William Lustig Career Retrospective Part Two

Maniac Cop  (1988) 
SUMMARY: In New York City, a waitress named Cassie Philips is on her way home when she is assaulted by two muggers and seeks aid from a police officer, who kills her by breaking her neck. Over the next two nights, the hence-forth dubbed “Maniac Cop” kills a drunk driver and a businessman. This prompts Lieutenant Frank McCrae, who was told by his superior Captain Ripley to suppress eyewitness accounts that the killer was wearing a police uniform, to pass on information to a journalist, in an attempt to protect civilians. Unfortunately, this causes panic and dissent among the city and results in innocent patrolmen being shot to death or avoided on the streets by paranoid people.

Ellen Forrest, who suspects that her husband Jack may be the Maniac Cop, follows him to a motel. There she catches him in bed with a fellow officer, Theresa Mallory. Distraught, Ellen runs out of the room and is slain by the Maniac Cop. Jack is arrested under suspicion of murder, but McCrae believes Jack has been framed. McCrae gets Jack to tell him about his relationship with Mallory, who is attacked by the Maniac Cop while working undercover as a prostitute. Mallory and McCrae fight off the killer, who is deathly cold even through his gloves and does not appear to breathe. Even though they shoot him several times, the killer appears completely unfazed.

Mallory hides out in McCrae’s apartment while he investigates Sally Noland, a fellow officer and the only person Mallory told about her affair. McCrae follows Noland to a warehouse, where she meets with the Maniac Cop and refers to him as “Matt”. Returning to police headquarters, McCrae discovers files on Matthew Cordell, a fellow officer who was imprisoned in Sing Sing for police brutality and closing in on corruption in city hall (having killed at least five criminals prior). While McCrae is looking into his past, Cordell flashes back to being mutilated and killed in a shower room in Sing Sing.

When McCrae and Mallory visit Jack, they tell him that they think Cordell is the real killer and plan to visit the chief medical examiner at Sing Sing. McCrae leaves to go to the clerical room, and he is attacked by Sally. She is in hysterics, convinced that Cordell is going to turn on her because he found out she gave info to McCrae (and cause she’s “no good” to him). After finding a policeman hung from the ceiling by his belt, Sally is grabbed by Cordell and beaten to death against the wall. Hearing the commotion, Jack and Mallory break out of the interrogation room and find the corpses of six more officers strewn around the building (and in a bonus scene it’s mentioned that two more were also slain). Jack tells Mallory to go to McCrae’s car while he searches for Cordell, who disappears after throwing McCrae out a window, killing him. Jack, who looks like the one responsible for the carnage to responding officers, flees with Mallory.

The two go to see Sing Sing’s medical examiner, who admits that while he was preparing to autopsy Cordell, the officer showed faint signs of life. The examiner secretly released Cordell into Sally’s care, convinced he was completely brain dead. During the 50th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Jack waits outside as Mallory warns Commissioner Pike and Ripley about Cordell. The two refuse to believe her and have her arrested. Cordell stabs Pike and Ripley to death, then targets Mallory, killing officer Fowler left to guard her. Mallory escapes through a window, while Jack is arrested and placed in a paddy wagon, however Cordell attacks the officers guarding the van and hijacks it.

Mallory and another officer chase the van, which Cordell takes to his warehouse hideout, running over and killing the watchman on the way in. Cordell attacks Mallory and Jack, kills officer Bremmer, and tries to escape in the van when backup arrives. Jacks clings to the side of the van and fights for control of it, distracting Cordell and causing him to drive into a suspended pipe, which impales him. Cordell loses control of the vehicle, which crashes into the river, and sinks. The van is fished out, and, as it is searched, his body is nowhere to be found. Jack is proven innocent as not being the Maniac Cop. As everyone leaves, Cordell’s hand can be seen rising out of the water.

Mayor Jerry Killium, one of the architects of Cordell’s wrongful imprisonment, had spent the entire film in fear of Cordell and celebrates the news of Cordell’s apparent death in his office. However, Cordell is revealed to be hiding behind a curtain and emerges, while Killium screams in horror.

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The only time I ever got shook down, that I considered it to be quasi-criminal, was actually in Los Angeles when I was shooting the first Maniac Cop. I got shaken down by the gangster teamsters. I mean, they didn’t appear to be gangsters. If you were casting them, they would not reflect the look of a gangster. But what they did was straight out of the gangster playbook. They created a false pretense to protest my set. At that time, I was probably the lowest-budgeted film shooting, and I couldn’t afford teamsters. And the next day, they went on location where I was shooting the exterior of the motel where Bruce Campbell’s wife is killed. And I had to give them a payoff of something like between $7500-8000. But when I did it, I had to go to some office in North Hollywood, and it was right out of Hoffa. It had those faded wood panel walls that were all the rage in people’s basements in the ’60s. But here it was in the late ’80s, and there were these faded wood walls with the pastel portraits of teamsters, either living or in jail or wherever. They had the “Hall of Fame” with the old-fashioned pastel drawings. And I was sitting in like a darkened office. I don’t know, I think it was made deliberately intimidating, with some asshole white trash motherfucker behind the desk. And I ultimately had to agree to pay them money to get rid of them. – William Lustig

San Pedro on a good day smells like a slightly ripe tuna sandwich. Lustig did not pick a good day to put the wraps on Maniac Cop. It’s raining on his parade, a sharp, wind whipped drip that’s beating a tattoo on this oceanfront community, particularly the grungy dockside warehouse district where director William Lustig attempts to squeeze out some pickup shots between the drops. Lustig, true to his previous assessment. trades rim shots with crew members while putting a sedan through endless screeching trips around a corner. Co-producer Jef Richard lurks in the background, kvetching about the havoc the rain is playing with the shooting schedule. “It’s no big deal, Jer,” soothes Lustig. “If we’re rained out, it’s only going to cost us another $810,000.”

Lustig remains cool under what many would consider some heavy heat. It’s been seven years since critical backlash against his movie Maniac drove Lustig underground. This is his maiden voyage as a director for hire, and he’s attempting to create big-budget thrills and chills on a budget ($1.5 million) that wouldn’t have paid the caterer’s bill on Heaven’s Gate.

Lustig, who has managed to make ends meet by hawking the rights to Maniac and an earlier film Vigilante, surfaced for a quick New York lunch with Larry Cohen early last year. “Larry had the idea of doing a Friday the 13th type movie that centered around a cop.” recounts Lustig. “Something less mean-spirited than the usual gore film, with intelligent characters and numerous clever twists. Besides, who could resist a title like Maniac Cop?”

The truth is, Larry Cohen really had zero involvement in production. He showed up a total of about two hours on the first Maniac Cop, just to say “Hi.” But he really had no involvement with the films, beyond the script stages. There was a now-defunct film laboratory in New York called TVC. The president of the company was kind of a New York street guy. He liked Larry and I, and kind of thought that we were two peas in a pod, and decided to arrange for us to have breakfast together. We met, and I was a Larry Cohen fan, so there was no arm twisting on my end. And it was a few years after that when we met again, and the idea of Maniac Cop came out of that next lunch. Really, Maniac Cop came out of the idea that Larry said, “How come you never made a sequel to Maniac?” And I said, “Well, I just never thought the movie was something you can make a sequel of.” At the time, there were successful films like Beverly Hills Cop, Robocop, a few others.

Maniac Cop is one of those naturally over the-top titles that leaves nothing to the imagination and is guaranteed to elicit laughs. If it sounds funny to you and I, you can imagine what sprang to director Lustig’s mind when he found that his answer to paying next month’s rent was a movie wrapped around that title. “I laughed my head off,” roars Lustig. “Who wouldn’t? A movie whose tagline is “You’ve got the right to remain silent forever’ is not something you’re going to take too seriously.”

“Hey. I’m not going to bullshit you into believing that Maniac Cop is an art film.” Lustig cracks. “This is action-packed horror with some real satisfying scares. But there is a clever, tongue-in-cheek quality even in its most violent moments. For instance, we’ve got this scene where the cop picks up this guy and slams him face first into a car windshield. His neck tears open and there’s blood spurting everywhere. So what’s his girl friend doing while all this blood is pouring out? She turns on the car’s wipers to wipe the blood.


“There’s another scene where the cop pushes this guy’s face into wet cement, crows Lustig, who appears hell-bent on spilling the beans. “We cut to the next day, a scene where the cops are drilling his body out. These are examples of why we were able to get an A cast for a B film: We’ve given them real good characters to play and a good story for them to play around in.”

Casting Laurene Landon as the female lead was also easy. “She was the lady cop specifically for her.” But finding an actor to play the Maniac Cop himself was a whole other matter. “Line producer Jef Richard and I were looking at a lot of big people, and all I kept saying was that I was literally afraid of Robert Z’Dar. I didn’t want to be around when he showed up.” wanted somebody like the guy in the movie The Night Stalker (1986). We’d bring in a dozen people and I’d say, *They’re not scary enough, I want somebody scary like that Night Stalker guy. Finally, one day, Jef said, ‘Why don’t I actually bring in that guy from Night Stalker ? “I said, “No! ” Lustig laughs. “I was literally afraid of this guy. I didn’t want to be around when he showed up. I told Jef to make sure he wore a bell around his neck or something to announce his presence. I didn’t want to be sitting there alone when he came in. So in walked Z Dar, and he was perfect.”

For Robert Z’Dar, who was on his way to work when the rains came. dryer around is a mobile home which doubles as a crash pad/makeup room. Z Dar settles into a chair as makeup man Jim Spinner begins layering on the appliances and makeup that will transform the actor/stuntman into the nick’s title character. And if personal difficulties have any impact on performance, Z’Dar will be a particularly nasty maniac this day. “I had some mechanical problems with my favorite car,” grouses the actor as the first bit of mutilation goes on. “And I just learned that I lost out for the part of the psychopath in the new Chuck Norris movie. And now the rain.”

But Z’Dar, whose recent credits include The Evil After and Fresh Kill puts aside those disappointments and waxes enthusiastic about Maniac Cop. “Physical roles are always fun,” smiles Z’Dar. “And this one has the advantage of also having an interesting storyline. It’s not like the Friday the 13th movies, where Jason just appears and starts killing people. There’s a reason why Cordell is doing what he’s doing.”

Z’Dar finishes Maniac Cop today-weather permitting-and jumps right into another film, his seventh of 1987. Which is fine with me,” he nods. “I like to work and, with the car habit I’ve got, I have no choice.”

I phoned Bruce Campbell to shoot the St. Patrick’s Day parade sequence on the first film. “I said to Bruce, ‘I don’t have a script yet, but would you fly to New York and run around in this parade. I told him I’d figure out later what came before and after that scene. I also told him, ‘Whatever wardrobe you bring, make sure it’s something we can duplicate later.’

The mobile home becomes even more cramped with the arrival of Bruce Campbell. As police officer Jack Forrest, Campbell is falsely imprisoned for the killings, escapes and finally engages in one final battle with the killer cop. The personable Campbell, who has recently relocated to Los Angeles, explains how his role in this film is basically territory he’s been through before.

“It’s more of the run over here, pick up this gun and run down this hallway type of action acting,” Campbell assesses. “I don’t have a whole lot of dialogue, and the last half of this movie is basically one long stunt chase between myself and the killer.”

However, the lack of an acting challenge doesn’t get in the way of Campbell’s applauding Maniac Cop as a definite change of pace. “Here, I’m just an actor,” he beams. “I don’t have any of the production headaches I had on the Evil Dead movies. I can go home at the end of the shooting day and not have to worry about taking homework home with me. It has definitely given me a different perspective.”

Lusting says he phoned Bruce Campbell to shoot the St. Patrick’s Day parade sequence for the film. “I said to Bruce, ‘I don’t have a script yet, but would you fly to New York and run around in this parade. I told him I’d figure out later what came before and after that scene. I also told him, ‘Whatever wardrobe you bring, make sure it’s something we can duplicate later.’

“Maniac Cop’s scariest element is its story,” Campbell adds, “which has enough twists and turns to keep even the hardcore horror fans off balance. Horror fans have a right to be thrown a curve once in awhile. The curve here is that nobody knows for sure what Cordell really is. We know he’s brain dead, but we’re never quite sure whether he’s physically dead, some kind of living dead zombie or what. All anybody knows for sure is that he is virtually unstoppable.”

The rain has finally let up. While Z’Dar gets a final going over with base and powder, Campbell saunters over to a musty hangar-sized warehouse, where he will spend the next hour getting his brains scrambled. His hands are handcuffed behind his back as he steps gingerly into the back of a police paddywagon. At Lustig’s signal, four crew members, stationed at each corner, begin rocking the vehicle up and down. Campbell yells and begins to throw himself against the walls and finally to the floor. After numerous takes, the hapless actor emerges breathless with a look on his face that says, “No more. Please!” Lustig takes pity and calls a lunch break.

Lustig, over some rather strange looking but tasty chicken, denies any link between Maniac Cop and his infamous Maniac, but the comparison leads him on a trip down memory lane about what many consider a landmark slasher film. “We never had any intention of giving the ratings board a look at Maniac,” smirks Lustig. “We knew what they would do to it. So we said to hell with it and released it unrated.”

John Naulin is no stranger to puttying up to the brain dead. Here’s a guy who took his postgraduate course in gross at the feet of director Stuart Gordon, slapping together double uglies for both Re-Animator and From Beyond. So dishing out FX to a killer lawman was par for the makeup course.

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Phase One  and Phase Two of the Cordell deterioration makeup by John Naulin hints at the character’s inherent nastiness. More Than Skin Deep assistants Bradley Look and David Atherton served as the primary onset makeup crew.

“What the producers did not want was another Freddy Krueger,” says Naulin. “They wanted something that would be realistic in terms of what the character has had happen to him.”

This demand for realism sent Naulin, whose resume includes a stint as an emergency medical technician, to a stack of forensic pathology books for inspiration. “Because we never really know if Cordell is a zombie or just incredibly screwed up mentally, it was important to have elements of both life and death in the makeup,” he relates. “There’s scar tissue that leads you to believe he might be alive, but there is also a tone to his skin that indicates that lividity-the pooling of blood in certain parts of the body after death-may have also taken place. The makeup does not give anything away; it’s just another element to keep people guessing.”

Larry Cohen
Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen on the Maniac Cop 

What did you make of the cast that Lusting pulled together for the film?
Larry Cohen: I was very impressed with the casting. There were some excellent actors in there, such as Tom Atkins,  who is always very good, and Richard Roundtree, with whom I’d worked with previously. Then there was Sheree North, who played the Maniac Cop’s crippled girlfriend. I was very pleased to see her in the film as she had once been a very big contract star at 20th Century Fox. In fact, back in the mid-1950s, she was being groomed by the studio as a potential threat to Marilyn Monroe’s status as Hollywood’s blonde bombshell. It didn’t quite work out that way, but Sheree had done a number of big movies in which she’d played the lead. She was a solid actress and continued to work throughout her career up until her death. I must say, I didn’t know Bruce Campbell very well but he was certainly very good in the part of the heroic young cop. I only ever met Bruce once, when we were recording the commentary narration for the release of Maniac Cop on home video. We met at the recording studio, and he seemed to be a very humorous fellow.

You’ve never been particularly reticent in expressing your displeasure at the choice of Robert Z’Dar for Matt Cordell, the Maniac Cop. Why exactly?
Larry Cohen: Oh, I never liked him for the part. I’ve always been very clear about that. I thought the casting of Robert Z’Dar was a mistake. He was basically this big lug with a thick neck and a large head. Frankly, when they put the makeup on him, he looked ridiculous. He just resembled this big, cumbersome float that was coming down a parade. Z’Dar moved rather awkwardly and I always thought that

Were you hoping that the Maniac Cop would become an iconic horror character?
Larry Cohen: I always thought he had that potential, certainly. When you create a monster for a movie, you hope to come up with some kind of iconic look. The Maniac Cop was obviously dressed in a police uniform and had the nightstick-knife, but every monster still needs to have a great look, like Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster and Lugosi as Dracula. In the horror movies that were around at the time of Maniac Cop, there was Freddy Krueger with his burned face and razor glove, and there was also Jason in the Friday the 13th movies whose hockey mask became iconic. As soon as the audience saw the visual aspects of those characters, they immediately knew exactly who and what they were. That level of recognition also means that these characters become extremely marketable. Masks and costumes are manufactured for the fans to wear; parodies appear on television and cartoon illustrations appear in newspapers. Suddenly, an iconic monster is born that has some kind of cultural impact, but the Maniac Cop never achieved that. That’s why the three pictures never crossed over as some of the other horror movies have. They were always held back somehow. Even though some of the Maniac Cop movies were fairly well done, they never really caught on like A Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween. The reason is that our monster was a disappointment. When you finally saw Cordell, you just said, “Geez, look at his face! It looks like a bunch of school kids did it over the weekend for an 8mm film in their backyard!” I mean, it looked amateurish, when it should have been frightening and powerful.

As both writer and producer on all three films, surely you could have supervised or consulted on the final look of the Maniac Cop?
Larry Cohen: Well, Bill is a very nice fellow, but he is extremely sensitive to any criticisms that are made or suggestions that are offered. I did not want him to think that I was trying to take over his movie. You know, when we were making Phone Booth, I suggested to the director, Joel Schumacher, that he replace the original actor who was providing the voice of the sniper. Schumacher then went out and got Kiefer Sutherland for the role. He actually listened to my suggestion and it improved the picture immeasurably. Schumacher wasn’t averse to hearing a suggestion and then acting upon it, but to Bill Lustig any suggestions were taken as an assault. Unfortunately, he just can’t handle it.

Lustig did act upon your suggestion to cast Laurene Landon in the role of Theresa Mallory, didn’t he?
Larry Cohen: Sure, he did hire Laurene for the movie and she also appeared in the second film, too. Her character was supposed to appear in Maniac Cop 3 also, but once again, Lustig got up on his high horse and decided he was going to overrule me and not use Laurene again. I think they might have had some problems with each other on the set. I mean, she has a great sense of humour and he doesn’t, so Laurene may have said something to Bill that might have offended him. I don’t know. When he was doing Maniac Cop 3, Bill went out and hired an actress who looked exactly like Laurene.  He then had to alter the story to make her an entirely different character. So, he ended up getting a girl who was a former basketball player and also the girlfriend of Martin Landau. It’s funny, because Landau actually called me up and thanked me for getting her the part but I didn’t have anything to do with it.

How actively involved in the productions were you?
Larry Cohen: I tried to be as active as I could — without stepping on Bill’s toes. On Maniac Cop, I was allowed to re-cut the picture. The editor, David Kern, and I sat down and spent a week carefully re-cutting Maniac Cop. I actually think we improved the film quite a bit. I also had some input on the first sequel, as well. On Maniac Cop 2, Bill called me up and said that he didn’t know how to end the picture and required some assistance. He had finally reached out for help, so I went down to the location of the prison set that was in downtown Los Angeles. The stunt director, Spiro Razatos, and I worked out the climactic scenes where the Maniac Cop catches fire. Spiro is an extremely gifted second unit and stunt director. Together, we devised all the action where Cordell throws the other convicts around and catches fire. We also had the convicts catch fire, too, before Cordell tosses their flaming bodies up onto the second platform of the prison. I can remember asking Spiro, “Okay, how long can you keep these people burning for?” Spiro then figured out exactly how we could do it and it did look rather good on film. In fact, everything that is good in Maniac Cop and Maniac Cop 2 is Spiro’s work. He directed all the action sequences. That whole climactic fire sequence in Maniac Cop 2 wasn’t in my original script. That stuff wasn’t anything that Bill could handle himself, so he called me up and I did it for him. As for Maniac Cop 3, I had virtually no input whatsoever as the third movie was taken away from us by First Look, the production company. They put their own people on it; rewrote my script and fired Bill. First Look basically did what they wanted to do, and so Maniac Cop 3 bares very little resemblance to anything I wanted. However, the first two pictures followed my scripts almost completely, and I did enjoy some input.

The critical reaction towards the first Maniac Cop was mostly negative.
Larry Cohen: I didn’t know there was any critical reaction. I didn’t think anybody cared.

Hit List (1989)

In Hit List (1989) Jan-Michael Vincent’s child is kidnapped by mistake. Lance Henriksen is a ninja -like assassin working for mob boss Rip Torn who wastes the wrong family. The violent action movie also stars Leo Rossi and Charles Napier. Co-screenplay writer John Goff also co-wrote the Pia Zadora movie BUTTERFLY. “HITLIST is a film I kind of did. I developed the picture, I developed the script in it but it was one of those films didn’t have much faith in. Sol went out and made the film and you know, it was almost an experience that was quite forgettable. It was just kind of going out and doing it. I made it just after MANIAC COP and lo and behold, that movie got me good reviews in the New York Post. The L.A. Times gave me a good review. Not a rave, but it was talking how it was above average and talking about how interesting, and mine was the best of the B movies… and I was like, ‘Holy Shit!’ I couldn’t believe it. And people liked that movie. It plays well on television and video.”

Gangster boss Vic Luca (Rip Torn) is scheduled to appear in court and so hires a hit man/shoe salesman Chris Caleek (Lance Henriksen) to kill the witnesses. He has a mole in the police force who tells him names and locations of the witnesses. Unfortunately, during the last hit, the professional killer enters the wrong house. When owner Jack Collins comes home, he finds his pregnant wife unconscious in the kitchen, his friend dead in the living room and his son kidnapped. Wanting Luca to believe he has the real witness’ son, the authorities take Collins into custody. But Collins manages to escape and takes things into his own hands.

“I had a killer cast didn’t I? Yeah, I think that’s what really stands out. It could’ve been a flop, but what stood out was the cast. The cast was great except Jan-Michael Vincent. He couldn’t stand up. It was a shame, the guy has an alcohol problem… and we were assured before we started shooting that his problems were behind him. There was always the feeling that ‘Was Jan going to be able to stand up?’ There are some scenes when I look at the movie and it’s so embarrassing, where I was literally propping him against shelves. And it was ridiculous. A nice man… there’s not a malicious bone in the man’s body, but he just couldn’t stand up and it brought everything down. Any scenes that were done with him and other actors, there was always a down feeling to it. The only time he did rise to the occasion was one of the few times he came to the set sober, which was the scene on the rooftop with Leo Rossi, and I think that’s because he had a lot of dialogue to do and he felt there was a chance he was going to get fired from the movie, but he pulled himself together. Other than that, it was always very difficult. It cost between $1.4 million and $1.5 million. So, it was a pretty low budget. Rip Torn we shot in a week, and Lance wasn’t Lance today. And Leo… you know who was originally going to play Leo? Joe Pesci. That was before Joe Pesci is Joe Pesci today. I was meeting with him every day. RCA Columbia said ‘Who’s he?’ Someone over there is out of a job today.”

Relentless (1989) was written by Jack T. D. Robinson aka Phil Alden Robinson who 69577381_2677279465617094_2294473912953602048_odirected FIELD OF DREAMS. Judd Nelson is convincing as the disturbing psycho “Sunset Killer” who picks his victims from the phone book.

Sam Dietz (Leo Rossi) is a rookie Los Angeles detective recently transferred from New York City. He is paired up with veteran detective Bill Malloy (Robert Loggia) in order to find and stop a serial killer. The killer is Arthur “Buck” Taylor (Judd Nelson), the son of a former LAPD cop whose motive for killing is frustration over not having been accepted to the force and failure in the eyes of his father. Taylor chooses his targets by randomly looking up their names in the phone book and skillfully covering up his tracks by using his skills and knowledge that he learned while on the force. While in pursuit of Taylor, both Dietz and Malloy become his next planned targets for murder.

Flashbacks reveal that he was the son of an abusive hero cop. Leo Rossi is a New York City cop teamed with local L. A. cop Robert Loggia. With Meg Foster, Angel Tompkins and George (Buck) Flower. Nelson and Rossi are both very good in their roles. Like most Lustig movies, it’s violent, has some great chase scenes and great music by Jay Chattaway. “And RELENTLESS, by far my most successful picture, it was a very easy experience making that picture. It was a script that was brought to me, written by Phil Alden Robinson, was written by him, like eight years before I got it. He had his name taken off it. I don’t blame him. I don’t take it personally. I never met the guy. But he did write a very good script. So, someone brought me the script, and I did a little work on it and I went out and made it and it was a fun experience. I mean Judd Nelson was great and it was a very successful picture and I was very happy to be involved with that. That was a smooth picture. Judd was the best. I really like that guy. He’s a good actor and a delight to work with. I really have nothing but admiration for him. God, what a nice guy. Again that was one of those family atmospheres. I was very surprised when all these sequels were made from it. I was offered II, and I read the script and it didn’t make any sense to me. It was weird, because, where I was doing a Dario Argento film set in Los Angeles, Il was like a spy thriller and I didn’t quite understand what they were doing with it and when I saw the film I don’t think they knew what they were doing with it, so I felt okay afterwards. You always hate to turn down a job.”

It’s kind of a vigilante film, I would call it more of a quest film says Lustig. It’s a film about Jan-Michael Vincent’s character on a quest. I moved to LA and pitched Hit List to Cinetel, a very active company at the time in primarily straight-to-video movies. Hit List was the first movie where I was a director for hire. It was my first experience working with a producer. While making the film, I didn’t understand the politics of directing a film with a produces. I had produced and directed four films by the time I came to Los Angeles so it was difficult not to have the day-to-day control. Coming from NY, I was used to telling people what was on my mind, not varnishing my words. It’s a different temperament in LA, everybody goes to psychiatrists, and you know, you just can’t be blunt or yell at people in LA like you can in NY. So to make a long story short, during the making of the film. I was actually fired one day by the producers, but I didn’t stop working. Following the dallies screening that evening I was officially re-hired. What I later learned was that a crew member who was an aspiring director, secretly sleeping with one of the producers was talking shit about me.

I flew to Cannes on my own dime to attend the Warner Int. Hit List screening. The Warner execs hadn’t seen the film yet. In short, they were ecstatic after the screening. They called it the best Warner action film since Nico (Above the Law’s foreign title). Frankly, I believe they over reacted but the Cinetel people were delighted. In fact, a few months later Warner Int. picked-up my next Cinetel film Relentless, so I guess they were sincere. Anyway, while checking out of the Cannes hotel I discovered to my surprise that Cinetel paid my hotel bill! What I learned on Hit List is that you’re king one day, a bum the next and a king again – the LA movie scene is totally ridiculous.

 Sure enough, after taking a break to do Hit List, in 1990 Lustig and Cohen returned (as did Campbell and Landon) with Maniac Cop 2. Cohen usually has a knack for going in a different direction with his sequels, but here we get more of the same. We get a few new characters (Claudia Christian as a police shrink, Robert Davi as a good-hearted but frustrated cop and the always wonderful Michael Lerner as the Police Commissioner), but Cohen and Lustig pull a lot of the same tricks, like killing off a major character early in the film only to replace him or her with a new one.


Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

 SUMMARY: After being impaled by a pipe and plunging into a river at the end of the previous film, the undead Maniac Cop Matthew Cordell acquires a junked police cruiser and continues his killing spree through New York City. Finding a convenience store in the middle of a robbery, he kills the clerk; the thief is subsequently killed in a shootout with police. As Cordell stalks the streets, his enemies Officers Jack Forrest and Theresa Mallory are put back on duty by Deputy Commissioner Edward Doyle, who has the two undergo a psychiatric evaluation under Officer Susan Riley. While Jack is content that Cordell is long gone and wants to go on with his life, Theresa is convinced that Cordell is still alive and plotting his revenge.


At a newsstand, Jack is stabbed through the neck by Cordell, killing him. In order to protect the memory of Commissioner Pike, the corrupt official who originally framed Cordell, the police authority refuse to inform the public of the nature of recent events. This, along with her belief that Cordell is alive and killing, prompts Theresa to appear on a talk show to inform the public about Cordell. A traffic cop is murdered by Cordell later when he was towing someone’s car. The man who was having his car towed is arrested on suspicion on the cop’s murder. While en route to a hotel in a taxi, Theresa is joined by Susan, and the two are attacked by Cordell, who kills the cabbie and forces Susan and Theresa off the road. After handcuffing Susan to the steering wheel of a car and sending her into the busy streets, Cordell kills Theresa by snapping her neck. Gaining control of the car, Susan crashes and is found and given medical attention.

Elsewhere, a stripper named Cheryl is attacked in her apartment by Steven Turkell, who has strangled at least six other exotic dancers. As Turkell brutalizes Cheryl, Cordell arrives, murders the two officers earlier called by Cheryl, and helps Turkell escape. Grateful for the help, Turkell befriends Cordell and takes him back to his apartment, where Cordell stays for a short while. After Cordell leaves, Turkell goes out to find another victim but is identified at a strip club by Cheryl. He is arrested and placed in a holding cell by Susan and Detective Lieutenant Sean McKinney.

Turkell taunts Susan, telling him Cordell will break him out. Turkell’s assumption proves correct, as Cordell breaks into the police station and murders a total of nineteen police officers and frees Turkell and several unnamed convicts. Using Susan as a hostage, Turkell, Cordell, and another criminal named Joseph Blum hijack a prison bus and head to Sing Sing, where Turkell believes Cordell wants to free all the inmates and create an army of criminals (Cordell even enforces this point by killing an inmate who disagreed and questioned him). McKinney and Doyle follow, and McKinney convinces Doyle to reopen Cordell’s case and rebury his casket with full honors on the assumption that this will appease Cordell.

Cordell bluffs his way into the prison using Blum’s paperwork, and he kills a guard for his keys. Shortly after entering death row, Cordell is contacted over the prison PA system by Doyle, who admits to Cordell that he was set up and states that his case has been reopened. After hearing Doyle’s announcement, Cordell abandons Turkell, Blum, and Susan and heads deeper into the prison, where he is attacked with a Molotov cocktail by the three inmates who originally mutilated him. While burning, Cordell finally gets revenge and murders the three convicts who mutilated him and assaults the other prisoners (killing one of them, who didn’t mutilate him, in the process), only to be attacked by Turkell, who realizes Cordell used him. As Cordell and Turkell fight, the two crash through a wall, fall onto the bus below, and seemingly die when the vehicle explodes.

Sometime later, Cordell is buried with full honors alongside other fallen officers; Susan and McKinney attend his funeral. As Cordell’s casket is lowered, McKinney throws Cordell’s badge into the grave, leaves with Susan, and delivers a monologue about how there is a little bit of Cordell in every officer, and that every member of the force needs to rise above becoming a Maniac Cop. Before the credits roll, Cordell’s hand bursts through the lid of his casket and grabs his badge.

Cinefantastique v22n01 (Aug 1991)

Maniac Cop 2 (1990) also written by Cohen, is a rare sequel that’s better than the original, even though there were behind the scenes problems. The second installment, however, had quite a few obstacles thrown in its path including the film’s financers, who hated Landon and Campbell. “The money people in England decided they wanted better actors,” the director says. “They felt Landon was weak and that Bruce was not a big enough name. So the decision was made that we would kill both of them off in an unexpected Psycho kind of way and then propel the story forward with new characters. Bruce was resistant to it, and I totally understand his being upset. He was with us from the beginning and was in keeping with the tone of these films. I really wish we hadn’t killed him off.”

Maniac Cop 2’s creation was further complicated by legal squabbling over who owned the sequel rights to the series, which put the film on hold for some time. “Then one day I got a call,” Lustig notes. “The lawsuit had been settled and they wanted the film fast, which meant that after a four-month layoff, I had four weeks to prep the entire picture. Realistically, I needed that much time just to prep the two weeks we shot in New York. I knew it was going to be a nightmare, but I also knew, from reading the script, that we had an innovative movie on our hands.

Lustig hadn’t intended to make a sequel but when producer Larry Cohen delivered the script he changed his mind. “This is so much better than the first film,” said Lustig. “It has a lot of fully developed characters and the stunt gags are sensational.” The supernatural element hinted at in the first film has been expanded, with Lustig focusing on the strange relationship between Cordell, the Maniac Cop, again played by Robert Z’Dar, and Turkell (Leo Rossi), a serial killer.

With a budget more than three times the original, Lustig said he was able to spend more time on the film’s 42-day schedule working with the actors. “I’m shooting them a little more creatively, instead of just having people talk across a desk,” he said.

“In the first Maniac Cop,” he explains. “we told the story. set up the concept. Now we have to deliver on action and thrills. A lot of the stuff we’re doing on 2 has a great deal of originality. stunts that you don’t usually find in this kind of movie. That’s hard enough. But the cold makes it even harder. I really affects the dexterity of the stunt people.”

Among the unusual thrills that punctuate Maniac Cop 2. according to Lustig, is a high-speed car chase that required a taxicab to race along on two tire rims. Shot recently in West New York, this sequence is described by Lustig as “something I’ve never seen done before. So we were experimenting with several first-of a-kind special effects, and the stunt people didn’t really know what to expect. We have challenges like that all through the picture.

“This film has probably four times the production value of the first picture.” replies Lustig. He points out that the 1987 production allowed for only three days of shooting in New York City even though the story was set there, while the remainder of the film was shot in Los Angeles. For Maniac Cop 2. the crew will shoot for 13 days in the more expensive Big Apple. Lustig vows that there will be no palm trees in this production.

The action.” he continues, “is also probably three, four times the level of the first film. Basically. rather than doing a rip-off of the original, the approach we’ve taken is to cultivate the potential for a series of pictures. It was this approach that originally convinced Lustig to direct a second Maniac Cop movie. At first he wasn’t thrilled with the idea. “I was interested,” he recalls. “because every director wants to work, but at the same time I really couldn’t figure out where the hell to go with it. I really thought we had played out the concept in the first film. And then producer/writer Larry Cohen delivered the script to me and it really blew me away. He really found some original concepts original set pieces that could involve the Maniac Cop: not just the action scenes, but these really clever twists, too.”

Makeup artist Dean Gates
Makeup artist Dean Gates

Lustig had been very disappointed with the makeup in the original MANIAC COP. “I thought it was one of the weakest parts of the first film,” said Lustig. “When we decided to do the sequel we looked at about a dozen makeup people and chose Dean Gates. We had to use the first makeup as a sort of point of departure, expanding on that. The appliances take about two hours to put on.”

Matt Cordell’s makeup the first time around was simply an assortment of badly healed sashes. To deliver a more dramatic concept the producers decided to ask a half dozen makeup artists to come up with a new design, Dean Gates, the winner of this audition opens a box to reveal the new Maniac Cop. He takes out a mask which is only Intended to be used in long shots, but it is still vivid enough to show that Cordell has become a truly monstrous looking man. Cordell’s look, is far more elaborate than the scar prosthetics used in the first film., “In the first picture there was six or seven pieces that looked like hack marks,” says Z’Adar. “But this time I’m wearing a full mask that’s made to look like I’ve been in the water for a long time. I’m all decayed and white and I’m missing an ear… it’s all pretty grotesque. I tried the mask on for the first time yesterday and, to be perfectly honest, I had to ask them to poke two little holes in it, because I felt as though I was suffocating. I’m not afraid of too many things, but I have a real fear of being suffocated and that mask was a little difficult to deal with at first.”

William Lustig
William Lustig


Interview with William Lustig on “Maniac Cop 2”

So ‘Maniac Cop 2’ is considered one of your best films –
William Lustig: Actually, I consider it to be my best film. It was the film where I felt as though myself and my crew were really firing on all cylinders. And I think we made a terrific B-movie.

Oh, I agree. I actually think it’s superior to the first one. I really like ‘Maniac Cop’, but I think it’s an all-around better film.
William Lustig: Yeah, oh definitely. That’s what we tried to do. We tried to make it a better film. Take the ideas and concepts and first and improve upon them.

Which is what sequels should be, right? You should try to improve on the first one.
William Lustig: Yeah, without a doubt! That to me is the challenge, especially if you’re the same filmmaker. You don’t want to make the same thing over again.

One of the scenes that really impressed me in the film was when the man was set on fire in the jail sequence.
William Lustig: That was an incredible scene to shoot. We shot it with multiple cameras, and it was shot in chunks. I think we used four or five cameras on it. And it was shot, as I recall, in like three or four chunks. So what you’re seeing is basically the guy being lit up four times, excluding when they fall out of the building. But [in] the interior of the prison I think he was lit up four times. And each of those four times he only has a limited amount of time that he can be on fire, the stunt person. So it made it very challenging to prepare everything, coordinate everything so that we could get as much accomplished in the short time that we could have him on fire.

How much time was he allowed to be on fire?
William Lustig: As I recall, it was 30 seconds.

There were some unbroken shots where I was like ‘Man! I can’t believe he’s been on fire for that long!’
William Lustig: Yeah, that’s because he wasn’t. We were overlapping shots.

How long did that sequence take to shoot in total?
William Lustig: I think it was probably two days. Because it’s one of those things you can’t rush.

Did you shoot that in a real prison?
William Lustig: No, that was shot on a standing prison set in Culver City, California.

Also one of the most memorable sequences for me was when Claudia Christian’s character was handcuffed to the steering wheel. That’s really amazing. That stunt woman must have gone through it!
William Lustig: Actually, the most dangerous part of it was that she was secured to the side of the car and she couldn’t actually fall off the car. Which protected her in one way, but in another way when the car is going out of control, it didn’t give her anywhere to escape. If say god forbid something should happen, she couldn’t get away from the car. And the other thing that was most dangerous about it was one of her feet was kind of close to the back wheel, and we were always worried about it because she did have enough pull on the safety wire that her foot could have gone potentially under the back wheel of the car. So I recall that always being a scary thing.

Do you have any memorable tidbits from shooting any of those sequences?
William Lustig: First off when we were shooting in New York, it was the coldest December in something like, 30-something years. I made this big statement to the financiers ‘We gotta shoot in New York before Christmas, after Christmas it gets really bad.’ It couldn’t have been worse. We’re out there in the middle of the night shooting all night stuff, I’m telling you, when I was out there shooting the scene by the newsstand, I remember my legs losing sensation. That’s how cold it was. Of course the thing we kept looking for was vistas. Where you’re gonna find vistas is by the water. So however cold it was in the city, it was always 10 times colder standing by the Hudson River. So, it was a brutal, physical shoot to do.

“Then, Claudia Christian is a prima donna. She thinks she’s Meryl Streep and wants to be treated as such. And I don’t have the patience for that crap. She’s on the phone to her agent calling every 2 minutes, and I’m the producer of the picture, so I’m having to deal with all this crap.

It seems like each one of your films now has its own fan base, but only one spawned its own franchise and that’s MANIAC COP. One thing I have always been curious about is that you’ve said MANIAC COP had to go through some compromises, and MANIAC COP 2 is the one film you’ve done where you had to compromise the least. Can you break that down for us a little more?
William Lustig: Well, I think what I was talking about was in terms of working with a limited budget, and we had some short cuts that we did, but nothing that was detrimental to the overall movie. MANIAC COP 2, though, I had a lot more money I was able to work with, so I was able to do more and make more of the movie I had in my mind. Those movies to me were kind of noir comic books, and MANIAC COP 2 was able to go more in that direction.

Larry Cohen
Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen on the Maniac Cop 2.

What led to the decision to make Maniac Cop 2?
Larry Cohen: I have no idea. For some reason, Bill found somebody in England who was willing to provide the dough required to make a sequel. They put up about $3.5 million, which was way more than the original picture cost — in fact, over three times as much. Unfortunately, the financer later went bankrupt and as a result never paid the residuals. They ended up owing me about $60,000 that I never received. We got a judgment against them from the Writer’s Guild, but we could never collect the money because the company went bankrupt over in England. So, even though Maniac Cop 2 continues to play, I’m getting cheated out of my residuals.

Lustig once pitched Maniac Cop 2 as being “The French Connection meets Frankenstein with Robert Davi as Popeye Doyle.” Is that how you viewed your script when you were writing it?
Larry Cohen: Absolutely not. How would he know what it’s about? He doesn’t know anything.

So, Lustig had no input into the screenplay?
Larry Cohen: Absolutely none. I wouldn’t say that was true of the third Maniac Cop film, because I don’t know exactly what he did after I submitted my screenplay. That was all done behind my back.

I believe Lustig wanted the characters of Jack Forrest [Bruce Campbell] and Theresa Mallory to be killed fairly early on in the sequel. Why exactly?
Larry Cohen: I don’t know.

Did you think it seemed somewhat cruel and arbitrary that the heroes of Maniac Cop should receive such violent treatment? I mean, Forrest gets a nightstick blade callously rammed through the back of his neck as he is reading a newspaper and Mallory gets her neck broken.
Larry Cohen: Yeah, but Laurene’s character doesn’t get killed right away. She doesn’t die until two thirds of the way through the picture — at least half way through. She is more of a supporting character in Maniac Cop 2, and, as I say, she would have also been in the third movie. Her character would not have died as a result of having her neck broken by Cordell. Originally, she was going to be stuck in a coma in the hospital as a result of that attack. Laurene would have played the unconscious, brain-dead woman in the third film that the Maniac Cop steals from the hospital and claims as his mate. Basically, he goes after someone he sees as being like himself — the living dead. This person is effectively dead, but like him is also very much alive. Cordell connects with her for that very reason.

Getting back to Maniac Cop 2, the addition of Robert Davi’s Lt. McKinney is obviously as a replacement hero for Jack Forrest.
Larry Cohen: Yeah, pretty much. I liked Robert Davi’s performance in Maniac Cop 2. His character was that world-weary type of cop and it fit him well. I mean, Davi also has a great Film Noir face. He’s not your usual handsome leading man type, but he certainly looks good in those kinds of dark crime movies, and he is a good actor. I know that Davi is now actually trying to be a singer. He thinks he’s Frank Sinatra! The last time I saw Davi, he dragged me outside to his car and played me a tape of himself singing. I must admit, it was pretty good, too.

The first sequel sees Cordell teaming up with the vicious serial killer, Turkell (Leo Rossi), who is on “a crusade against the whores of the world.” 
Larry Cohen: Don’t ask me where the inspiration for that came from! I just sat there and wrote the damn thing. I was making it all up as I was going along.

I was about to say that the film seems to draw on Son of Frankenstein, and the relationship between Igor, as played by Bela Lugosi, and Karloff’s Monster.
Larry Cohen: Yes, that’s true. I guess there is a history in horror films of one monster teaming up with another monster. I just thought it was a cute idea to have these two characters cross paths. I particularly like the scene where the Maniac Cop and the serial killer both show their weapons to each other.

Maniac Cop 2 features a remarkable stunt at the climax, where Cordell and Turkell fall from the prison and tumble down into the bus whilst on fire.
Larry Cohen: Uh-huh, and that was all Spiro Razatos. Everything from riding the cars without the wheels and driving the car down the street with Claudia Christian handcuffed to the wheel — that was all Spiro. I could write those sequences, but Spiro could certainly bring them to life. In my opinion, he is the real hero of the Maniac Cop movies. I actually got Spiro a job directing a picture called Fast Getaway as a reward for all his efforts on Maniac Cop and The Ambulance, which he also did for me. I felt I should do something nice for him in return, so I came up with a storyline for a movie. The first script was written by Jim Dixon, who also acts in a lot of my pictures. I got Jim the job as writer on the film and Spiro the job as director. I didn’t take any money for it and Fast Getaway became a pretty good movie. Then the company made a sequel and, as usual, they stabbed the people who made the original in the back. They didn’t hire Spiro to direct the sequel, which wasn’t good, by the way, but they did have to pay me a substantial amount of money. My deal with them was that I wouldn’t take any money on the first picture but I had to be paid if there was a sequel. Spiro eventually went back to stunt directing and he works on a lot of high-budget movies.

Leo Rossi gives a sickeningly convincing performance as the psychopathic Turkell. He is barely recognizable in the role.
Larry Cohen: Yeah, I thought Rossi was very good. He brought a sleazy intensity and energy to that character, which was exactly what was required. In fact, Leo played the lead role in Fast Getaway. He got that part in Spiro’s film because of his excellent work on Maniac Cop 2. Rossi made a very memorable psychopath, but there were some other good people in Maniac Cop 2. You also had Michael Lerner, who is another solid actor. Around this same time, Michael had earned a considerable amount of acclaim for his role as a studio executive in The Coen Brothers film Barton Fink. I actually thought his was a rather clichéd performance. He was certainly good in the part, but there was nothing particularly fresh or inventive about it. That character was just the usual portrayal of a dim, boorish studio executive.

In Maniac Cop 2, Lerner plays the corrupt Deputy Commissioner Edward Doyle. I’ve heard that Richard Crenna was originally set to play that role, but dropped out of the film shortly before shooting commenced. Is this true?
Larry Cohen: No, I don’t believe that. I have no knowledge of that. I don’t believe that Richard Crenna — even at the lowest point of his career — would have done that.

What is your final estimation of Maniac Cop 2?
Larry Cohen: Maniac Cop 2 is certainly a lot better than the first film, in production value anyway. Maniac Cop had some good scenes and some pretty interesting ideas, but it was marred by poor direction and some cheaping out. For instance, there are moments where the Maniac Cop breaks down some doors and it looks like the doors are made of cardboard. I mean, you would have thought that Ed Wood had directed the picture! I couldn’t stand how poorly some of the things were set up and how cheap some of the sets looked. I was like, “Gee, you could have done better than that!” But again, criticizing Bill Lustig can be very painful because anything you say to him — even the smallest criticism — is taken as an agonizing experience. He just can’t stand it. The problem with Bill is that he doesn’t enjoy directing pictures. He wants to be a director and he gets these pictures started by raising the money, but once the movie begins shooting he doesn’t like the actors and he doesn’t enjoy the experience. He’s miserable on the set. He’s a very big fellow, way overweight, and has trouble standing up. It must be physically painful for him to direct a film and he looks like he’s in pain. He doesn’t have a good time. I like to have a circus when I’m making a movie. I’m having a great time kidding around with the crew, putting on acts and tap dancing and driving them for fourteen hours a day. I enjoy every minute of it. But Bill looks like he can’t wait for it to all be over. He just hates the experience of directing and that’s too bad because he’s so good at putting these projects together.

What did you make of the “Maniac Cop Rap” that is heard during the end credits of Maniac Cop 2?
Larry Cohen: Frankly, I’ve never stayed around long enough to hear it. I always walk out of the theater after a movie is over. I don’t sit around to watch the credits. I hate endless credits that go on and on — all these names that just roll on forever — because nobody really looks at them. Everyone who works on a film, from the person who cleans the toilets to the people who serve the food, has to be credited. It’s simply exhausting. Anybody and everybody who works on a particular special effect, miniature, or matte must have their name on the picture. Well, god bless ‘em! I guess it makes them feel good, but who really cares? On my movies, we don’t have those kinds of interminable credits.


The then still-unknown Quentin Tarentino had sent (Federal Express collect) Lustig his scripts for NATURAL BORN KILLERS and TRUE ROMANCE. Lustig was impressed, but preferred TRUE ROMANCE and was originally set to direct it. “I developed TRUE ROMANCE. I worked on it for a year. I prepared a shooting script and scouted the locations in Detroit.” This was when it was planned as a three million dollar movie. It, of course, became a 20 million dollar movie directed by Tony Scott. Lustig has no on screen credit for the 1993 release but doesn’t seem to have regrets. “I was paid well though and own 4% of it.”


Maniac Cop III: Badge of Silence  (1993)

 SUMMARY: A priest practicing the Voodoo arts resurrects Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar), who takes his badge and comes back from the dead to do his bidding. Meanwhile, a pair of cameramen who are hoping to make it big come across a convenience store robbery, where a police officer named Katie Sullivan (Gretchen Becker) intervenes in a hostage situation; she manages to wound the suspect but realizes that the clerk is his girlfriend, and she had let him in purposefully to rob the store. There is a crossfire, and while Kate is severely wounded, she ends up killing the clerk in return.

When rushed to the hospital, she is rendered comatose and brain dead, much to the chagrin of investigating officer Sean McKinney (Robert Davi). McKinney catches the report of Katie using excessive force in a hostage situation, which portrays the clerk as an innocent victim and threatens to free the badly injured Frank Jessup. Meanwhile, stalking Katie’s progress, Cordell goes to the hospital to watch her (killing a heckler in the process). He kills one of her supervising physicians with defibrillator paddles, then murders Katie’s physician with X Ray radiation. The four reporters who had framed Kate are also slain by Cordell afterwards.

Fangoria_118_1992_Dracula_HQS_c2c_0052Meanwhile, McKinney and a physician, Susan (Caitlin Dulany), are investigating the murders and the strange behavior experienced by the comatose Kate. Their investigations lead them to Houngan (Julius Harris), who admits that he had brought Cordell back from the dead, and he is interested in Kate who is on the verge of death. At gunpoint, Cordell forces Houngan to attempt the resurrection on her, but he is unable to do so, stating her spirit is refusing to return from the dead to be with him. Cordell kills Houngan, and both he and Kate are set on fire in the process; she is immolated. As they escape, Susan and McKinney are chased by Cordell, who survived the fire while remaining ablaze. He chases them in a beat up police car, while they ride in an ambulance. They manage to throw an oxygen tank into the burning car before both crash. However, before Cordell can back up on the other disabled vehicle, the canister goes off, blowing up the car. Later, the charred corpse of Katie is rolled into a morgue, next to the burned remains of Cordell. While the lone coroner, who rolled Katie into the morgue, is busy with his computer, the camera pans to the bodies, which shows Cordell’s hand moving over to hold Katie’s hand.

The film’s storyline was partially inspired by the Rodney King incident and the existence of a group of video mercenaries called The Bad News Bears, who prowl the LA streets looking for news to peddle to the networks. Producer Joel Soisson comments “They are obviously looking for the lurid, the violent, and the shocking, and our story presupposes that these type guys go one step too far and actually frame a police officer to make a better story, and to make some money.”

In MANIAC COP 3, or MC3, as it has been titled for upcoming video release, Cordell’s redemption at the end of MANIAC COP 2 meant to Soisson that they had to create a kinder, gentler Maniac Cop, and maybe redefine what his legacy is, and what he is about, and what he wants.”

Soisson agrees with Z’Dar’s interpretation. “We redefined the character, but doing that is risky. You automatically expose yourself to comparison with the predecessor, and whether the new concept is as clever, or as amusing as the old one. We had to change it enough to enrich it, but not so much that it loses connection with the audience that was the reason you’re making a sequel in the first place.”

While both Lustig and Soisson have high praise for the films creative crew, particularly 2nd unit direction/stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos, relations between the two soured as the production progressed. During production Lustig expressed, “I’m more a hired director. I also produced the others and I really stood with them from their infancy. I’m still involved with them. On this film, I kind of come in, I direct it, and I leave. I find it a bit frustrating.

That frustration would soon peak and Lustig would leave before production was completed and would wish to have his name taken off the project. According to Lustig he shot about 45-50 minutes, Razatos 2nd unit work accounted for another 5-6 minutes. Production sources say 15 minutes of additional footage were shot to bring the film to a 90-minute running time. These scenes developed Davi’s love relationship with Sullivan’s doctor and added some Freddie-like scenes of jokey horror to an otherwise somber film. Said Lustig, “I’ve had no association with the project since May. I’ve done no editing on the project, nor was there ever a director’s cut. They’ve turned it into a Canadian tax shelter movie.”

Most filmmakers have an innervoice that tells them whether a project is headed for success or disaster. Director William Lustig has faith in more visceral things.

“My gut has always steered me right,” says Lustig, who has piloted the fortunes of such genre titles as the controversial Maniac and the action-packed killer-cop film series: Maniac Cop, its widely-praised sequel and, most recently, Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence. “I really don’t like to intellectualize this stuff, but every time I’ve listened to other people, I’ve always screwed up. Every time I’ve gone with what my gut told me was right, I’ve been successful.”

Lustig has worked steadily enough throughout his career to gain a reputation as a bankable filmmaker. But he claims that a strange kind of irony has been his lot-one in which he creates a sparkling original and can’t get arrested when it comes time to make the sequel.

“All of my films have been or are about to be sequelized,” he sighs. “I loved creating the originals, even though in each case it was a struggle. But when my movies became successful and the companies started thinking about sequels, people who weren’t around when the original was made started coming out of the woodwork with all these wild ideas as to why the first one was a success.

“So instead of the studio heads saying, “Why don’t we leave him alone to do his thing like we did the last time, it all of a sudden becomes this committee process which I can’t stand, and that drives me crazy,” he frowns. “I’ve been approached on a lot of these sequels, but I wouldn’t play that game. So, more often than not, my phone hasn’t rung.”

But Lustig has continued to get the calls when it comes to Maniac Cop. He describes this ongoing relationship with blue-clad killer Matt Cordell as “part contractual and largely financial.

“It has kind of run contrary to the situation I usually run into with sequels, he says, “in that I keep getting called back and I’m pretty much left alone to do these films. Although that really wasn’t the case on Maniac Cop 3, which was definitely the most difficult of the trio. The budget wasn’t real big. Larry Cohen was unavailable for rewrites, so the script was being rewritten on a daily basis by producer Joel Soisson. I got new pages every day.”

In the end, the difficulties proved to be too much. Sometime after making these observations, Lustig severed ties with Maniac Cop 3, citing creative differences, and sought to remove his name from the film.

“I was unhappy with what they wanted to do, reports Lustig now “The focus of the film was not where it should have been, which was on the monster. All of a sudden, it had become a romantic detective picture. I just threw up my hands and left.” The problems began not long after Cop 3 had finished principal photography in Los Angeles and was preparing for a week’s shoot in New York. When it was discovered that the Manhattan location had been demolished, the Cop 3 company made plans to lens an additional week in LA to offset the loss.

“Unfortunately, the director says. “Robert Davi’s contract called for the additional scenes to be shot in New York, and Davi would not return to Los Angeles unless his contract was renegotiated. He had already been having quite a bit of input on the script, and finally agreed to come back to LA if they would shoot the scenes he wanted-which mainly boiled down to scenes of him smooching with the leading lady. He wanted to be this romantic leading man, and I saw things differently.”Imagi-Movies Vol 1 No 1 (Fall 1993)_0052

There followed a month in which, as Lustig describes, “I was at loggerheads with Soisson”; it was at the end of this period that he walked off the film. The new footage requested by Davi was ultimately directed by Soisson himself. Although he cites Davi’s demands as being the catalyst for his leaving Cop 3, Lustig holds no grudges and has spoken with the actor since leaving the movie.

“My conflict was not with Davi,” the director maintains. “He’s an actor and an advocate for his cause. But I was disappointed in what he wanted to do, and I ultimately believe he was wrong.”

Lustig is less charitable toward Soisson and the production company funding Cop 3, who, after his departure, effectively estranged him from the project. “I was never allowed to do a director’s cut and I never saw the additional scenes,” he says. “Unfortunately, my name is still on the film. After I left, I asked them to remove my credit; but since the film was largely presold on the fact that I was directing it, they refused. Finally, we reached a compromise: It still says *Directed by William Lustig, but not ‘A William Lustig Film.'”

The philosophical Lustig learned a good lesson from his Cop 3 troubles. “When you go into meetings on movies, always listen to what people are saying,” he warns. “Every time I would take a meeting on Maniac Cop 3. these guys would talk derogatorily about directors. I should have known at that point that I was heading for trouble.”

The financial concerns have never completely gone away, but Lustig, much like the movies he makes, remains bloodied but unbowed. “I have to deal with a reality that a director like Spielberg doesn’t,” he says. “The Maniac Cop films are not creatively stimulating for me anymore, but I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, and the rent has to be paid.

“I’m also a victim of stereotyping to an extent,” he continues. “Prior to Maniac Cop 3, I spent a year on a project. The powers that be decided to make it a bigger picture with a bigger budget. When that happened, they replaced me with a major director. Am I disappointed? Sure. I could have done the film no matter how big the picture was. But overall, I can’t complain. I’m 37 years old, I’ve been in the business 12 years and, for the most part, I’m proud of the movies I’ve done.”

Lustig continues his verbal assault but suddenly stops in midsentence, mentally assessing some of the candor he’s displayed during the conversation. “Should I have been saying some of the things I’ve been saying?” he asks. “I know I’ve been pretty honest with you. Screw it! I figure one thing. I survived before these people were around, and I’ll survive long after they’ve gone. It’s not my style to sit around shaking all the time and worrying that I might say the wrong thing and offend somebody. Something will always come along for me and, because of that, I don’t feel I have to live and die by all the bullshit.

“The only thing I have to concern myself with, he concludes, “is making good movies.”

In addition to redefining the character Soisson felt “we needed to redefine him visibly. The last thing we saw was him getting burned up in a bus at the end of number 2, so he’s very disfigured, but we came up with more of an E.C. Comics type look: bubbling flesh, skeletal features, bullet wounds, kind of half-menacing, and half sad.”

The makeup for BADGE OF SILENCE is being handled by Howard Berger, of KNB, and his crew. Unlike the first MANIAC COP, which used prosthetics, the subsequent films in the series have relied on less time-consuming masks. By specially sculpting the mask to fit the face of actor Robert Z’Dar the application time has been halved. Z’Dar’s character has been largely silent, but Lustig found that “between the first and second picture Robert had developed a really good body language for the character. The way Karloff did in FRANKENSTEIN.” Z’Dar feels that his character has grown in the films. “Before, he used to kill basically good people because he was so twisted and bitter about the way things have happened to him. Now, he’s a man on a mission to help another officer who has been framed. This brings on a closeness to her, and a sense of wanting and love that he hasn’t had in the first two.”

“It wasn’t made for HBO, it was sold to them. It was sold to them after it was finished. And the funny part is, they paid the most money for that one HBO. When I signed on to do the film, it was going to be like $2 1/2 million, but before the film was ever shot, it went up to almost, like almost $2.9 million and I know it had to have gone at least $300,000 over after I left. Amazing. It made money, because they approached me for a fourth and refused to do it. I said if you wanna do it, buy me out, I don’t wanna have anything to do with it. Here’s the other funny part. When they were doing 3, they’re going ‘Hey Bill, we pre-sold the picture because you were directing it.’ I go ‘Yeah, so what’s wrong with this picture, so why don’t you let me direct it?’ Cause you know, I’m pretty straightforward and blunt with them. I don’t know what the fuck’s on these people’s minds. They’re so fucked up.

Larry Cohen
Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen on the Maniac Cop 3

Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence was released in 1993, three years after the second film. Out of curiosity, were you responsible for the Badge of Silence imprimatur?
Larry Cohen: Yeah, that was my idea.

How were you coerced into writing a third film after experiencing problems with your residuals on Maniac Cop 2?
Larry Cohen: After Bill called me up and said he had performed his magic once again and secured the money to make a third movie, there was no question that I had to write it. So, I did write it and I thought I wrote a good script, actually. Unfortunately, Bill — being the way he is — decided that he wanted to be the big cheese and kind of aced me out of the project. He sided with the production company and that was a mistake. Once he broke up the team, he became vulnerable and then they got rid of him, too. So, it ended up that the both of us were kicked off the picture. I was happy to be kicked off Maniac Cop 3. It wasn’t really anything that was done to me personally. I had just written the script and they decided that they would do their own script, and that was it. I did get paid in full, so I was pleased. I didn’t really want anything to do with the movie anyway, frankly. I didn’t want anything to do with any of the Maniac Cop pictures. But instead of working with me as he had done before, even begrudgingly, as he always does, Bill decided that he would undermine my authority and have the script changed. That was his mistake.

Has Lustig ever acknowledged that mistake?
Larry Cohen: No, he isn’t capable of acknowledging something like that. I don’t dislike Bill. Honestly, I thank heaven that he came along. I’ve made quite a lot of money from my association with him, and we later did Uncle Sam together. I’ve done quite a number of pictures with him and, in fact, as I once told Bill, “We are batting a thousand.” I’ve never ever worked on a project with him that did not get made. Every single movie has been made! In most cases, when you write a screenplay and are in development, you are lucky if fifty percent of them ever get made, but with Bill everything got made. He is certainly a lot better at raising money for movies than I am.

Of course, that is a great talent in itself.
Larry Cohen: Oh, absolutely. It’s an extremely difficult thing trying to get money to make a film. I mean, god bless Bill, because he got the money to make the Maniac Cop movies and Uncle Sam. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t know why people would give him any money — certainly after the Maniac Cop pictures — but they always do.

There are reports that Lustig dropped out of Maniac Cop 3 after apparently delivering a 51-minute rough cut of the film. He was then replaced at the helm by producer Joel Soisson. Are these reports accurate?
Larry Cohen: I really don’t know the internal politics of Maniac Cop 3. I only know that Bill was replaced. I don’t think he bowed out, I think he was replaced.

Do you remember any of the substantial changes that were made to your script?
Larry Cohen: I do remember there was something I had written where the policewoman in a coma is pregnant with the Maniac Cop’s child. Cordell had basically inseminated her as she was lying there in a catatonic state. I thought that brought an interesting element into the story, because it raised the question of whether or not the authorities should terminate her life — and the life of her unborn baby — by switching off the life support system. I don’t think the producers appreciated that aspect of the script. Maybe they thought it was a little too much. I don’t know. What I do know is they simply wanted Cordell to be killing people left and right like he always did. Anything that deviated from that objective was frowned upon, I’m sure. I can’t think of anything else that was cut or changed. To be totally honest with you, all of that has been completely blanked out of my mind because I just didn’t care. In cases like Maniac Cop 3, I don’t brood over these things. I simply erase them from my memory and quickly move on. Usually, the people who do those kinds of things to your script end up suffering for it themselves. They end up with a bad movie and a bad rep, and so what? I still get to keep the money no matter what happens. Honestly, I don’t really care. If you want the opportunity to tamper with my script, you are going to have to pay for it. Then you can go ahead and make whatever changes you want. Just be prepared to also deal with the inevitable consequences.

There is a repetition of footage in Maniac Cop 3, as indeed there was in Maniac Cop 2. Was this done in order to pad out the running time or did you specifically write those flashbacks into the script?
Larry Cohen: I thought we needed some re-establishment of the story and situation in the sequels. I felt the flashbacks would be helpful in case people hadn’t seen the previous films.

Maniac Cop 3 culminates with an extraordinary chase sequence in which Cordell drives a car down a highway whilst on fire. When you wrote the script, did you think that sequence would be difficult to realize?
Larry Cohen: I don’t think about things like that. My job is to create the idea, and their job is to execute it.


The Expert (1995) John Lomax is an ex-Special Forces trainer whose sister is attacked and murdered by serial killer Martin Kagan. Kagan represents himself at trial, calling in testimony from Dr. Alice Barnes that the murders were committed by Martin Mirman, one of Martin Kagan’s other personalities. He is nevertheless sentenced to electrocution. John Lomax breaks into the prison where Kagan is being held to seek his own justice at the same time that Kagan is conducting a prison break of his own.

According to director William Lustig, Speakman came to him during the filming of the climax and said he couldn’t do the scene because it was too violent and wouldn’t be setting a good “example for the children of America”. This was after most of the film had been shot and, you know, Speakman had learned about the project and agreed to do it — it’s not like he was under the impression that The Expert was about an expert chef who had to learn to become an expert at loving his family.

So Lustig tricked Speakman into filming the shots he needed by letting him do what he felt would inspire the youth of America, only to later manipulate the bejesus out of the footage during editing. However, word got out and Speakman, a trained martial artist, stormed into the editing booth and threatened to kill Lustig with his “karate bullshit” — all of which is making us wonder if Speakman was the product of an only partially successful attempt to clone Steven Seagal. Understandably not wanting any karate bullshit in his future, Lustig called it quits on the basically already finished film and had his name removed.

But, shockingly, threatening to murder someone because you think their movie is too violent is not an effective strategy, and Lustig’s cut of the climax remained. Double standards with violence were apparently just standard procedure for Speakman.

That was the end of the Maniac Cop series, but three years later Lustig and Cohen returned with a film that was in many ways a rethinking of Maniac Cop, going over many of the same themes again but from a slightly different angle. Uncle Sam is a curious picture in political terms because I know people on the Right who see it as a celebration of American values, and people on the Left who see it as a dark satire of the dangers of extreme patriotism. Take your pick.

If it is indeed a satire, it marks Lustig’s first break from horror and action. It was also the first of Lustig’s films to have no New York connection. In fact it gets about as far from NYC as possible, taking place in a picture postcard model of small town America, complete with picket fences and a town-wide Fourth of July picnic in the park. The streets are clean and safe, the people are happy, the sun is always shining and finding all that in a William Lustig film immediately seems to scream “satire,” but maybe that’s just me.


Uncle Sam (1996) In Kuwait, a military unit uncovers an American helicopter that was downed by friendly fire at least three years ago. As the wreckage is inspected, Master Sergeant Sam Harper, one of the burnt bodies within, springs to life and kills a sergeant and a major, and returns to an inert state after muttering, “Don’t be afraid, it’s only friendly fire!”

Weeks later, Sam’s body is delivered to his hometown of Twin Rivers, which is preparing for Independence Day. Sam’s wife Louise is given custody of the casket containing Sam’s remains, which are left in the home of Sam’s estranged sister Sally, who lives with her patriotic young son, Jody. Sam reanimates in the early hours of the Fourth of July, and proceeds to kill and steal the costume of a perverted Uncle Sam. Sam then makes his way to a cemetery, where he murders two of three juvenile delinquents who had vandalized tombstones, and desecrated an American flag.

During the Independence Day celebration, in which a corrupt congressman is visiting, Sam beheads the third delinquent, kills Jody’s teacher, who opposed the Vietnam War, with a hatchet, and shoots Sally’s unscrupulous lawyer boyfriend in the head. Despite these deaths, the festivities continue, but are thrown into disarray when Sam uses the fireworks gear to blow up the congressman, and a flagpole to impale Louise’s deputy boyfriend. As this occurs, Jody is told by his mother and aunt that his supposedly heroic idol Sam, was in fact an alcoholic psychopath, who physically and sexually abused them, and only joined the military so he could get a “free pass” to kill people.

Jody is told by Barry, another boy who has established an unexplained mental link with Sam, that the undead Sam is responsible for the deaths. With help from Sam’s old mentor Jed, the boys go to Jody’s house, where they find the lecherous sergeant, who dropped Sam off, dead and stuffed inside Sam’s coffin. Realizing that Sam will probably go after Louise, the boys and Jed go to her home, where Sam blames Jed, who told him tales of how glorious combat was, for his current state. Jed retorts by yelling, “You never fought for your country! You just killed for the love of killing!”

Jed’s gun proves ineffective against Sam, so he and Louise go to get Jed’s cannon while Jody, who Sam claims is the reason he came back, keeps Sam occupied. Jody lures Sam outside, and Jed blasts him with the cannon, destroying him in flames at Louise’s house. The next day, Sally watches as Jody burns all of his war-themed toys after learning the truth about Sam.

As the film’s amazing poster and tagline might suggest, when some drunken, rebellious teens in a nearby park burn an American flag, Sam’s corpse crawls out of its coffin to take care of the above checklist in a way he’d never been able to when he was alive.

Some pretty great scenes follow, but there’s just no topping a peeping tom on stilts being chased down the street by a vengeful murderous zombie soldier. Yes, it’s over the top and obvious, but it’s still sharp and funny, the pacing is snappy and it has a point to make. Leave it to Larry Cohen to write a slasher/zombie/revenge satire about patriotism gone mad (or celebration of American values).

It was Lustig’s last feature. After that he moved on to the DVD distributor Anchor Bay, where he acquired cult films, both classic and obscure and produced featurettes. He later formed his own distribution company, Blue Underground, which has continued to focus on giving new life to the films he’d first come to know in the Times Square grindhouses.

Although William Lustig never made any bones about the fact that his own films (however people chose to interpret them) were just exploitation movies, they remain some of the best and most stylish of the era. They had flair, he developed themes and he had a knack for driving audiences a little nutty in one way or another. They were also among the most quietly influential.

Vigilante (1983)
Maniac Cop (1988)
Hit List (1989)
Relentless (1989)
Maniac Cop 2 (1990)
Maniac Cop III: Badge of Silence (1993)
The Expert (1995)
Uncle Sam (1996)

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Larry Cohen: The Radical Allegories of an Independent Filmmaker-Tony Williams

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