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Blu-ray Review: Psycho Cop Returns

THE FILM  666/5

“You have the right to remain dead.
Anything you say can and will be
considered very strange…because you’re dead.
You have the right to an attorney,
but it won’t do you any good because…you’re dead. “

Officer Joe Vickers (Robert R. Shafer) is the meanest and deadliest cop in LA, leaving behind a never-ending stream of bloodied bodies, in the name of justice. The fact that he also happens to be a Satan worshiping member of the undead doesn’t help much either. After overhearing some office workers discussing a secret drug and sex filled after-hours party they’re planning to host that night, Vickers decides to take the law into his own hands, disposing of the rebel rousers in a series of gruesome ways. Will the hapless partiers be able to outsmart and survive his brutal tactics before the night is through?

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It’s only every so often that I get to incorporate a youth-inspired memoirness to a Blu-ray release of a catalog film, especially in the horror genre, because there are only a small handful of films that, through completely random happenstance, I saw at a very young age which catapulted me into a permanent state of adoration for the genre.

For some reason, Psycho Cop Returns (aka Psycho Cop 2) is one of them.

Glimpsed late at night on the USA Network’s late-night B-movie showcase “Up All Night,” hosted by Gilbert Gottfried and Rhonda Shear, and which also presented such cinematic glories like A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell, Dr. Alien, and Vampire on Bikini Beach, my young eyes feasted upon a heavily edited-for-content tale of a Satan-worshipping cop who zeroes in on a group of horny officer workers hosting an after-hours bachelor party for one of their own, who then secure a trio of strippers and a filing cabinet of booze for a night of debauchery and having asses danced right in their faces. The titular psycho cop finds his way into the building and begins dispatching the office workers, the strippers, and whomever else might be around, all while letting off a series of puns so unbelievably stupid that Freddy Krueger actually got a little pissed off and wrote a letter to the Bad Pun Tellers Union.

Even in my early teens I could see that Psycho Cop Returns was poorly made, in most cases poorly acted, certainly poorly scored – nothing about it was surface-admirable. But I’ll be damned if it wasn’t fun. And If I said that I wasn’t just the tiniest bit disturbed during the opening sequence when psycho cop gets into his squad car to reveal a blood-splashed interior, dismembered body parts, and satanic symbols smeared with blood, I’d be fibbing.

Smash cut twenty years later (god help me) and to Vinegar Syndrome’s recent release in a widescreen, unrated version, this psycho cop has returned in all of his bloody, pun-spouting, Satan-worshipping glory, and let me tell you: it is a sight.

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For years following the immense success of Die Hard’s theatrical debut in 1988, a slew of imitators came down the pike – some good, some not, but all sold as “Die Hard in a _____!”

Die Hard on a bus!

Die Hard on a naval warship!

Die Hard on the ice!

It became a tried and true method for making your pitch as succinct as possible while also trying to suggest your film would be at least as good.

Psycho Cop Returns borrows that concept, presenting a sort of Die Hard meets Bachelor Party…meets Friday the 13th: a group of office workers in a city high-rise essentially taken hostage by a dangerous threat, who after neutralizing the only security guard, slips in unnoticed and even attempts to blend in at one point to fool them. There are scenes in elevator shafts, on helicopter launch pads, a sexual tryst in an unused office. Only this time, it’s not the cop who will save the day. It’s the cop who will throw them off a building directly into a dumpster and then make a garbage joke about it. And it’s just tremendous.

The most surprising aspect of Psycho Cop Returns to those unaware will be the actor who takes on the murderous title role: stage name Bobby Ray Shafer, aka Robert Shafer, who might be most famously known as having played Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration in several seasons of “The Office.” Yes, as explained in the supplements, Schaffer was hoping to parlay his predecessor, Psycho Cop, into a horror franchise all his own a la Nightmare on Elm Street – and the production house behind the first film was equally optimistic, signing Shafer to a staggering (this was pre-Marvel days, mind you) five-picture deal.

FIVE Psycho Cop movies. Imagine living in a world so good and just where that would have happened.

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Sadly, Psycho Cop Returns would be the second and final in the series (so far – I would totally see Old Psycho Cop tearing ass around wherever old people hang out and do illegal things.) By all accounts far better than its predecessor, Psycho Cop Returns is 100% video store shelf sleaze. Not nearly soft-core porn, but pretty close, there’s a detectably slimy and greasy vibe covering every frame that adds to the film’s appeal. Also appealing (and I’m being 100% serious): the screenplay. Yes, the story is very derivative of the aforementioned Die Hard and dozens of slasher flicks that came before it, but the screenplay by Dan Povenmire (who worked as an animator for “The Simpsons“) is actually well written. Not the action, mind you, but the dialogue between characters. Jokes (non-murderous ones, anyway) feel natural. The ribbing between coworkers feels genuine. The exchanges really do bring at least an attempt of everyday life – even if the characters are nothing more than half-formed archetypes: the horny guy, the nervous guy, etc. (And the ending, which both spoofs as well as embodies the grainy Rodney King beating footage, which was a huge event in 1992, sees the opposite, and it suggests that, maybe — just maybePsycho Cop Returns had something to say all along.)

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Of all the stupid undeserving horror series that don’t realize they’re stupid (Saw, The Purge, and so forth), it really is kind of a shame Psycho Cop didn’t spawn more than one sequel, because at least it knew what it was and wasn’t vying for anything more. Its only immediate competition was the more restrained, the more hyperbolic, and the more Bobby Davi-having Maniac Cop series, which petered out with its third entry, but it’s typically the series that tends to strive for higher quality and relevance that runs the risk of diminishing returns. Psycho Cop isn’t worried about that. Psycho Cop wants to have sex, kill people, and pun. It’s not exactly a difficult beat to walk, so it’s a shame that this cop retired so early – he definitely wasn’t too old for this shit.

THE PICTURE  4.5/5

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Twenty years later, I still remember how poorly the broadcast version of Psycho Cop Returns looked, as well as its neutered VHS tape. When it comes to titles of this caliber, most collectors are just glad to have something in widescreen. Even if the haphazard editing which removed all the excess gore was still present, it wouldn’t matter to many horror fans. But, Vinegar Syndrome, being Vinegar Syndrome, didn’t just stop at widescreen and call it a day. Scanned, in widescreen, at 2K resolution derived from original 35mm materials (which suggests multiple prints were combed through for the best looking sequences), this video presentation of Psycho Cop Returns should spend time in jail for how good it looks just kidding! But no, seriously — this thing looks excellent. A little dark in certain spots, thanks to the source material, but otherwise it looks fantastic. Colors hew to the cooler in most situations, falling back on blues (hey, like a cop uniform!), giving much of the bloodletting a slighter darker quality. The image itself is very stable, with no worrying signs of print damage or wear. Fans of the film should be incredibly pleased.

 THE SOUND 4/5

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The audio is presented in two options: 1.0 MONO and 2.0 Stereo. Purists might stick with the MONO track, but for me the Stereo track offered a reasonably more immersive experience and neutralized some hiss that was present in certain scenes in the MONO track. Dialogue — haha — receives top prominence most of the time, which the pathetic and cheap sounding musical score (written by two people!) comes nowhere near overwhelming. Seriously, this is one of the worst musical scores I’ve heard in a horror film other than Jason Goes to Hell, and that’s saying something, because Jason Goes to Hell features probably every example of “worst I’ve ever seen,” up to but not including usage of The Blues Brothers‘ Steven Williams.

 THE SUPPLEMENTS 4/5

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The go-to supplement on this release is the making-of featurette, which brings back all essential Psycho Cop Returns personnel to discuss its making and their memories of it. Thankfully Bobby Shafer also returns to discuss his role and his (dashed) hopes in becoming the next Freddy Krueger. All involved still think warmly of the finished product and their time making it, even when admitting they were never delusional about what it was exactly they were making. To paraphrase, director Adam Rifkin (aliasing as Rif Coogan in the film’s credits) describes the shoot as fun and relaxed because they knew they were working on something very stupid, so it took a lot of pressure off the filmmakers.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Commentary track with Director Adam Rifkin
  • “Habeas Corpus” – a 43 minute documentary on the making of PSYCHO COP RETURNS, featuring brand new interviews with: Adam Rifkin (Director), Robert R. Shafer (Lead Actor), Dan Povenmire (Screenwriter), Peter Schink (Editor), Miles Dougal (Co-Star), Rod Sweitzer (Co-Star), Nick Vallelonga (Co-Star), Barbara Niven (Co-Star) and Melanie Good (Co-Star)
  • “The Victims of Vickers” – featurette with SFX Artist Mike Tristano
  • Cover artwork by Chris Garofalo
  • Reversible cover artwork

 OVERALL 4.5/5

psycho_cop_returns_blu-ray_covIf you have only a passing, casual interest in the horror genre, then holy shit, just keep walking, because this will not be the film that converts you. Psycho Cop Returns is 100% for people who live, breathe, and bleed the genre. Every single person who was involved in its making knows that it’s stupid. Not a single person among them has any delusions that maybe Psycho Cop Returns is a slice of cinematic genius capering as something less. No. Psycho Cop Returns features a scene in which Joe Vickers stabs someone in the eye with a pencil and then makes ten “eye” jokes about it. And that’s totally fine with me. It’s safe to say that there will never be a better release of this film on the Blu-ray format. As usual, Vinegar Syndrome have done stellar work on a film that most people have never heard of, and which most normal people would definitely hate.

(Thanks to Vinegar Syndrome for the screen grabs.)

THE DISTRIBUTOR

Vinegar Syndrome is an exploitation film focused distribution company and film archive located in Bridgeport, CT. Founded by genre-film lovers for genre-film lovers, Vinegar Syndrome’s mission is to preserve, restore and release the massive number of exploitation titles in our archive. 


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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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