Color, 1992, 84 mins. 43 secs.
Directed by Alan Smithee
Starring Robert Davi, Caitlin Dulany, Gretchen Becker, Robert Z'Dar, Paul Gleason, Doug Savant, Robert Forster, Julius Harris
Blue Underground (UHD, Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 4K/HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), First Look, Millennium, Platinum (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Boulevard (UK R2 PAL)
The troubled state of horror filmmaking in the notoriously upended 1990s was nowhere clearer than the production of Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence, a sequel geared for the home video market. The project arrived on VHS in both unrated and R-rated versions sporting a credit to "Alan Smithee," the name sanctioned by the Directors Guild of America for filmmakers who wish to take their name off of a project, a sure sign of trouble behind the scenes. Sure enough, director Bill Lustig and producer Joel Soisson were soon taking shots at the film and each other in Fangoria with tales of major script issues and woes involving the financing and running time, indicating the end result was a disaster in the making. Truth be told, while it's certainly the least of the trilogy and suffers from some major flaws, it still offers some rousing action sequences and keeps the series from plunging into pure stupidity, which is more than can be said of many horror franchises around the same time.
Once again the action picks up right where the last film left off, with vengeful undead cop Matt Cordell (Z'Dar) lunging out of his grave and embarking on another violent mission. This time it involves an officer named Katie Sullivan (Becker) who gets accused of excessive force after a violent shootout. However, she's now in a coma and unable to defend herself, with various bureaucrats smearing her name and arranging to pull the plug on her. Returning Detective Sean McKinney (Davi) shows up since it's clear the maniac cop is on another rampage, and with the aid of a doctor (Dulany), he tries to stop a massacre from erupting at the hospital.
Depending on the video edition you wound up seeing, this film was either credited to the aforementioned Alan Smithee or, more confusingly, both Lustig and Soisson. The action-packed final half hour is unmistakably Lustig's work, complete with gory squib effects, a fun gag involving a hospital gurney, and a spectacular fiery car chase. Unfortunately the original concept written by Larry Cohen (who penned the previous two entries) was pretty much savaged beyond recognition by the time this went before the cameras, even dropping in a voodoo priest named Houngan (Live and Let Die's Harris) to justify Cordell's resurrection for no logical reason whatsoever. The first act is an obvious patchwork of turgid dialogue scenes wedged in after the fact and footage from the previous two films thrown in to pad out the running time, but if you stick with it, there are rewards to be found. Plus you get the series' usual amusing stunt casting, this time reuniting Davi with two of his co-stars from Die Hard, Paul Gleason and Grand L. Bush, while also working in a great extended cameo for Robert Forster (back with Lustig again after Vigilante) and colorful bits for Jackie Earle Haley and Desperate Housewives' Doug Savant for good measure.
For better or worse, this also feels a bit different from the previous two entries thanks to the decision to frame everything for scope (technically Super 35 so it could be opened up to 1.85:1 and cropped less severely for video). The overall look is much darker, with the bulk of the film unfolded in dimly lit offices, churches, and hospital corridors; the end result looked pretty lousy on video for the most part, but more on that in a second. It also sounds different thanks to the switch from regular composer Jay Chattaway to Joel Goldsmith, who does an adequate job but doesn't really match the intensity of what's come before.
While VHS customers could choose between the R-rated and unrated cuts from Academy, only the R-rated one was used for the several full frame DVD editions churned out by Platinum in 1999 and later by Millennium and First Look. By default the 2013 edition from Blue Underground would have to be an improvement, and thankfully they manage to get everything right. The dual format Blu-ray/DVD package contains the full unrated version in widescreen for the first time, reframing everything back to 2.35:1 and looking all the better for it. The film still looks very dark and murky for the most part, but that's a by product of the era and the production circumstances more than anything else; it's still easily the most attractive presentation seen to date. Audio is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 surround on the Blu-ray (and standard 2.0 surround on the DVD); you won't get any fancy 7.1 or D-Box options this time around. Optional subtitles are also included in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Russian, Mandarin, Korean, and Japanese.
The main extra here is "Wrong Arm of the Law: The Making of Maniac Cop 3" (25m5s), a featurette that's every bit as candid as you'd hope it would be. Right off the bat Lustig is blunt about his distaste for the film, and Soisson explains his take on the events (with attempts to get rewrites turned in seeming to be the biggest sticking point). The two eventually buried the hatchet in person later, which is a nice way to end things, and along the way you also get comments from Cohen, Z'Dar, Davi, Becker, Dulany, cinematographer Jacques Hatikn, and the unsung star of the film, stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos, who has a great bit explaining how he pulled off the flaming driver gag. Also included are seven deleted and extended scenes totalling 10m26s (the slightly longer "Wedding Nightmare" being the most interesting), the theatrical trailer, a gallery of posters and stills, and best of all, Cohen's original screen treatment, which is absolutely essential reading after you've finished watching the film. Since so little of it wound up in the finished product here, somebody should try to make a movie of it someday.
In 2021, Blue Underground revisited this often ignored stepchild of the series with a UHD and Blu-ray combo, the former option featuring another top-flight 4K presentation with Dolby Vision HDR giving it a more nuanced appearance than before. The previous presentation (which you get on the Blu-ray with the usual extras) was already satisfying, but this one outdoes it with more detail and depth in the plentiful dark scenes. The film itself isn't as snappy looking as part 2, but it's quite enjoyable to watch on its own terms. The usual 2.0 DTS-HD MA English stereo option is included with all the preexisting subtitle options, while a new Dolby Atmos mix opens up the soundstage with some appreciable rear and upper channel activity during the action scenes. The commentary and trailer are ported over for the UHD, while the remaining extras are on the Blu-ray as usual.
Reviewed on October 24, 2021.