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October 14, 2017

Movie Review: Psycho Cop Returns (1993)

Directed By Rif Coogan (Adam Rifkin)

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

 Several years ago an aspiring filmmaker approached me with his latest opus, an apocalyptic zombie comedy featuring a tough-talking gumshoe. Slipping the disc into my entertainment system, the project was as good as it sounded. Billing itself as horror, the two-hour plus feature relied on long passages of dialogue, under-lit photography that faded away into total darkness for extended periods, gags that weren’t funny, characters who ware annoying – and zombies who showed up ten minutes prior to the ending – before the film ended promising a “Part 2.” Hesitant to review the project as I didn’t want to discourage young filmmakers, I let the auteur to-be know about my concerns and how I couldn’t recommend his film. His reply tipped his hand: “It’s a grindhouse movie! It’s supposed to be terribly done!”  

Stop that right there, mister. Grindhouse and exploitation movies are by and large quickly and inexpensively made, but a good deal of thought and time goes into them. There are usually made by seasoned professional or young filmmakers out to make a name for themselves, and they come to the ring with good intentions. Anyone who enters a project with a deliberately dumbed-down attitude – acting as if the film at hand is beneath them and will wink broadly at the audience to underscore the fact defeats his purpose and insults his audience.

These thoughts came to mind while watching Adam Rifkin’s – hiding under the nom de plume of “Rif Coogan,” Psycho Cope Returns. Don’t get me wrong, this is actually a sprightly and entertaining exploitation film. To wit, a group of yuppie nerds plan on a totally rad bachelor party after hours in their office building. It’s their rotten luck that Officer Joe Vickers (Robert R. Shafer), serial killer and satanic cop overhears their plans at a nearby coffee shop. In short order, Vickers follows the hapless office drones back to their building and makes short work of the partygoers. A trio of strippers arrive, the security officer is paid off, the booze is broken out and the party begins. Things go from bad to worse, as Vickers stalks his prey and people start getting offed. The actors are hammy, the jokes are funny, the girls are pretty, the violence is shocking – everyone has a good time regardless.

A late-to-the-party slasher that delivers, Psycho Cop Returns arrived as the Friday the 13th series was sufficiently neutered by this point, and the Nightmare on Elm Street series began cloaking its violence in surrealistic dream and fantasy sequences. Psycho Cop Returns plays its kills with gusto, with lots and lots of Ragu Sauce on display.

However – as the commentary track on this Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray DVD release reveals, as moderated by Elijah Drenner and director “Rif Coogan” – aka Adam Rifkin, the parties involved thought they were “slumming.” Having met Rifkin in person, I can vouch that he is a nice guy, but his commentary track goes at length about how he thought this film would hurt his vaunted career if the truth ever came out.   

Let’s back up here. Rifkin’s career is marked with lots of kooky and idiosyncratic projects, but one would hesitate calling them either “mainstream” or “good.” Rifkin’s first film The Dark Backward (1989), starring Judd Nelson as a benighted nightclub comedian who begins to get serious attention after a third arm begins growing out of his back is distinguished as a comedy bereft of humor. The Nutty Nut (1992), his follow-up feature, was a likewise laugh-deprived feature that wasn’t awarded a theatrical release.

From the artful, such as Night at the Golden Eagle (2001) to mainstream dreck as Dog Years (2017), Rifkin’s film are at best a mediocre lot. To talk down to his audience in such a fashion o this track leaves a lingering disappointment.

Extras on the Vinegar Syndrome release include the making-of documentary “Habeas Corpus" with comments from Rifkin, writer Dan Povenmire, editor Peter Schink and actors Shafer, Dougal, Sweitzer, Vallelonga, Alexander and Good. In a separate feature, effects artist Mike Tristano talks about the practical effects in “The Victims of Vickers” (9:32).

Bottom line, the feature’s fine, but some of the participants need to acknowledge the work of their forebears and eat a bit of the ol’ humble pie.

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