Tonight at Spectacle, a very special double-feature will take place with a title that has won my heart: STICK IT TO THE PIGS: AN EVENING WITH WILLIAM LUSTIG. Bronx-born grindhouse director Bill Lustig will appear to introduce and discuss two of his most enjoyable films, 1988’s MANIAC COP and 1989’s RELENTLESS. If you’re anywhere near Brooklyn tonight, that is the only logical place to be. MANIAC COP probably needs no introduction around these parts, but RELENTLESS deserves a boost in cult status.
MANIAC COP, the story of a deranged New York City cop on a killing spree from beyond the grave, is something of a monument to cult-movie superstars. Look at it this way: Mount Rushmore features George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. MANIAC COP features Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Richard Roundtree, and Robert Z’Dar. Which one would you rather travel out of your way to stare at for two hours? Yeah, me too. Amazing accomplishment.
Not to be outdone, in RELENTLESS the great character actor Robert Loggia talks to a bird. It demands to be seen. Coming up after the poster is an appreciation of RELENTLESS I recently wrote for Rupert Pupkin Speaks:
Bill Lustig makes low-budget genre pictures that in my opinion deserve even better visibility than the beloved cult status they currently enjoy. Lustig is a B-movie auteur, not quite at the level of a Sam Fuller but not too far removed either. Just look at some of Lustig’s better-known films: MANIAC is a skin-crawling voyage into a nocturnal netherworld of violence and perversion. VIGILANTE is a prickly screed brimming with emphatic arguments concerning vengeance and justice. MANIAC COP is a weird, eerie, occasionally dreamy whodunit with a wild spin on the slasher film.
RELENTLESS gives you a little bit of all three in the same movie. It’s a two-hander, equal parts the story of the Judd Nelson character, an LAPD-reject-turned-serial-killer, and the story of the Leo Rossi character, a recently-promoted homicide detective pushed to the wall by this particular case. Both actors are solid in their roles, particularly Nelson, spookily playing against type as a wide-eyed psychopathic murderer with a genuinely disturbing backstory.
Still, neither lead actor feels exactly perfectly-cast. Leo Rossi fires off some great wisecracks with enthusiasm – he resembles a smirkier version of Robert Z’Dar (star of Lustig’s MANIAC COP). Yet when things get serious, he doesn’t quite adjust smoothly to the tone change. And while Judd Nelson convinces as a cruel and unhinged killer, he still can’t help but register as the petulant delinquent from the teen roles he’d only recently been playing. He’s not as threatening as he maybe should be. He’s no Joe Spinell, but to be fair, no one is.
The greatest pleasure of RELENTLESS is of course legendary character actor Robert Loggia, in his gravel-gargling prime, careening around the movie like a wrecking ball forged from spite and belligerent charisma. Robert Loggia may actually be one of the most underrated presences in movies. No one else makes toughness nearly as ingratiating. He makes RELENTLESS snap to attention when he’s onscreen, and makes the movie suffer when he isn’t. Lustig and screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson (who made FIELD OF DREAMS the same year!) provide Loggia with plenty of combustible dialogue to blow up. If you’re half the connoisseur of Robert Loggia character turns that I am, this movie is primo vintage, and if somehow you aren’t a fan yet, you’ll be one when it’s through.
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Tags: Bruce Campbell, California, Cops, Joe Spinell, Jon Abrams, Judd Nelson, Killers, Maniacs, Meg Foster, New York, Richard Roundtree, Robert Loggia, Robert Z'Dar, Screenings, Tom Atkins, William Lustig