you can see one of the corpses break his fall by grabbing onto the bannister. So, it’s disjointed, the voodoo thing makes less than no sense and it’s paced terribly – at around the 30 minute mark, you realise nothing remotely interesting has happened since Kate got shot. Even with reshoots and the intervention of professional “save our movie” editor Michael Elliot, it just feels unfinished.

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I think there’s a law of diminishing returns with slasher villains  (which Soisson no doubt understands very well). There comes a point, usually after part 2 of a franchise, where the hoops that need to be jumped through in order to bring the villain back for yet another instalment either slowly make even hardcore fans resentful, or bore the low-rent TV channels and video distributors who are their main customers. What, we’re not the customers? Oh, no. We’re the people whose goodwill towards previous entries is being sold, to scumbag businessmen who couldn’t give a toss about anything other than money. Michael Myers, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, Pinhead…they’ve all been killed, for good this time, so often that it’s a joke. But the joke is on us (Freddy Krueger only escapes because he’s always been dead, and because his movies a cut above the others in terms of quality). Those guys are the parents of today’s endless sequel / reboot culture, because when part 7 of some godawful slasher franchise can make more money than a far superior original horror idea, movie companies realised that original ideas were a mug’s game.

 

Don’t know why “Maniac Cop 3” inspired that rant – possibly because parts 1 and (especially) 2 were so good. The stink of pointlessness is strong, even if it’s not an incredibly terrible movie, so I suggest just pretending the franchise ended after the second one. RIP Matt Cordell, you weird indestructible maniac cop, you.

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Rating: thumbs in the middle

Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

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I enjoyed “Maniac Cop” recently, but had been told by a few smart people that part 2 was better, that director William Lustig and writer/producer Larry Cohen had figured out what worked and what didn’t and built on the strengths. And those smart people were absolutely right – “Maniac Cop 2” is a stronger, leaner, more fun movie, with its weaknesses buried way down and its strengths magnified. Plus, it’s got an amazing purpose-written rap song playing over the end credits! One of my favourite movie things is when they have a song which is about the movie – in fact, I might make a compilation of them one day.

 

What “Maniac Cop 2” does is bring the slasher movie subtext out, front and centre. This is about a horribly disfigured, supernaturally powerful killer with a very strange moral code, who relentlessly pursues his goal, slaughtering everyone who gets in his way (although he does hide his actions quite cleverly at the beginning). We see Matt Cordell (the late great Robert Z’Dar) thanks to this movie repeating the last few minutes of part 1, getting a metal bar to the chest and driving into the bay, but as part 2 starts – with Bruce Campbell and Laurene Landon being cleared by the Commissioner – he’s nowhere to be found, as he wasn’t recovered with the dredged police truck he was driving. But you know that he’s just biding his time before going back to work!

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The Commissioner is still trying to stick to the line of part 1, that it’s just a large psychopath dressed in a police outfit, but luckily this rather pointless stance is mostly ignored. As Campbell and Landon are both dispatched – in classic slasher movie fashion – fairly quickly into the sequel by a revitalised Cordell, with grey skin, horrible scars and a missing nose. Now, this might be a problem with HD versions of the movie, but as they try and half-hide Cordell’s face, it’s mostly visible on several occasions, making the big reveal when it comes a little anti-climactic. But anyway.

 

The stunts, thanks to Spiro Razatos (who’d go on to do the stunts for “The Expendables”, the last three “Fast and Furious” and the two “Captain America” movies) are superb, and are peppered liberally throughout the movie. The two new stars – Robert Davi as Detective Sean McKinney and Claudia Christian as police psychologist Susan Riley – are put through the ringer, most memorably as Christian is handcuffed to the wheel of a car (from the outside) then the car is pushed down a hill. But there’s tons of great action, to go along with Cordell’s slaughtering.

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There is a plot, in case you were wondering. Leo Rossi is Turkell, a deranged fella who sees it as his job to clean up the filth from the streets – he’s killed a number of strippers before he and Cordell cross paths. The two of them form a friendship, of sorts, and even though Cordell utters one word (his name) they’re able to communicate. Anyway, Rossi is eventually caught, which gives them an idea – take a guy who’s about to be committed to Sing Sing prison, pretend to be his guards to gain access, then slaughter their way through the prison to bust out everyone on Death Row and form an army of psychopaths. Oh, and while he’s there Cordell can get revenge on the people who “killed” him when he was an inmate there too, which is a nice bonus.

 

McKinney and Riley, while initially sceptical, meet Cordell themselves and head up the search for him, going over the head of the Commissioner to the press (again). I like their little team – not a hint of romance, but a believable friendship. Also, I reckon Robert Davi and Claudia Christian must have quite enjoyed the chance to star in a movie, and they’re both excellent. They give fairly straight police-thriller performances, even though they’re in a slasher movie, and I like it. Oh, and popping up in an entirely wordless cameo is Danny Trejo as “Prisoner”. That guy got around.

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But all this plot and investigation is really just a framework on which to hang some brilliant set-pieces. Seeing Cordell shoot his way through a police station (never mind how a grey-skinned zombie monster got in there in the first place) is super-exciting, and the final set piece in Sing Sing is brilliantly done as well. Although…the way they finish off the Maniac Cop, by clearing his name of the stuff which landed him in prison in the first place and giving him an official police burial, making sure the corrupt cops admit to their crimes too, is a fascinating way of doing things.

 

It’s a huge improvement over part 1, a tense, tight, gore packed, stunt packed, little gem of a movie. I’m moderately afraid part 3 will be a flop, but after two such strong entries, this series is already strongly in the “win” column for me.

 

Rating: thumbs up