Maniac Cop Review
A series of gruesome murders have recently taken place in New York City. Witnesses say that the killer is an officer of the law who has been taking the lives of innocent people, causing a public outcry. In a state of panic the citizens show little trust toward the police force, even carrying guns in self defence against the rogue officer. Detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins) is leading the investigation into these murders under the supervision of Commissioner Pike (Richard Roundtree), who is receiving flack for the way he is running the department.
When Officer Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) is assigned night patrol duties, his wife begins to suspect that he may be the person behind these serial murders. One night she is murdered after finding Jack in bed with another woman, and soon after Jack is arrested and charged on suspicion of his wife’s death and the victims before her. Now he must fight to clear his name, with the help of his lover, Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon) and come face to face with the maniac cop (Robert Z’Dar).
Director, William Lustig is known for several cult favourites including Maniac and Vigilante, two movies that came prior to the release of Maniac Cop. Lustig has never made astounding movies, he's generally stuck to re-using tired old formulas and most of his work has kept on the path of exploring serial killers.
Writer of Maniac Cop, Larry Cohen has had quite an illustrious career with films such as It's Alive, The Stuff and more recently Phone Booth. He's considered to be a favourite amongst B-Movie fans and so his collaboration with William Lustig here has ensured Maniac Cop a place in the all time fave cult movies list of something or other.
Maniac Cop has enjoyed a nice cult following on video and as such it has gained two sequels, respectively entitled (but by no means original) Maniac Cop 2 and Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence, both if which teamed together Lustig and Cohen again.
It's curious as to why the film has performed so well over the years because it isn't that great. The film is a very standard stalk and slash affair with the exception of one key change - that the killer is given more depth than usual. Films like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street also explored their character's backgrounds and here Lustig takes a similar approach but tries to generate sympathy for the troubled soul. This is perhaps why it resonates so well amongst fans, in that we have a bad guy who is actually just a man seeking revenge.
The following portion of the review contains spoilers and discussion:
Matt Cordell (a.k.a. Maniac Cop) was never a bad guy (though he shot first and asked questions later), he had a kind soul and was a legend on the force. He was quickly set up and thrown in jail where he was soon murdered by inmates. Since that time he has returned to the streets as some kind of re-animated corpse. We learn later that he never died as a result of his attack, that it was just covered up by the Mayor. This is all very well but doesn't quite explain how he has ended up being bullet proof or just why he is killing innocent people instead of those who put him away. The excuse of him taking revenge on the city doesn't quite make sense when he's knocking off the wrong people.
End of spoilers.
The film isn't without its plot holes and suffers from pacing problems that sees Lustig try to deal with several characters but never quite knowing how to go about it. Lustig's concerns are divided between the amount of bloodletting and character development, the latter of which is dragged out at various intervals. Main characters disappear for long amounts of time while the cop goes around slaughtering civilians. Some effort has been put into creating an interesting character out of Matt Cordell, due to a sad back story that shows us his last moments in prison, by no means a saving grace but for everyone else they're simply 2D characters. Not even Bruce Campbell, Richard Roundtree and Tom Atkins can elevate this any higher, though try as they might. Campbell's familiar knack of physical comedy comes into play in various scenes but he's never given a moment to shine. Lustig keeps the film very serious and has no desire to allow Campbell to play the clown. The performances are decent and straight laced.
Maniac Cop is more a mixture of horror/thriller/drama than just the horror genre that it has been thrown into. The violence is effective but unoriginal, being a series of stabbings or throat slashing and fans will be disappointed to hear that it is still cut in the UK by about five seconds. In addition it works along the rule that the slower the stalker is the faster he will kill his victim and throughout the film we see the killer cop approaching his victims like he had concrete strapped to his legs, at which point they run away... and look as if they have concrete strapped to their legs.
Jay Chattaway's score offers a fairly interesting mix of haunting, childlike melodies and intensity that works well in the confinement of the film as opposed to a standalone listen.
The film is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Night time scenes are too dark with lack of detail, black levels are poor and flesh tones appear unnatural at times. Being a low budget film I don't think that Maniac Cop had ever looked particularly great. The only real disappointment is the lack of a widescreen transfer.
Only a 2.0 track is available. The score and effects sound decent and dialogue is clear.
The only extras we have are four trailers that promote other Optimum
titles that feature glorious 4:3 transfers and no extras. These are Frankenhooker, Maniac Cop, Basketcase 2 and Red Scorpion
Maniac Cop is a decent way to spend 90 minutes and it was worthy enough to receive better treatment in the U.S. It's a shame we have a poor release here because I know fans of the film have wanted to see a similar version reach these shores.