Category Archives: Larry Cohen Collection

Spotlight on the works of legendary b-movie writer, director, and producer Larry Cohen.

Larry Cohen Collection: “Pick Me Up”

Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up

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Today, I’m going to be taking another stroll through the career of writer/director Larry Cohen with the “Masters of Horror” feature, “Pick Me Up.”

“Pick Me Up” was directed by Larry Cohen for the television show “Masters of Horror,” which showcased original work by some of the most famed figures in horror film history. I have already covered two episodes of the series directed by Stuart Gordon: “The Black Cat” and “Dreams In The Witch House.”

“Pick Me Up” was written by David J. Schow, who penned such horror flicks as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre III,” “Critters 3,” “Critters 4,” and “The Crow.”

“Pick Me Up” was edited by Marshall Harvey, a veteran horror editor and frequent Joe Dante collaborator who also cut “Lake Placid,” “Small Soldiers,” and “Matinee” (among many others).

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The cinematographer on “Pick Me Up” was Brian Pearson, who also shot the more recent horror flicks “American Mary,” “The Butterfly Effect 2,” and “Into the Storm.”

The makeup effects team for “Pick Me Up” included Mike Fields (“Dreams In The Witch House,” “The Black Cat”), Sarah Graham (“The Cabin In The Woods,” “Supernatural”), Margaret Solomon (“Timecop,” “The Black Cat”), and Amanda McGowan (“Sucker Punch,” “Final Destination 5”).

The “Pick Me Up” special effects were done by the KNB EFX group, which has worked on “The Walking Dead,” “Maniac Cop 3,” “Army of Darkness,” “The Faculty,” and “Sin City” under the lead of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. The rest of the team included Scott Patton (“The Mangler”), Frank Rydberg (“Devil’s Advocate,” “Drag Me To Hell”), Andy Schoneberg (“Dead Heat”), Shannon Shea (“Leviathan”), Wayne Szybunka (“Lake Placid,” “Marmaduke”), Lindsay Vivian (“Sin City”), Grady Holder (“Lake Placid,” “Small Soldiers”), Robert Freitas (“Men In Black,” “Species”), and Michael Deak (“From Beyond,” “The Dentist”).

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The visual effects for “Pick Me Up” were done by a team that included Sebastien Bergeron (“Tucker & Dale vs. Evil”), Mladen Miholjcic (“Andromeda”), Lee Wilson (“The Fly,” “Videodrome”), and Stephen Paschke (“Watchmen”).

The music for “Pick Me Up” was composed by Jay Chattaway, who also did the scores for the Larry Cohen films “Maniac Cop,” “Maniac Cop 2,” and “The Ambulance.”

The cast for “Pick Me Up” features frequent Larry Cohen collaborator Michael Moriarty (“It’s Alive III,” “A Return to Salem’s Lot,” “Q,” “The Stuff”), along with Fairuza Balk (“Almost Famous,” “The Waterboy”), Warren Kole (“The Following”), Laurene Landon (“Maniac Cop,” “Maniac Cop 2”), Malcolm Kennard (“The Matrix Reloaded”), Crystal Lowe (“Insomnia”), and Paul Anthony (“Blade: Trinity”).

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Michael Moriarty does some improvised piano work during a sequence in “Pick Me Up,” much like he did in his audition scene in “Q: The Winged Serpent.”

The two dueling serial killers in “Pick Me Up” are named Walker and Wheeler, obviously coined after their modes of transportation: hitch-hiking and an 18-wheeler truck, respectively.

As far as highlights go, there is at least one highly memorable murder committed by Walker, in which he strangles a man with a dead snake. Apart from that, deaths are interestingly not emphasized, and a number happen off-screen. More attention is paid to suspense and the serial killers themselves rather than their actions, which I found pretty interesting.

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“Pick Me Up” features a number of tongue-in-cheek direct references to classic horror movies, including “Psycho” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” The flick also adopts major elements from both of those movies for the plot: the setting of a creepy, remote hotel (“Psycho”), and the presence of a killer hitch-hiker (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”).

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My biggest issue with “Pick Me Up” is surprisingly Michael Moriarty, who seemed more than a bit spaced out to me, like he might have been excessively drunk during the shoot. That might have just been part of the character, but I got the feeling from watching him that that wasn’t the case. Regardless, he is still a scene stealer and has his same quirky charm, but he isn’t on the top of his game.

Overall, “Pick Me Up” works with an interesting premise, and both the writing and directing is done with a clear affection for the genre. There are a couple of solid sequences, but I can’t help but feel that it could have been pulled off better. Compared to Stuart Gordon’s “Masters of Horror” episodes, Larry Cohen’s contribution here is a bit lacking. For fans of horror, it is worth checking out, but it is probably skippable for anyone else.

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Larry Cohen Collection: “Hell Up In Harlem”

Hell Up In Harlem

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Today, I’ll be wrapping up the first two-week stretch of the Larry Cohen Collection with the 1973 sequel to “Black Caesar”: “Hell Up In Harlem.”

“Hell Up In Harlem” was once again written, directed, and produced by Larry Cohen as a direct follow up to his first hit, “Black Caesar.”

Outside of Larry Cohen, the producers for “Hell Up In Harlem” were b-movie legend Samuel Arkoff (“Q”) and a trio returning producers from “Black Caesar”: James Dixon, Janelle Webb, and Peter Sabiston.

The cinematographer for “Hell Up In Harlem” was once again Fenton Hamilton, who also acted as director of photography on “It’s Alive” simultaneously.

The effects work on “Hell Up In Harlem” is credited to Marvin Kerner, who has worked on sound effects for films such as “Black Caesar,” “Gymkata,” and “China O’Brien.”

The editors on “Hell Up In Harlem” were Peter Honess (“Troy,” “Highlander,” “It’s Alive”) and Franco Guerri, who previously worked as a camera operator on the Larry Cohen film “Bone” and as an assistant editor on “Black Caesar.”

hellupinharlem3The music for “Hell Up In Harlem” was performed by soul icon Edwin Starr, who took over the job from James Brown (who did the work for “Black Caesar”). The score was composed by Fonce Mizell and Freddie Perren, who wrote numerous hits for The Jackson 5 over their careers and were top-tier music producers as part of “The Corporation”. The score also had input from Barry De Vorzon, who composed the theme song for “S.W.A.T.” and provided music for the film “The Warriors.”

The cast for “Hell Up In Harlem” is once again headlined by Fred Williamson, and features other returning players from “Black Caesar” in D’Urville Martin (“Dolemite”), James Dixon (“The Stuff,” “Q”), Gloria Hendry (“Live And Let Die”), and Julius Harris (“Super Fly”). The biggest new addition is Margaret Avery as the new love interest for Gibbs, who is best known from “The Color Purple.”

The story of “Hell Up In Harlem” picks up following a slightly altered recap of the conclusion to “Black Caesar,” and shows Gibbs recover and expand his criminal empire across the United States. Inevitably, he is betrayed once again, leading to one last bout of heated revenge.

The reception for “Hell Up In Harlem” wasn’t nearly as warm as it was for “Black Caesar”: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 13% (critics) and 52% (audience), along with an IMDb rating of 6.1.

hellupinharlem2“Hell Up In Harlem” was intriguingly filmed on weekends during the making of “It’s Alive,” because that was the only time when both Larry Cohen and Fred Williamson were available to make the film. Both men were working on different movies for different studios at the time, and most of the team had to pull numerous 7 day work weeks to get the film completed.

The fact that “Hell Up In Harlem” was a rushed production completed on weekends doesn’t at all surprise me, because the entire film feels rushed, strained, and exhausted. There clearly wasn’t as much passion thrown into the creation of the film as there was for “Black Caesar,” and the result is that the film feels a bit passive and routine, lacking a certain necessary energy from top to bottom.

One of my biggest issues with “Hell Up In Harlem” is that it negates the fantastic ending of “Black Caesar.” Also, the film really shouldn’t exist, as the story is effectively wrapped up in “Black Caesar.” The film was clearly solely made because of the profit potential for a sequel, and it ironically feels soulless because of it.

hellupinharlem5The score for “Hell Up In Harlem” isn’t quite as memorable or catchy as the one for “Black Caesar.” As good as Edwin Starr is, he is a downgrade from the power of James Brown. That said, both the theme song and “Big Papa” are pretty fantastic.

“Hell Up In Harlem” is entertaining as segments, but it doesn’t feel like a coherent work on the whole. I think this is mostly because of the way the film was thrown together in a rush, and the fact that the story had to be somewhat manifested out of thin air in the wake of “Black Caesar.”

People seem to like “Hell Up In Harlem” better in retrospect, surprisingly. I think that this is partially because it is a little more over the top than “Black Caesar,” which gives it some more campy value. However, fans of “Black Caesar” seem to be particularly harsh of the sequel for not living up to the quality of the original work, whereas most of the critics of “Black Caesar” were detractors from the world of mainstream cinema.

Some credit has to be given to “Hell Up In Harlem” for having a much cooler title than “Black Caesar,” but it also doesn’t immediately ring a bell as a sequel. I’m not sure whether that was intentional or not, or if it is necessarily an advantage or a hindrance to the film as a whole. I would be curious to get someone’s opinion of “Hell Up In Harlem” if they had never seen “Black Caesar,” and if that would make them more or less generous to it from a critical point of view.

Another thing that I do like in “Hell Up In Harlem” is the character development allowed for Helen, Revered Rufus, and Papa Gibbs. One of the weaknesses of “Black Caesar” is that there isn’t much detail in the accessory cast, and it is squarely focused solely on Gibbs throughout the run time. “Hell Up In Harlem” at least gives these three accessory characters time and room to grow and develop, which makes the film better for it.

hellupinharlem4The conclusion of “Hell Up In Harlem” tries to recapture some of the emotion and shock from “Black Caesar,” but lightning doesn’t strike twice, and it ultimately feels contrived and plays like a clear imitation.

Overall, “Hell Up In Harlem” is not awful, but it also isn’t particularly good. In comparison to “Black Caesar,” it doesn’t even hold a candle. The fact that it was created due to the financial success of the previous film rather than based on necessity or sense started it off with a bit of a handicap, and the rushed production didn’t do it any favors. It is still worth checking out if this is a genre that is up your alley, but it isn’t as essential of a watch as “Black Caesar.”

Larry Cohen Collection: “Black Caesar”

Black Caesar

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Next up in the Larry Cohen Collection is the blaxploitation classic “Black Caesar,” starring Fred “The Hammer” Williamson.

“Black Caesar” was written, directed, and produced by Larry Cohen. It was his second directorial feature after “Bone,” and his first taste of real financial success in the film industry.

The cinematography on “Black Caesar” was provided by frequent Larry Cohen contributor Fenton Hamilton, who also worked on “It’s Alive,” “It Lives Again,” and the sequel to “Black Caesar”: “Hell Up In Harlem.”

The effects and makeup on “Black Caesar” were provided by Rick Baker, who has now won significant accolades as a special effects guru for films like “An American Werewolf in London,” “Men In Black,” “It’s Alive,” and “Ed Wood.”

blackcaesar4The producers on “Black Caesar” outside of Larry Cohen included the actor James Dixon (“God Told Me To,” “Q,” “The Stuff”), Peter Sabiston (“It’s Alive,” “Bone”), and Janelle Webb (“A Return To Salem’s Lot”).

The music for “Black Caesar” was provided by the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, and is arguably one of the best blaxploitation soundtracks of all time.

The editor on “Black Caesar” was George Folsey, Jr., who also cut such movies as “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” “The Blues Brothers,” “Coming To America,” and Larry Cohen’s first film, “Bone.”

The cast for “Black Caesar” is headlined by blaxploitation legend and former NFL star Fred Williamson (“From Dusk Til Dawn,” “MASH”), with an accessory cast filled out by Gloria Hendry (“Live And Let Die”), Art Lund (“It’s Alive III”), Val Avery (“Papillon,” “The Magnificent Seven”), and D’urville Martin (“Rosemary’s Baby,” “Dolemite”).

The story of “Black Caesar” follows the meteoric rise and fall of a black hitman who works himself into organized crime by working contracts for the mob and blackmailing members of the NYPD.

blackcaesar2Famed singer Sammy Davis, Jr. reportedly turned down the lead role in “Black Caesar,” which opened the door for Fred Williamson to become one of the most iconic figures of the genre.

The story of “Black Caesar” is based on the acclaimed film “Little Caesar” from 1931 (not to be confused with the pizza chain), which was directed by Mervyn Leroy and starred Edward G. Robinson.

2009’s well-regarded blaxploitation parody “Black Dynamite” takes a few shots at “Black Caesar,” particularly in the content of the story and the soundtrack. For instance, the similarities between the tracks “Mama’s Dead” from “Black Caesar” and “Jimmy’s Dead” from “Black Dynamite” are, to say the least, a bit notable.

“Black Caesar” ultimately spawned a successful sequel, “Hell Up In Harlem,” which was also written, directed, and produced by Larry Cohen. Williamson reprised his role despite his character’s death in “Black Caesar,” and the fact that he was under contract with another studio during the filming of the sequel. Cohen and co. ultimately filmed on the weekends while making “It’s Alive,” because it was the only time that Williamson was available.

I couldn’t dig up any financial information or a solid number on the production budget for “Black Caesar,” but it was definitely constructed on the cheap side and made a significant profit on it. The film currently holds a 6.1 score on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 55% (critics) and 65% (audience), making for a mixed reception. Regardless, it is considered a classic of the blaxploitation genre.

“Black Caesar” has a few pacing flaws, in that it feels like it skips forward rather quickly in parts rather than building up the rise of Gibbs through the criminal world. It still gets the point across, but it feels like there is a lot more detail and focus on the back end of the movie than the rise to power, which is kind of the opposite of most crime stories.

blackcaesar6I noticed that a lot of criticisms of the film at the time were focused on it being too violent or crass, which seem more like complaints leveled against the genre as a whole rather than this film. Within the crime and blaxploitation genres, “Black Caesar” is top of the line if you ask me, and is incredibly well crafted by most standards.

Fred Williamson’s at times charming and emotional performance arguably makes the movie what it is. He does a pretty fantastic of building a character who is violent, sinister, and criminal while also keeping the audience pulling for him throughout the story, which is no easy task for a murderous, megalomaniacal rapist like Tommy Gibbs.

blackcaesar5Audiences apparently hated the ending of “Black Caesar,” which concludes with Gibbs dying penniless in a gutter after being mobbed by a black gang. Personally, I thought it was a perfect conclusion.  It places Gibbs where he started the story, and allows the community which he scorned to take its revenge on him. Throughout the film, Gibbs has a crusading mentality that he is fighting for his community by forcing his way up the criminal ladder. However, this conclusion, which shows his old neighborhood in shambles, proves that this simply wasn’t at all the case, and that Gibbs  was just a selfish and grandiose jackass who abandoned his home the minute that he found success. Of course, this ending was partially erased in order for “Hell Up in Harlem” to exist, and Cohen even tried to change it for the wide release of “Black Caesar” before it went out.

blackcaesar3Last but not least, the climax of “Black Caesar” is at once memorable, shocking, fulfilling, and perfectly suited for the film. Gibbs takes his ultimate revenge on the racist police officer who assaulted him as a child (while working as a shoe shiner) by covering his face in shoe polish, forcing him to sing, and slowly beating him to death.

There are a fair number of similarities between “Black Caesar” and Brian De Palma’s take on “Scarface” from 1983. Both films depict an outsider going through a rise and fall in the criminal world, cursed by their own ambitions and greed. Personally, I like “Black Caesar” a little better than “Scarface,” if only on the strength of the leads. I’ve never been a fan of Pacino in “Scarface,” but Williamson in “Black Caesar” is top notch, and handles the complexities of his character well.

blackcaesar7Overall, “Black Caesar” is more than deserving on the praise that it has acclaimed over the years, and is a justified classic of the blaxploitation genre (and crime movies in general). I highly recommend it for fans of crime movies, blaxploitation flicks, or Larry Cohen in general. It provides an interesting window to see where Cohen’s experience as a filmmaker came from, and how it influenced his later films in the thriller and horror genres.

Larry Cohen Collection: “The Stuff”

The Stuff

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Next up in the Larry Cohen Spotlight is perhaps my favorite of all of his films: the campy consumerism satire, “The Stuff.”

“The Stuff” was written, directed, and co-produced by Larry Cohen, in cooperation with his production collaborators Paul Kurta (“Q,” “Perfect Strangers,” “Hell On Weels,” “Veronica Mars”) and Barry Shils (“Special Effects,” “It’s Alive III”).

The makeup effects for “The Stuff” are credited to a team including Ed French (“Creepshow 2,” “C.H.U.D.,” “Paul Blart Mall Cop,” “Dragonball: Evolution”), Michael Maddi (“The Blob,” “Saturday Night Live”), Steve Neill (“God Told Me To,” “It’s Alive III,” “Q,” “Laserblast,” “Full Moon High,” “Battle Beyond The Stars”), Rick Stratton (“Class of 1999,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Galaxy Quest”), and Craig Lyman (“Winter’s Tale,” “The Happening,” “The Cotton Club”).

The special effects work is credited to one Bret Culpepper, who worked on other productions such as “Re-Animator,” “The Beastmaster,” and “Back to the Future Part III” as a special effects worker and technical advisor.

The visual effects team for “The Stuff” comprised of David Allen (“Robot Jox,” “Dolls,” “Q,” “Laserblast”), Jim Danforth (“The Prophecy,” “Ninja III: The Domination,” “The Thing”), Jim Doyle (“Showgirls,” “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” “A Nightmare On Elm Street”), Paul Gentry (“Space Truckers,” “RoboCop 3,” “Predator 2”), John Lambert (“Soultaker”), David Stipes (“Real Genius,” “Night of the Creeps,” “Arena”), and Ted Rae (“Lawnmower Man 2,” “Jaws 3-D,” “Night of the Comet”).

thestuff2 thestuff3 thestuff5The cinematography on “The Stuff” was provided by Paul Glickman, who also acted as director of photography on Larry Cohen movies “God Told Me To” and “Special Effects.”

“The Stuff” was edited by Armond Lebowitz, who also cut the Larry Cohen movies “Q: The Winged Serpent,” “Special Effects,” and “Full Moon High.”

thestuff6The stunt coordinator on “The Stuff” was Jery Hewitt, who has worked on a diversity of films such as “The Big Lebowski,” “Fargo,” “Christmas Evil,” “Michael Clayton,” “No Country For Old Men,” and “Cop Out.”

The cast for “The Stuff” is headlined by frequent Larry Cohen collaborator Michael Moriarty, with additional roles filled out by Garret Morris (“Saturday Night Live”), James Dixon (“It’s Alive”), Andrea Marcovicci (“The Hand”), Paul Sorvino (“Goodfellas,” “Repo! The Genetic Opera”), Danny Aiello (“Hudson Hawk,” “Moonstruck”), and Patrick O’Neal (“Under Siege”). In the background, you might spot recognizable faces like Eric Bogosian (“Special Effects”), Abe Vigoda (“The Godfather”), Patrick Dempsey (“Loverboy,” “Scream 3”), Laurene Landon (“Maniac Cop,” “Maniac Cop 2,” “It’s Alive III”), Brooke Adams (“The Dead Zone,” “Days of Heaven”), and Mira Sorvino (“Mimic,” “Mighty Aphrodite”).

thestuff8The story of “The Stuff” surrounds a mysterious dessert that takes the consumer world by storm, thus throwing the established dessert industry into a panic. They collectively hire a former intelligence agent named Mo Rutherford to investigate the product and discover the secret recipe via corporate espionage. As the covert investigation proceeds, however, “The Stuff” becomes increasingly eerie, suspicious, and dangerous. After a series of team-ups with a disgruntled mascot, a paramilitary organization, and an orphaned child, Rutherford decides to take The Stuff head on.

“The Stuff” features some really interesting effects work, including a bedroom attack by the stuff that pays homage to “A Nightmare On Elm Street,” even using the exact same effects room for the shot.

The Stuff itself was made up of an assortment of materials depending on the scene: ice cream, yogurt, fire extinguishing foam, and a wretched fish bone-meal concoction were all used at one point or another, and some of the shots are even superimposed animation.

thestuff10Arsenio Hall was apparently considered for the role of Chocolate Chip Charlie, which ultimately went to “Saturday Night Live” alum Garrett Morris.

There was an extensive copyright dispute over the effects used in “The Stuff,” which led to a lengthy legal battle (Effects Associates, Inc v Cohen) that set significant precedence for the ownership of effects work done for films, and is actually a pretty interesting read for anyone with a cursory interest in copyright law.

The reception for “The Stuff” was somewhat mixed: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 70% (critics) and 45% (audience), with an IMDb rating of 5.9. “The Stuff” was made on a $1.7 million budget, and received only a limited theatrical release with an undisclosed total gross. However, it has certainly become a cult classic thanks to effects, acting, and bizarrely humorous plot.

As with many of Cohen’s films, “The Stuff” provides a significant element of social commentary, particularly about consumerism and the food industry. There is even a specific call-out in the dialogue about the fact that the recipe for Coca-Cola is kept secret, and no one seems to care.

thestuff9The effects work on “The Stuff” is often mocked for its ridiculousness, but I actually though that it was pretty impressive work given the low budget on the film. Sure, it is definitely squibby and cheesy, but it certainly got the job done on budget. Apart from some dated super-imposed effects, the film still looks pretty good, thanks in large part to the extensive use of practical effects.

thestuff4The plot of “The Stuff” becomes very similar to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as it progresses, with many people being replaced or possessed by the nefarious dessert treat. Larry Cohen would later co-write his own version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with 1993’s “Body Snatchers,” ultimately directed by Abel Ferrara.

The performances in “The Stuff” are distinctly and astoundingly over the top, particularly on the parts of Moriarty, Sorvino, and Morris. I absolutely adore Moriarty’s southern-fried pseudo-buffoon ex-intelligence agent, and even the child actor gets to go over the top with his infamous grocery store freak-out:

Overall, “The Stuff” is probably one of my favorite films, and is just about the pinnacle of what a good-bad movie can be. The performances, effects, and writing are all spot on, and create what is almost a Platonic ideal of a b-movie. It should go without saying, but “The Stuff” is a solid recommend from me for just about everyone. It is clever, funny, sharp, goofy, and just the right amount of gory.

Larry Cohen Collection: “Maniac Cop 3”

Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence

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Next in the Larry Cohen collection is the finale of the Maniac Cop trilogy: “Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence.”

“Maniac Cop 3” was once again written and produced by Larry Cohen, and was initially directed by William Lustig of “Maniac Cop” and “Maniac Cop 2” as well. However, he ultimately walked off of the film when the initial cut only came in at 50 minutes, refusing to film any additional footage. Producer Joel Soisson (“Dracula 2000,” “The Prophecy,” “Mimic 2”) filled in for the additional sequences, and the film was ultimately Alan Smithee-d for the DVD release.

maniaccopthree3The cinematography for “Maniac Cop 3” was provided by Jacques Haitkin, who also did photography work for “The Ambulance,” “Shocker,” “Evolver,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and “Galaxy of Terror.”

The effects team on “Maniac Cop 3” was comprised on experienced makeup and special effects technicians, including Howard Berger (“The Cell,” “The Faculty,” “In The Mouth of Madness”), Robert Kurtzman (“Tusk,” “It Follows,” “John Dies At The End,” “From Beyond”), Bill Miller-Jones (“Maniac Cop,” “Hell Comes to Frogtown”), Greg Nicotero (“Seven Psychopaths,” “Ghosts of Mars,” “Torchwood”), Stephen DeLollis (“Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction”), Larry Fioritto (“Halloween 4,” “Knight Rider”), Bruce Mattox (“Capricorn One,” “The China Syndrome”), Wes Mattox (“Django: Unchained,” “Deep Blue Sea,” “Daredevil”), and Robert Phillips (“Volcano,” “Se7en,” “Shocker”).

maniaccopthree6Outside of Larry Cohen and Joel Soisson, the producers on “Maniac Cop 3” included Michael Leahy (“Pulse”) and W.K. Border (“Trekkies,” “The Prophecy,” “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”).

The editors on “Maniac Cop 3” included David Kern (“Maniac Cop,” “Maniac Cop 2”), Michael Eliot (“Stargate SG-1,” “Stargate Atlantis”), and Rick Tuber (“Lie to Me,” “Nash Bridges,” “ER”)

The score for “Maniac Cop 3” was provided by Joel Goldsmith, who worked on the music for “Kull The Conqueror,” “Laserblast,” and the television show “Stargate SG-1.”

maniaccopthree1The cast of “Maniac Cop 3” is headlined by returning players Robert Z’Dar and Robert Davi, with an accessory team made up by Robert Forrester (“Jackie Brown”), Jackie Earle Haley (“Watchmen”), Doug Savant (“Teen Wolf”), Grand Bush (“Lethal Weapon,” “Demolition Man”), Paul Gleason (“Die Hard”), Gretchen Becker (“The Doors”), Caitlin Dulany (“Winter’s Tale,” “Class of 1999 II”), and Ted Raimi (“Midnight Meat Train”).

The story of “Maniac Cop 3” picks up some time after the events of “Maniac Cop 2,” after the honorable burial of Matt Cordell following his name being cleared. However, a mysterious voodoo priest resurrects the Maniac Cop with unclear motives, while the NYPD is still trying to deal with a crime epidemic on the streets.

maniaccopthree5“Maniac Cop 3” had a rather poor reception, earning a 4.9 rating on IMDb along with an abysmal 18% Rotten Tomatoes audience score. It is widely considered to be the worst in the series, and was given a thorough roasting by the podcast “We Hate Movies.”

“Maniac Cop 3” was given an NC-17 by the MPAA, which killed any chance of it getting a theatrical release. It debuted on HBO, and eventually got a home video release. I wasn’t able to dig up any budget numbers for the flick, but the fact that it failed to make it to theaters leads me to believe that it was likely a losing proposition.

The biggest problem with “Maniac Cop 3” is that you can tell that the movie was padded out. For instance, the entire final car chase sequence feels like lagniappe: the story is over and resolved, and there’s just no real reason for the chase to happen. However, it does allow Robert Davi to light a cigarette with Maniac Cop’s detached arm, so how upset can you be? In any case, the additional footage throws a massive wrench into the pacing of the film, which wasn’t all that well paced to start with.

maniaccopthree7Robert Davi gets a lot more screen time in “Maniac Cop 3” than he got in “Maniac Cop 2,” and I think he did a pretty decent job carrying the load as the sole lead for the feature. Of all the problems with the film, he didn’t seem to me to be one of them.

The plot to “Maniac Cop 3” is pretty much nonsense. Essentially, it is “Bride of Maniac Cop,” but there’s no real connection between Kate and Cordell. Further, Cordell’s story is over, and it doesn’t make sense why he would want to come back to life at this point. His drive for revenge is what propelled him throughout the franchise, and in “Maniac Cop 3” it just isn’t there.

“Maniac Cop 3” does attempt to explain Cordell’s seemingly superhuman powers with voodoo magic. However, it is unclear if he was resurrected prior to the beginning of the franchise. It seems like that has to be what happened, because it is never explained how he went from brain-dead to god-like between the events of the back story and the beginning of “Maniac Cop.” However, there is a definite lack of clarity there.

maniaccopthree4Overall, “Maniac Cop 3” is more of a good-bad entertaining watch that the other two films in the series. The first two are actually pretty good b-movies, whereas “Maniac Cop 3” is just an embarrassing parade of nonsense and behind the scenes drama. That said, there are some entertaining moments, like the Maniac Cop driving a car while on fire, and playing skeet with an innocent pedestrian. If you have the tolerance to sit through bad b-movies, you might want to give “Maniac Cop 3” a shot.

Larry Cohen Collection: “Maniac Cop 2”

Maniac Cop 2

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Next up in the Larry Cohen Collection is “Manic Cop 2,” which continues Matt Cordell’s crusade for revenge against the city officials and criminals who set up his imprisonment and murder.

“Maniac Cop 2” was once again written and produced by Larry Cohen, with William Lustig also taking up the directorial reins for the sequel.

The director of photography on “Maniac Cop 2” was James Lemmo, who was one of the cinematographers from the first “Maniac Cop,” and also worked with William Lustig on “Vigilante.”

The effects team on “Maniac Cop 2” included Wayne Beauchamp (“Pray For Death,” “Children of the Corn,” “C.H.U.D. 2: Bud the Chud”), Bill Miller-Jones (“Hell Comes to Frogtown”), Dean Gates (“Day of the Dead,” “Super Mario Bros,” “Maximum Overdrive”), John Carter (“Evilspeak,” “The Sword and The Sorcerer”), John Eggett (“Heart Condition,” “Deadly Games”), Jeff Naparstek (“King of New York,” “Winter’s Tale”), Matt Vogel (“C.H.U.D.,” “The Thin Blue Line,” “American Gangster”), and Larry Arpin (“Blood Diner,” “Evil Dead II,” “The Dentist”).

maniaccoptwo5Outside of Larry Cohen, one of the other producers on “Maniac Cop 2” was John Engel, who also produced “James and the Giant Peach” and worked on the film “Cabin Boy.”

“Maniac Cop 2” was again edited by David Kern, who, in addition to “Maniac Cop,” also worked on films such as “It’s Alive III,” “Crazy In Alabama,” “Rush Hour,” “Sky High,” and “George of the Jungle.”

The score for “Maniac Cop 2” was once again provided by Jay Chattaway, who also provided music for “Maniac,” “Vigilante,” and the Steven King adaptation, “Silver Bullet.”

Bruce Campbell, Robert Zdar, and Laurene Landon reprise their roles from “Maniac Cop,” joining new additions to the franchise Robert Davi (“Die Hard,” “License to Kill”), Clarence Williams III (“Half Baked,” “The Butler”), Claudia Christian (“Babylon 5,” “Arena”), Michael Lerner (“Barton Fink,” “Godzilla”), Charles Napier (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “Rambo: First Blood Part II”), and Leo Rossi (“Halloween II,” “Leonard Part 6”).

maniaccoptwo4The story of “Maniac Cop” picks up right after the events of “Maniac Cop,” with the NYPD still not acknowledging the survival of Matt Cordell, but clearing previously accused detective Jack Forrest regardless. However, the killings continue, and another serial killer arises, preying on exotic dancers throughout the city. Against the odds, the two killers join forces against the police and the city, out for revenge and chaos.

Director Sam Raimi (“Army of Darkness,” “Spider-Man”) once again appears in a cameo role, as the well-noted and instantly-recognizable character actor Danny Trejo (“Anaconda,” “Machete,” “Breaking Wind”) in one of his first on-screen performances.

“Maniac Cop 2” currently has a 5.8 rating on IMDb, as well as Rotten Tomatoes scores of 60% (critics) and 41% (audience), which is interestingly higher than the original “Maniac Cop.”

The budget of “Maniac Cop 2” was notably higher than the original, topping off at an estimated $4 million. The movie, however, went direct to video in the United States. I wasn’t able to dig up any gross information, but given the lack of success of the first film, I would be shocked if it made a significant profit over its foreign theatrical run.

maniaccoptwo2“Maniac Cop 2” received praise for its use of New York City locations and excellent practical effects, particularly the pyrotechnics in the film’s climax, which make for a significantly explosive conclusion.

Some fans of “Maniac Cop” were upset by the quick dispatching of the characters that returned from the first film. My point of view on that is, the main character of “Maniac Cop” (Tom Atkins) didn’t make it all the way through that movie, so how can it be a surprise that main characters get killed off here?

maniaccoptwo3William Lustig said in an interview that he considers “Maniac Cop 2” to be his best work, saying:

I do consider ‘Maniac Cop 2′ 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. We tried to make it a better film [than “Maniac Cop”]. Take the ideas and concepts and first and improve upon them.

“Maniac Cop 2” provides more action than the first movie, which is one of the biggest complaints I noticed people having with it. At the same time, that happens at the expense of some of the effective atmosphere of “Maniac Cop,” but only to a certain degree.

Overall, “Maniac Cop 2” is a pretty solid sequel to the original, and is far better than the typical horror sequel by far. Robert Davi is a good addition to the franchise without any doubt. However, it feels a little bit like two movies forced into one: the first segment of the film basically just wraps up the story of the first, and then it gets on to its own story. It makes the whole film feel just a little weirdly paced and off-focus.

For fans of “Maniac Cop,” Larry Cohen, or William Lustig, this is a film worth checking out. For fans of Bruce Campbell, he doesn’t appear in much of the movie, and isn’t his typical hammy self either. This isn’t a campy movie, and if you have your expectations about that straight going into it, you’ll find something to enjoy.

Larry Cohen Collection: “Maniac Cop”

Maniac Cop
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Next up in the Larry Cohen Collection is the cult classic “Maniac Cop,” a battle of the chins between Bruce Campbell and Robert Z’Dar.

“Maniac Cop” was written and produced by Larry Cohen, and ultimately spawned a franchise of three movies. The film was directed by William Lustig, who is best known for his sleazy cult classic films “Maniac” and “Vigilante.”

The cinematography on “Maniac Cop” was provided by two people: James Lemmo (“Maniac Cop 2”) and Vincent J. Rabe (“Hit List”), neither of whom have had much in the way of significant film credits.

The effects team for “Maniac Cop” included makeup work by Brad Look (“Thor,” “Star Trek: First Contact,” “The Hunger Games”) and Bill Miller-Jones (“Hell Comes To Frogtown,” “Maniac Cop 2,” “Maniac Cop 3”), visual effects by Larry Arpin (“The Dentist,” “The Expendables,” “Leprechaun,” “The Ambulance”), and special effects work by David Atherton (“Face/Off,” “Shocker”), John Naulin (“From Beyond,” “Re-Animator,” “Highlander II,” “The Omega Code”), Paul Staples (“Fatal Games”), and Laszlo Stumpf (“Cyborg,” “American Ninja 2”).

maniaccop3Aside from Larry Cohen, the producers on “Maniac Cop” were James Glickenhaus (“Frankenhooker,” “The Exterminator,” “McBain”) and Jefferson Richard (“976-Evil II”), who also served as a second unit director on the film

The editor for “Maniac Cop” was David Kern. who also did editing work on “Rush Hour,” “Rush Hour 2,” “The Running Man,” and “It’s Alive III.”

The music for “Maniac Cop” was provided by Jay Chattaway, who also scored William Lustig’s movies “Maniac” and “Vigilante,” as well as the Larry Cohen film “The Ambulance” and the notorious Chuck Norris flick “Invasion U.S.A.”

The art direction and production design on “Maniac Cop” was provided  by Jonathan Hodges, who has worked as a property master and carpenter on films like “Pulp Fiction,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Chopping Mall,” “House,” and “Critters.”

The cast of “Maniac Cop” reads like a b-movie all-star team: Bruce Campbell (“The Evil Dead,” “Army of Darkness”), Tom Atkins (“Halloween III,” “The Fog”), Robert Z’Dar (“Soultaker,” “Samurai Cop,” “Tango & Cash”), Richard Roundtree (“Shaft,” “Q: The Winged Serpent”), Jill Gatsby (“Vampire’s Kiss,” “Class of 1999,” “The Ambulance”), James Dixon (“It’s Alive”), and beloved director Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead,” “Drag Me To Hell”).

maniaccop6The story of “Maniac Cop” follows an investigation into a series of murders committed by a man dressed as a police officer in the streets of New York City. The NYPD is desperate to find the culprit as the public is whipped into a frenzy of suspicion and distrust of the department. Meanwhile, the investigation begins to uncover a possible suspect with a motive for revenge against the NYPD brass.

Two of the stars of “Maniac Cop,” Bruce Campbell and Robert Z’Dar, have both gone by the nickname of “The Chin” due to their distinctive facial structures.

Sam Raimi, the acclaimed director of films like “The Evil Dead” and “The Evil Dead II,” appears not only as an actor in “Maniac Cop,” but also worked behind the camera for the St. Patrick’s Day parade sequence in the movie.

maniaccop9Famed boxerJake LaMotta, whose biography provided the source material for Martin Scorcese’s “Raging Bull,” acts in a brief cameo in “Maniac Cop” as one of the unnamed police officers.

“Maniac Cop” was filmed back to back with another William Lustig film, “Hit List,” which starred Leo Rossi (“Leonard Part 6,” “Maniac Cop 2”) and Lance Henriksen (“Aliens,” “The Last Samurai”).

maniaccop2Over the past couple of years, rumors have surfaced about a potential “Maniac Cop” remake or prequel involving director Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive,” “Only God Forgives”) and writer Ed Brubaker (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), though I haven’t been able to dig up anything since May 2014.

“Maniac Cop” was not particularly well-received, and currently has Rotten Tomatoes scores of 50% (critics) and 39% (audience), along with an IMDb rating of 6.0. That said, it certainly has a dedicated cult following.

“Maniac Cop” didn’t make money on it’s limited theatrical release, grossing under 700,000 on a 1.1 million budget, but still turned into a horror franchise of some note with a series of three films.

Just as any good horror movie should do, “Maniac Cop” latches onto a public anxiety. In this case, this fear is of the police abusing their position of power, which puts people in a position of helplessness due to the corruption in the institution.

“Maniac Cop” doesn’t exactly take a stance on the police in general, and presents both pro- and anti-cop sentiments. The corruption of the institution is emphasized, as well as the (justified) lack of public trust in it. At the same time, a few of the police officers are portrayed as “good” cops: honest, principled, and willing to stand up to the institution at its worst.

maniaccop7“Maniac Cop” received a harsh reception at the time, in the sense that people seemed to either love it or hate it. It is undoubtedly a b-movie made with generally low quality, which turns off a certain amount of viewers to start with. It also takes elements from a number of genres, such as mystery, slasher, and your typical cop flick, which is a mixture that didn’t necessarily work for everyone. Further, it isn’t as campy or hammy as you might expect for a film with Bruce Campbell in the lead: he actually plays his role pretty straight, which is unusual. It doesn’t help that the movie is also a pretty slow burn, something that most slasher fans don’t have much patience for.

Personally, I like “Maniac Cop.” It is a bit slow, but the intrigue and performances kept me from ever getting bored with it. Likewise, the mixture of the genre elements made it a little more interesting to me than just your typical slasher flick, and the elements of social commentary on the police were more than welcome. I also appreciate that it maintains some of the gritty ambiance of William Lustig’s earlier film “Maniac,” which is one of the stronger elements of that flick.

maniaccop8Something that I will agree with the detractors of “Maniac Cop” is that Campbell isn’t quite campy enough for what audiences expect from him, which may have been intentional on either his or Lustig’s part. I also would have loved more of Richard Roundtree in the film, to help illustration more of the corruption in the department (also because he’s just great).

Overall, I think b-movie fans will generally find things to enjoy about “Maniac Cop,” though I think specially Cohen and Lustig fans will like it the best of anyone. General audiences are a bit of a toss-up: I’m sure there are many who would find it too dull, but I don’t think that is necessarily true across the board. I’m interested to see if the remake actually happens, because I feel like Refn’s style could fit the film quite well, and adapt the story effectively to current audiences. I also think that now may be the perfect time to bring back Cordell, as public anxieties about police run amok seem to be at an all-time high.