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

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Supernova (2000)

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“Supernova” is one of that rare breed of movies where the stories surrounding its creation are more interesting than the movie itself. Wait, don’t stop reading yet! I’ll give you all the most fun stories, continue my admiration of James Spader and bang on about hard sci-fi for a while. What more do you want from a review?

Up to the late 90s, “Alan Smithee” was the name the Directors Guild of America used when a director wanted his name taken off a movie for whatever reason. After 1997’s “An Alan Smithee Film”, the name became too well-known so the pseudonym was changed to “Thomas Lee”, and the first film it was ever used on was this. All this is down to director Walter Hill (“The Warriors”, “48 Hours”, producer of the “Alien” franchise), and ongoing problems with the head of United Artists, whose pet script he rewrote; UA hired a guy to re-edit Hill’s footage, and that tested terribly; they asked Hill to come back, and he only agreed on the proviso he be allowed to do $5 million worth of reshoots and special effects. They refused, and he walked again; then Francis Ford Coppola, at the time a board member at MGM (UA’s partners), spent $1 million on yet another re-edit; this tested terribly as well; then a final edit became the actual released version of the movie, a movie which currently sits at 10% on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Although its history started with a pitch for “Dead Star”, which would’ve resembled “Hellraiser” in outer space, then briefly became “Dead Calm” in outer space, the version of “Supernova” we now enjoy is about a medical ship in deep space. James Spader is co-pilot Nick Vanzant, and we’ve also got Robert Forster as the captain, Angela Bassett as the medical officer, and Lou Diamond Philips and Robin Tunney as the engineers. Not a bad cast, really (although a shade light on super-star power for a $90 million film, excepting Spader, who we love).

After receiving a distress call from a far-distant ice mine, the “Nightingale 229” has to do a dimensional jump to get there, and as this messes with your molecules in a slightly more aggressive and risky way than Star Trek’s transporter or warp drive (it seems like a weird mix of both) Forster is left as a red soup at the other end, and an asteroid belt damages the ship. They have an 11 minute gap between them recharging their engines in 17 hours time and the nearby star sucking them into its gravity well and killing them all, and this is all complicated when an emergency vessel comes up from the planet’s surface, with…a passenger who’s apparently the son of Angela Bassett’s ex-boyfriend? Described as the evilest man in the universe (the dad, not the son).

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This is all pretty exciting to this point. It just starts falling apart almost immediately, and there’s been so many cooks in this particular broth it’s impossible to know which one of them messed it up. Spader’s a recovering drug addict, and Bassett seems to take over the ship, yet a few scenes later she defers to him as captain, and his drug addiction plays no part in the movie whatsoever. The “son” (Peter Facinelli, better known these days as the head of the vampire family in the “Twilight” movies) is so obviously a bad lad that you keep expecting them to twist it, only they never do. He talks about travelling to see his father after a sudden aneurysm made him sick, but sudden aneurysms kill you, especially when you’re billions of miles from the nearest medical facility…and the qualified doctor on board doesn’t spot this. Robin Tunney, despite being in a serious relationship with Lou Diamond Philips, almost immediately has sex with Facinelli, despite him being the sleaziest evilest douchebag…and then there’s the glowing thing.

The glowing thing is actually a pretty interesting idea (I’ll try and avoid spoiling everything, although the title of the movie is a bit of a giveaway) but the problem is the timescale. All the twists and turns and activity of the plot basically occurs in that 17 hour period, and I just don’t buy it, and I’m sure at least one of the edits of the movie doesn’t buy it either. It feels like it’s got too many competing ideas to fit into 90 minutes, and it feels weird to say this about any movie, but it would have benefited from being a good half hour longer.

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For such a short movie, there was a lot of sex in it (including what is rumoured to be a colour-shifted Robin Tunney standing in for Angela Bassett) and way too many dropped plot threads. The end-game of the movie isn’t really mentioned til about 15 minutes before the end, too…I’m not sure any of the multiple edits could have fixed this. I’m honestly not sure if anything could have done. Facinelli being way less broad in the beginning would have helped; the computer being much more or much less of a character, too; and them fleshing out just one or two ideas (what was the deal with pregnancy, anyway?) would have helped immeasurably. More Spader, too. He’s great, and Facinelli isn’t, a fact which isn’t reflected in the relevant screentime for the both of them.

Not quite as bad as its reputation would have you believe, but a wasted opportunity to make a really interesting “proper” sci-fi film with deep-space ships and mining colonies and completely alien concepts like the glowing thing.

Rating: thumbs down

House 3: The Horror Show (1989)

How shall we describe House 2?

How shall we describe House 2?

If you didn’t have the DVD of this, you’d be forgiven for not realising it was part of the “House” franchise, as it’s just called “The Horror Show” on screen. Plus, it’s got an Alan Smithee writing credit – that being the name used by writers and directors who want their name taken off a film, for whatever reason. “Fun” fact- this is indeed entirely unrelated to the first two films and was only renamed “House 3” for distribution outside the USA. This should be a stinker, right?

Luckily, those same credits give us reason to hope. It stars Lance Henriksen, and reminds us of an era when an odd-looking sorta small guy like him could headline a major studio horror movie, and Deedee Pfeiffer right at the beginning of her career. Chief baddie (because he’s only ever going to be one) is Brion James, one of the all-time great villlains, previously covered by us in “Steel Frontier” . So let’s go!

There are two main things to notice about this film, right from the off. One is, it’s a heck of a lot gorier and less funny than the previous instalments – right at the beginning, Detective Lucas McCarthy (Henriksen) is tracking down serial killer Meat Cleaver Max (James) through a building, and there’s bits of other cops strewn everywhere, with lashings of blood. Two, it’s incredibly similar to “Shocker”, released later the same year. Max is captured, sentenced to death, gets the electric chair , “dies” and then decides to take his revenge. It seems weird, but in a bit of research no-one appears to be blaming anyone for ripping the other off, so perhaps it’s just a bit of electric-powered-murder synchronicity.

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Okay, it’s definitely the least of the House films. It’s basically a traditional slasher movie, with jump scares, long periods where not a lot happens, a main character who’s losing his mind, and has no-one believe him about the bad guy. So far, so ordinary. Also, the body horror special effects look absolutely awful in HD, yet another reason why all 80s horror movies should only be available in VHS-quality.

Brion James is the saviour of this film. He’s an amazing character, and his initial “death” scene is a genuinely over the top, gruesome and frightening moment. As he gets deeper into McCarthy’s mind, we’re treated to one scene where he takes over the TV standup comedy show they’re watching and does a lot of “take my wife, please” style jokes, where the punchline is always murder. Standup’s loss is…nah, he’s awful at it, but the scene is great. He’s another first-ballot ISCFC Hall Of Famer, and according to an interview this was his favourite ever role.

I appreciate “House” was always intended to be an anthology film series, but to have part 3 so different in tone and execution from parts 1 and 2 is still a little odd. Part 2 was pretty much completely a comedy, with comedy leading men in it, but part 3 is a slasher movie with no jokes, apart from ones the characters see on TV. Still, Henriksen plays the harried everyman pretty well, and were it not for the glacial pace of the central section, it would be a decent addition to the series.

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Before we go, a word about how this film is related to “The Evil Dead”. Italy, for many years, was a copyright-free zone – if you had a bootleg CD in the 90s, chances are that’s where it came from. When the first two Evil Dead films were released there, they were renamed “La Casa” 1 and 2, and some scumbag distributor decided that building on the success and quality of those two was easier than starting from scratch, publicity-wise. The “Casa” horror series just continued with a series of entirely unrelated movies (much like the “Zombi” series took Dawn of the Dead as their starting point). That list:

La Casa = Evil Dead (1981)
La Casa 2 = Evil Dead 2 (1987)
La Casa 3 = Ghosthouse (1988)
La Casa 4 = Witchery (1988)
(featuring a between-TV-shows David Hasselhoff and Linda Blair possessed by a demon)
La Casa 5 = Beyond Darkness (1990)
La Casa 6 = House 2: The Second Story (1987)
La Casa 7 = House 3: The Horror Show (1989)

I love it. I love every stupid audience-cheating bit of it, including not using House 1 as part of the series, and having House 2 and 3 in there, despite them not even being related to each other. I want La Casa 8, you guys!

Anyway, House 3, eh? Anybody want us to cover “Shocker” next?

Rating: thumbs down

Student Bodies (1981)

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Although this film bills itself as the first ever comedy-horror, the genre has been around as long as either comedy or horror. It’s the world’s first comedy slasher film, probably, although it came out the same year as “Saturday the 14th” so it might not even be that. In the interests of full accuracy, I propose they change the poster to “one of the world’s first comedy slasher movies”. Done!

It’s very much in the “Airplane” mold, as well, where jokes are thrown at the wall almost continuously to see what sticks. “The Breather” is upset at kids at Lamab High School having sex, and luckily for him every single trysting couple behaves in exactly the same way – they find a secluded spot, then the boy realises he has to go and get something, the killer kills the girl and waits for the boy to get back before killing him too. Every damn time.

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After a beginning which borrows music and visual aesthetics from “Halloween”, it apparently works its way through the gamut of horror films of the time, much like the “Scary Movie” franchise would do years later. “Carnival of Souls”, “Black Christmas”, “Carrie”, “When a Stranger Calls”, “The Shining”, “Friday the 13th”, and “Prom Night” all get mocked, apparently (I didn’t notice them all). Oh, and “The Wizard of Oz”, I suppose.

Although I can find no online information, it would appear the Dr Pepper corporation paid for this film to be made- it’s not quite blatant enough to be a joke, but that stuff is everywhere. “The first film to feature product placement as a joke!” – sorry, “Student Bodies”, wrong again.

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The film itself…is okay. There are some good jokes and lots of rotten ones; the shop teacher, Mr Dumpkin (Joe Flood) is hilarious. But, the circumstances of the film’s production are more interesting, to be honest. Made during a strike in Hollywood, the producer / director went by the Allen Smithee pseudonym, and the vast majority of the film’s cast (including both stars, who were actually pretty good) have this as their one and only film credit. The most amazing performance goes to janitor Malvert, played by someone listed only as “The Stick”. He’s an extremely tall, extremely thin, extremely odd-looking chap, double-jointed, who was apparently a standup comedian and about whom very little is known.

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It’s a strange film, is “Student Bodies”. No sex, gore or nudity, and they got the R-rating they wanted by having the film stop at around the half-hour mark and cutting to a man at a desk who discusses this problem before doing a very bad swear. The body count is displayed at the bottom of the screen, as well as the occasional helpful comment like “Suspect”. I just wish a good comedy writer had been given a few more runs at the script, or something.

Rating: thumbs in the middle