Maniac Cop 3: Shiny, New Badge of Silence

Man, the wait for Blue Underground to finally regain the rights to release the Maniac Cop sequels the right way has been a long, highly anticipated one. For ages, we've had nothing but cheap-o, barebones DVD releases, which is pretty rare for William Lustig and Larry Cohen films, especially two of their most popular. But at least First Look's DVD of Maniac Cop 3 was widescreen, with a decent picture. Maniac Cop 2 was fullscreen. And considering Maniac Cop 3 is the one the filmmakers disavowed anyway, 3 was the less crucial of the two. But as soon as its pre-order was up, I still jumped on.

Update 10/5/15 - 11/11/21: And when the pre-order for the latest UHD/ BD 2-disc combo came up, I jumped again!  It sure doesn't feel like it's been eight years since the last edition, but it's been at least long enough that I'm happy to triple-dip.
Even if the control of the film hadn't been wrested away from Lustig and Cohen by the producers with changes made against their will (Larry's left his on, but Lustig took his name off the picture), I still think it would've been the weakest entry. Suddenly we've got voodoo and Cordell spends half the picture stalking around a hospital like a generic slasher. But if you look past the problems, it's a pretty fun movie regardless. It's got lots of witty Cohen moments and some spectacular action sequences (or at least one super-mega one at the finale) by Lustig. Robert Davi returns as the lead, supported by some more great character actors in the minor roles; and the "Bride of Maniac Cop" angle is fun in a B-movie kind of way. It doesn't do the best job of standing up against the first two films, but viewed as just a little, low budget horror flick in a vacuum, it's pretty enjoyable.

Now, it's worth noting that there was a slightly trimmed R-rated cut and a full unrated cut released on video back in the day. I think the R-rated cut may have even seen its way onto DVD in the past. But both the BU and First Look releases contain the uncut unrated version, so you're pretty safe.
1) 2004 FL DVD; 2) 2013 BU DVD; 3) 2013 BU BD;
4) 2021 BU BD; 5) 2021 BU UHD.

A big revelation that came with Blue Underground's 2013 release: it's now framed at 2.35:1. I never would've guessed it was originally shot for that ratio... First Look's DVD is anamorphic 1.78:1, and it looks pretty natural. Heck, it was originally released as a TV movie on HBO, where it played 1.33:1; but I do believe it was shot with widescreen in mind. I'd always just assumed that it was meant to be slightly matted down to 1.85:1. But the 2.35:1 isn't giving us any extra picture on the sides, it's just doing a lot of vertical cropping. There are close ups where people's chins drop out of frame whenever they talk.
First Look DVD left, Blue Underground 2013 blu-ray right.
But it's been confirmed again with the new 2021 release, and Lustig himself says he shot it 2.35 in the extras. So I guess we can put that question to rest.  And of course, framing aside, there's no question Blue Underground's BDs are far superior in all other aspects. Even the 2013 blu is a much cleaner, clearer HD image with more vivid and darker colors (First Look's blacks are faded gray, not actual black), and it's just so much more attractive to look at. Even the DVD included in BU's first combo package handles the SD compression better than First Look.

Then we come to the 2021 edition, and it's an all new, 4k scan from the original negative.  It's actually even wider now, at 2.39:1, but that's revealing a bit more along the sides than cropping even tighter.  The framing's even been adjusted a smidgen (to catch those chins!).  I'd say it's an improvement, but surely what you're noticing isn't the AR but the much richer colors.  They've really re-timed this picture.  And it's not a case of "HDR crayons," as it's that way on the BD, too.  It's certainly a more attractive, colorful image, and Lustig is enthusiastic about how it looks on the commentary, so if it's revisionist (and he admits he has made some little tweaks along the way), it's at least the filmmakers' own handiwork.  Grain and finer points already looked pretty good on the 2013 disc, but the UHD resolution takes away digital pixelation when you get in close.  Admittedly, it reveals more smooth grain texture than actual fine detail, but there's no question it's a more natural, filmic image now in 4k.

First Look had Spanish subtitles and a stereo audio track, which was nice; but BU kicked it in the teeth with their 2013 BD, including a 5.1 DTS-HD track, an admittedly lossy 2.0 stereo track, and a whopping ten different subtitle tracks, including English. It's also enhanced for D-Box motion control systems, if you're one of the five people on Earth who has a use for that.  And in 2021?  The 5.1 has been turned into a new Dolby Atmos track, and that stereo mix is now lossless DTS-HD.  All the subs are still there, and so is the D-Box.
And extras, yes. I was a pleasantly surprised the First Look DVD had the trailer, which Blue Underground also has. But of course Blue Underground's 2013 release has substantially more. Although, actually, it doesn't have an audio commentary, which you'd expect from Lustig and Cohen, especially on Lustig's own label. This is not the loaded special edition I'd anticipated. But it does have some good stuff, the crown jewel of which is a 25-minute 'making of' featurette. It's not afraid to tell the real, not entirely happy story of the film, and includes interviews with Lustig. Cohen, Davi, Robert Z'Dar, DoP Jacques Haitkin, Caitlin Dulany, Gretchen Becker and stuntman Spiro Razatos. There are several deleted scenes, too, which are a treat to see, and a photo gallery, plus it comes in a slipcover.

The 2021 release keeps all of that, and now it finally has a commentary "with Director Alan Smithee."  That's Lustig, of course, and he's joined by Joel Soisson, the producer who directed the rest of the scenes after Lustig walked off.  They're on good terms now, but this is as frank and candid a discussion about what went wrong, as well as right, as you could ever want.  Lustig always does great commentaries, and this is one for the ages.  And it comes housed in a stylish, embossed slipcover.
Maniac Cop 3 is a better film then it gets credit for, even if it's not as strong as the other two. And Blue Underground's UHD is the new definitive release, even if the purist in me winces at the little alterations.  Lustig has now given us stellar 4k editions of parts 2 and 3... let's just hope the original can find its way home to him, now, for the perfect trilogy.

1 comment:

  1. I've always notice that similar widescreen ratio with VIGILANTE,which also looks like it was originally a 1:78-1:85 ratio film that was blown to 2:35 ratio for its widescreen VHS video,DVD,and Blu ray incarnations. The question that I have more for William Lustig is why hasn't be brought those Hammer Films titles that he obtained the rights to(for Anchor Bay's late 90s releases) for new DVD/Blu ray releases,since he surprisingly cut loose DRACULA;PRINCE OF DARKNESS,FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN,and LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES as Lionsgate DVD/Blu ray releases.