Psycho Cop Returns on Blu-Ray – Review


Frank Ford

This month marks the return of Psycho Cop 2 on Blu-Ray Special Edition from Vinegar Syndrome in a fully uncut, newly restored 2K scan from 35mm vault prints.

Before I get into the restored releasing from Vinegar Syndrome, l want to take a moment and explain a little about Psycho Cop (the first film) and Psycho Cop Returns (or Psycho Cop 2 as it was labiled on VHS).

Psycho Cop (the first film) was released to home video on November 28th 1989 from South Gate Entertainment. The film was directed by Wallace Potts from his script. The plot is simple: Officer Joe Vickers (Robert R. Shafer, who goes by the name Bobby Ray Shafer for both Psycho Cop movies) is a devil worshiping serial killer who targets his victims by the laws they break – or what he considers breaking the law. After six college students, on a getaway trip to a remote house in the woods provoke him, Vickers follows them and kills them one-by-one.

To say the first film is good would be giving it a lot of undeserved praise; it’s slow and boring, the production looks cheap, and the direction and cinematography are absent with flat, bland shots that lack any artistic skill behind the camera. The kills in the movie are mostly bloodless, unlike Psycho Cop Returns, and there isn’t a stich of nudity, also unlike Psycho Cop returns. The characters are your normal trope of college kids found in almost all 1980s horror flicks, and Psycho Cop follows the rules Halloween, or more-so, Friday the 13th, set up in films before it, but here they seem to be somehow dumber than any characters in slasher film history. The acting (with exception to Shafer) is horrendous and truly laughable at how bad some lines are delivered.

Psycho Cop came out a year after another slasher cop was covering the screen in crimson – Matt Cordell from Maniac Cop. Psycho Cop was a lower budgeted rip-off of Maniac Cop, without William Lustic’s masterful direction or Larry Cohan’s writing skills. And boy, it shows.

But that’s not to say Psycho Cop isn’t without its charm and appeal. It came out in a time when home video was in high demand, and production companies were producing low budget horror movies by the truckloads to get on to rental shelves. Looking back on the film now, Psycho Cop looks like a time capsule trapped in the late 1980s when these types of B horror movies littered every mom and pop video store shelf. With that, comes fond memories of a time long past, when Friday Nights were spent scouring the video store shelves looking for a new horror movie. How can that alone not bring an otherwise bad movie up several notches on anyone’s belt?

But there is another shining star hidden in Psycho Cop, that being Officer Joe Vickers and Shafer’s crazy, yet menacing performance as the devil worshiping serial killer cop. Shafer plays Vickers just over the top enough that he comes off truly scary, crazy, and funny all at the same time. Shafer is the saving grace of the first film, and unlike Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees (or even Matt Cordell), Vickers actually speaks and has several puns (‘Sarah, now stop this, you’re obstructing justice’; ‘You have the right to remain…dead’).

If you have not seen the first film its okay, you don’t need to to watch Psycho Cop Returns as they are not connected, except for Vickers. Finding a copy of Psycho Cop can be hard; it has never been upgraded to DVD or Blu-Ray, so the only way to get the film is on VHS and they do pop up on eBay every so often.

Four years later in 1993 we would see the return of the Psycho Cop. This time direction was turned over to Adam Rifkin (under the name Riff Coogan- which he also directed The Invisible Maniac under). Rifkin is known for such films as The Chase and Detroit Rock City.

Adam Rifkin used the name Rif Coogan so he could also direct grindhouse/schlock films. Rifkin has a great love for all types of films, including horror and grindhouse style movies. So he created the name Rif Coogan to direct these types of movies, and it would allow him to keep the Adam Rifkin filmography separated from the Rif Coogan films, much like writers such as Stephen King did when he was writing as Richard Bachman or Nora Roberts does as J.D. Robb.

From the start of Psycho Cop Returns, from the opening shot, you can tell that it is a much better film than the first, with people behind the camera (and in front) that know what they are doing. When the film needs to be suspenseful or scary, it is. When it needs to be funny, it is. Because of Adam Rifkin’s skill behind the camera he delivered a movie that is suspenseful, scary, sleazy, and really funny at times and that’s not an easy task to take on for any director but Rifkin pulled it off seamlessly.

Shafer returns to play Vickers and is in top form in this movie. Everything you liked about him in the first film is taken up and played to the max. He’s a real treat to watch.

This time around, Vickers targets a group of yuppies who are throwing their buddy a bachelor party at the office where they work – for some unknown reason; I guess they couldn’t find a house to have this party in?

Unlike the first film, which at times takes itself too serious and tries to be scary, Psycho Cop Returns plants its tongue firmly in cheek and goes for this whacky grindhouse style of filmmaking that really doesn’t exist anymore. The comedy is ramped up, the kills are bloodier and gorier, Vickers’ sadistic puns are everywhere, and naked girls (including Julie Strain) are abound and showing off the goods – everything a home video release in the 1990s needed to be successful.

The movie was shot in about a week. But with Rifkin’s skilled direction you wouldn’t know that. Most shots look good and the angles were well chosen and appear that they were thought out long beforehand. But Rifkin has said that he shot most of the film on the fly and it taught him how to be looser with the way he films a scene for future movies.

The film was released on home video on July 27th 1994 in the US.

But when the videos went out, the film had been edited down unbeknownst to anyone associated with the film, including Rifkin. Most of the gore and violence and the sex and the nudity in the film had all been edited out. And were not talking about small snip-its of the film to secure an R rating (no one knows why these cuts were made or who did them for that matter) but cuts to the film that were so bad it leaves huge holes in the plot or scenes that just awkwardly cut to another scene, never showing any of the violence, blood, gore, sex and nudity in the film.

Viewers of the film instantly knew that major cuts had been made. Because of this, Psycho Cop 2 took on this mysterious vibe, leaving viewers wondering for years what had been cut from the film and when they could finally see it restored in a fully uncut edition.

Thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, that came to fruition this year with their release of Psycho Cop Returns in its fully uncut edition. All the violence, gore, sex and nudity was put back into the film and finally we get a movie that makes sense, unlike its home video predecessor.

The newly scanned 2K restoration from 35mm vault elements looks spectacular! Vinegar Syndrome cleaned up the print just enough that the picture and colors pop off the screen, but don’t diminish the grain of the 35mm film too much – one still gets the feeling that they are watching a grindhouse/home video movie on Blu-Ray format.

There is a forty-three minuet documentary called “Habeas Corpus” on the making of Psycho Cop Returns that is a must watch for fans of the film and to gather a little more insight into its creation, featuring new interviews with: Adam Rifkin, Robert R. Shafer, Dan Povenmire (screenwriter), Pert Schink (editor), Miles Douglas (co-star), Rod Sweitzer (co-star) Nick Vallelonga (co-star), Barbara Niven (co-star) and Melanie Good (co-star). The only downside to the documentary is that Julie Strain was missing from the interviews, and it would have been nice to hear what she had to say about the film.

“The Victims of Vickers” is the second documentary on the film with interviews by SFX Artist Mike Tristano. The segment is much shorter, but still very well done and goes in to great detail about the effects in the film and how some of them came to be, as well as the strange cuts that were made to the home video release.

The commentary track with Adam Rifkin and Vinegar Syndrome’s very own, Elijah Drenner, is well done and fun to listen to. Rifkin explains how he got started on the project, how the casting was done, the effects, the strange cuts to the home video version of the film, and a life-altering story that you’re only going to hear on the commentary track– so listen to it!

The Blu-Ray/DVD combo is Region Free (AWESOME!).

There is reversible cover artwork – but we did not get that with our copy. Not a big deal though.

Vinegar Syndrome really went above and beyond to produce this for us collectors. And I have to thank them for doing so. Finally we got to see Psycho Cop Returns as it was intended, not the watered-down version that was released on home video so long ago.

Companies like Vinegar Syndrome are keeping physical media alive for us collectors. We need more films like Psycho Cop Returns to be saved from obscurity, and places like Vinegar Syndrome to restore them for future generations to enjoy – so buy physical media and support them and other restoration companies like Vinegar Syndrome. It’s you, the consumer, who can and will keep physical media alive. Do your part!

Well done Vinegar Syndrome. Well done.

10 out of 10 stars.

you can order a copy here:

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