Although the 1989 detective/serial killer movie Relentless has seemingly faded into obscurity, it clearly did satisfactory business for its investors, as the existence of this sequel proves.
Character actor Leo Rossi came back to reprise the role of NYPD-turned-LAPD detective Sam Dietz, but neither the first film’s director William Lustig nor its writer Phil Alden Robinson returned to do those jobs the second time around. Since Robinson used a pseudonym on the first film, his absence is no surprise, but I do have to wonder why Lustig didn’t helm the sequel. Too busy dealing with the troubled production of Maniac Cop 3? Not interested? Not asked?
Whatever the reason was, the director’s chair on the set of Relentless II was filled not by Lustig, but by Michael Schroeder, who handled the job capably. The screenplay was written by Mark Sevi… and in the mid-’90s, I was fascinated by Sevi’s career. Here is a screenwriter whose first eight writing credits consisted on an uninterrupted streak of sequels. Relentless II was his first movie, and it was followed by Class of 1999 II, Fast Getaway II, Ghoulies IV, Relentless IV (yes, the series continued for two more installments), Scanner Cop II, Dream a Little Dream 2, and Excessive Force II. As a franchise-obsessed youngster, I thought this was totally awesome. Sevi was living out the dream career. I wanted to churn out sequels in a similar manner.
Now, the quality of the sequels Sevi wrote for varies greatly, but I would rank Relentless II as the best of the bunch.
The story finds Sam Dietz dealing with the aftermath of the events of the first film. The serial killer played by Judd Nelson had gotten very close to harming Dietz’s family, so close that he actually had a gun to the head of Dietz’s son Cory, so that has really shaken them up. Dietz and his wife Carol (again played by Meg Foster) have separated, Cory regularly has nightmares about what happened, and so does his father.
While Dietz is trying to get his personal life back together, another serial killer starts murdering people in Los Angeles. But this is not your average serial killer. He picks different types of victims that seem to have no connection at all to each other, strangles them, slashes them, and leaves occult symbols at the scene, drawn in blood.
There aren’t many better ways to introduce a character as a formidable force than to show them besting hulking bodybuilder/black belt/stuntman Sven-Ole Thorsen in a physical confrontation, and that’s exactly what the killer here, played by Miles O’Keefe, does in his first scene.
In his down time, the killer gets messages hidden in the personals section of the newspaper that refer to him as Red Rover and update him on how the police investigation is going, relaxes by taking baths in a tub full of ice, and has flashbacks to his days in the military.
Dietz handles this very strange case, and he’s forced to work with an FBI agent named Kyle Valsone (Ray Sharkey) while doing so. Valsone has been tracking the killer ever since his spree started back in Washington, D.C. The first kill seen in the movie, the murder of the mechanic portrayed by Sven-Ole Thorsen, was actually the killer’s twenty-second kill. Dietz is uncertain about Valsone, especially after noticing that the reports he’s privy to are lacking information.
As Dietz investigates further, he finds that the people that have been getting murdered are on record as already being dead, with dates of death going back twenty years in some cases.
Amidst the mystery and murder, Rossi gives a reliably strong performance, again making Sam Dietz a likeable guy who’s worth following through this story. Sharkey’s Valsone provides him with a tough obstacle to overcome in his investigation while O’Keefe has great presence as the silent and seemingly unstoppable killer.
I find the story that Sevi devised for this movie to be one of the most intriguing detective/serial killer tales ever, and Schroeder perfectly executed it in a way that always keeps the viewer wondering just what is going on here. Victims that were already dead? Ice baths and occult symbols? Can Valsone be trusted? It’s a mind-bending crime thriller and further proof that the Relentless series deserves a lot more recognition than it gets. I’d recommend these films to anyone who enjoys the police procedurals that are all the rage on television these days.