There are very few trilogies that end with their strongest story, so it often comes as a disappointment when the third and final film of any series is released. Having laid the ghost to rest in Maniac Cop 2, director William Lustig and writer Larry Cohen felt compelled to revisit the franchise three years later for what would become a troubled and unpleasant project. With principal stars Robert Davi and Robert Z’Dar returning one last time, Badge of Silence would continue shortly after the events of the first movie, with the immortal and tortured Matt Cordell once again rising from the grave to cause havoc and destruction. But with both Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell having perished in the first and second film, respectively, the filmmakers were forced to introduce new characters and storyline in an effort to take the series in a fresh direction.
Officer Matt Cordell (Z’Dar) has finally been laid to rest. Having claimed vengeance against all those responsible for his untimely death, his soul can be at peace. That is until Houngan (Julius Harris), a strange black priest, performs a voodoo ritual to once again awaken Cordell. A fist breaks out of the coffin and soon enough Cordell is back walking the beat around New York City. Lieutenant Sean McKinney (Davi) has come to terms with the events surrounding the undead cop’s previous massacre and has become close friends with maverick police officer Kate Sullivan (Gretchen Becker), joining her in the firing range on her birthday. During their practice, she mentions that Hank Cooney (Paul Gleason) of the mayor’s office is once again investigating her for excessive use of force when apprehending a would-be rapist. He inspects her bullets to discover they are customized hollow points.
Soon afterwards, McKinney arrives at the scene of a crime where a headless corpse of a homeless man has been found with the remains of a chicken forced down the throat. McKinney recognizes this as a ritual, with the bird signifying allowing the person’s soul to take flight. Two reports arrive on the scene but he manages to give them a false lead, sending them across town. Meanwhile, Kate responds to a robbery where a junkie, Frank Jessop (Jackie Earle Haley), has shot one police officer during a raid on a pharmacy. When her partner is sent crashing back onto the car from a shotgun blast, she eventually manages to break into the store but, as she tries to foil the robbery, Frank appears with a hostage, a nineteen-year-old pharmacy assistant called Terry (Vanessa Marquez).
In an effort to save the young girl’s life, Kate shoots Frank and turns to call for back-up but Terry, who was in fact Frank’s accomplice, picks up his gun and shoots Kate. But, as she falls to the ground, she manages to fire one shot into Terry’s forehead. All of this was caught on camera by the two reporters who had been secretly scanning police frequencies. Kate is rushed to hospital but is comatose, whilst Frank is on life support. Cordell makes his way through town, finally arriving at the hideout of Houngan, who confesses to being the one responsible for his resurrection and, believing him to have a restless soul, offers his help. The media have managed to re-edit the robbery footage in order to make it seem that it was the shooting of two innocent people, and while Kate remains in a coma McKinney is desperate to clear her name. But whilst Houngan has plans for Cordell, he has plans for Kate. And with McKinney realizing that Cordell is still alive, sets out to try to discover why he has come back before it is too late.
Out of all three Maniac Cop films, Badge of Silence is the most misunderstood and underappreciated. This is understandable, as a poor script and studio interference has resulted in an uneven mess in which Cordell almost seems like an afterthought. The main focus of the story is McKinney’s efforts to clear the name of his friend, whilst the powers-that-be attempt to hang her out to dry as an example against police brutality. But the inclusion of Houngan seems a little ridiculous, as this takes the story in a direction that does not fit with the tone and mythology of the series. In fact, this is yet another example of filmmakers being forced to unnecessarily explain the reasons behind their antagonists, usually because all other ideas have been exhausted.
But, despite all its faults, there is still plenty about Maniac Cop 3 to enjoy. Davi once again makes for an interesting antihero, making McKinney more sympathetic second time around. Z’Dar is hardly required to provide much in the way of depth or range for his role but he manages to handle the set pieces with his usual style. The film’s most impressive sequence is the action packed finale, in which McKinney and his new sidekick, Dr. Fowler (Caitlin Dulany) are chased down the freeway in an ambulance as Cordell races alongside them in a police car whilst on fire. This is truly a show-stopping climax that shows how competent Lustig’s direction had become. Sadly, the many problems that plagued the production resulted in Lustig walking from the project and being replaced by Joel Soisson (making his directorial debut). This constant interference rendered Maniac Cop 3 as a missed opportunity, as somewhere among the mess there is a great sequel but unfortunately the end result is hit-and-miss.