Undead Satan-worshipping Officer Joe Vickers is "the life and death of the party" in PSYCHO COP RETURNS on Vinegar Syndrome's restored Blu-ray/DVD combo.
When Vickers (THE OFFICE's Robert R. Shafer) overhears yuppies Larry (Rod Sweitzer, LAST DANCE) and Brian (Miles Dougal, BARB WIRE) planning an afterhours bachelor party for office buddy Gary (Dave Bean, MONEYBALL) with strippers, booze, and grass behind the back of old man Stonecipher (Bill Paxton's father John). Trailing the two in his body part-strewn cruiser, Vickers observes Larry bribing night watchman Gus (Al Schuermann, PRESUMED GUILTY) and sneaking in strippers Stephanie (Playboy Playmate Julie Strain, MIRROR IMAGES), Cindy (Melanie Good, PRIVATE PARTS), and Lisa (Maureen Flaherty, SHADOWZONE) and he decides to crash the party and dispense some brutal justice. Taking advantage of their drunkenness, horniness, and pranking, Vickers takes them out one by one without little concern that they are no longer alive to hear his one-liners while the dwindling survivors try to make it out of the building alive. Other potential victims include life of the party Mike (Nick Vallelonga, GOODFELLAS), adulterers Tony (Justin Carroll, STORMSWEPT) and Chloe (Carol Cummings, CALIFORNIA HOT WAX) who make use of the copy room for a sweaty encounter, as well as obvious final girl Sharon (Barbara Lee Alexander, HIRED TO KILL) whose only crime is working overtime.
A gleefully excessive 1990s slasher film, PSYCHO COP RETURNS has a sense of humor that not so much anticipates SCREAM's recursive take so much as reflects director Adam Rifkin's (DETROIT ROCK CITY) – directing under his grindhouse nom-de-plume "Rif Coogan" – attempt to have fun with an underpaid cast and crew hitting all of the genre notes in an economic effort intended to satisfy the demands of the home video horror market and give the director some practice with action sequences for his next effort as Adam Rifkin: THE CHASE (1994) with the then-still-bankable Charlie Sheen and Kristy Swanson. The intent might be cynical but the execution is earnest on behalf of the cast and crew, and Rifkin does heap on the nudity (as well as a graphic sex scene better suited to one of the era's DTV erotic thrillers) and as many gory money shots as the budget allowed. Were it not known that the film was hacked up for an R-rating when released at the time, then PSYCHO COP RETURNS would have stood out more in the largely bloodless era for exploitation films. Timely references include pranks and later terror by fax as well as a twist on the Rodney King beatings featuring a reflexive cameo by Rifkin. The film was executive produced by David Niven Jr. (MONSIGNOR) and Cassian Elwes who is now known for mainstream films like THE DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and BLUE VALENTINE but in the 1980s and 1990s had backed indie projects that skirted the mainstream and the arthouse like Donald Cammel's WHITE OF THE EYE, John McTiernan's NOMADS, Jon Jacobs' THE GIRL WITH THE HUNGRY EYES, and Martin Donovan's MAD AT THE MOON among others. Joe D'Amato's son Daniele Massaccesi (BLACK HAWK DOWN) served as second unit director of photography.
Released direct to video by Columbia Tri-Star in a hacked up eighty-odd minute R-rated version while other territories got the full-strength cut, PSYCHO COP 2 was similarly hobbled when it was released on DVD by Ardustry sublabel Moonstone Home Entertainment. Derived from a new 2K scan of 35mm vault elements, Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is probably the film's first letterboxed exhibition as well as being the first legitimate stateside release of the unrated version (85:13) and the crisp and colorful image reveals both the surprising slickness of the low-budget, tight-scheduled production as well as some of its rough edges (not just a boom shadow on a wall during the party scene but the shadow of the operator holding it up as well as some of the prosthetic appliances). Taking into account the MPAA's strictness during the nineties, it is easy to tell what was cut even without familiarity of the R-rated version, and the over-the-top (for the time) gore suits the tone of the film. Audio options include both a stereo mix (as heard on tape) in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 as well as a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track. Both are suitably boisterous when it comes to the music while revealing one instance where dialogue sounds a bit muffled with the music equally low rather than drowning it out. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.
Elijah Drenner moderates a new commentary track from director Rifkin in which he discusses putting the project together with little pre-production time, casting from his past projects (Dougal was a childhood friend who had appeared in some of Rifkin's shorts while Sweitzer had appeared in his debut INVISIBLE MANIAC) and from people imposed on the production by other producers, shooting at nights while enduring sleepless days, and providing a sketch of exploitation cinema in the nineties. Among the production anecdotes he relates is the defiance of a female camera assistant who balked at the film's exploitative content and deliberately let shots go out of focus or set camera for the wrong framerate (some of the unusable shots wound up in the finished film out of necessity). Although Rifkin sort of waffles between "this is not high art" and vaunting the concept of "high schlock", he has a favorable opinion of the film in spite of the production troubles and how it was treated on video.
The disc also includes the making-of documentary “Habeas Corpus” (42:46) featuring input from Rifkin, writer Dan Povenmire (PHINEAS AND FERB), editor Peter Schink (THE STONED AGE), and actors Shafer, Dougal, Sweitzer, Vallelonga, Alexander (as Barbara Niven since she married producer David Niven Jr.), and Good. Rifkin expands on his idea to make exploitation films under the alter ego Rif Coogan and mainstream films as Adam Rifkin and provides narrative structure to the featurette's rundown of the film's conception, production, and reception while the others provide supportive comments. Povenmire recalls writing the script during his first week working on THE SIMPSONS (and also recalls that Strain asked him to make her a drawing of her having sex with Bart Simpson), Shafer recalls auditioning for the first film, being signed to a five film contract that did not work out, and the appeal the role held for him. Dougal recalls coming across the country to star in the film, leading to his appearances in all of Rifkin's subsequent works. Niven recalls the decision to downplay her role for audience identification amidst the broader performances of her co-stars while Sweitzer recalls being bumped up to the role of Larry when producer David Andriole brought in Vallelonga (Andriole would produce the Vallelonga-directed/scripted A BRILLIANT DISGUISE the following year) to play Mark. Good reveals that she changed her name to "Alexandria Lakewood" when her agent told her that her real name made her sound like a porn star (she recalls the confusion when she appeared in Playboy where she was billed as "Melanie Good" while her paycheck was addressed to Lakewood). Schink remembers employing different assistant editors as needed throughout the post-production phase and their concern over whether they were working on pornography (he does recall that his editing of Good's striptease got him more work). Rifkin and Shink also touch upon the damage done to the film to get an R-rating while Shafer reveals that they shot the ending twice because the first time got out of hand when Rifkin cast interesting faces among the area derelicts who did not know how to make-believe when beating him with a bat.
In “The Victims of Vickers” (9:32), effects artist Mike Tristano (THINGS) – now the go-to guy for low budget and major productions for his stockpile of prop body parts and prop weaponry – remembers getting involved with the project because his partner at the time Mark Williams (ALIENS) was a friend of Rifkin's, so they were willing to go the extra mile with what they had on hand and as far as the effects budget could stretch. He expresses his disappointment with the R-rated version as well as the market change in the nineties where their services were in high demand from companies like Corman's New Horizons/Concorde, Charles Band's Full Moon, and Philip Roth's UFO. He also mourns the passing of the shot-on-film independent productions which required a degree of pre-production planning largely unseen in contemporary efforts. The first 1,666 copies available directly from Vinegar Syndrome come with a limited edition O-card designed by Chris Garofalo who also designed the cover artwork (there is no reversible cover despite the back cover text). (Eric Cotenas)
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