Maniac Cop, 1988.
Directed by William Lustig.
Starring Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith and Robert Z’Dar.
A killer in police uniform is dubbed the Maniac Cop after he starts taking out innocent people on the streets of New York City.
The 80s had such a high output of schlocky horror films. So many cult horror favourites emerged from that period, largely aided by the birth of home video, which extended a movies shelf life beyond the multiplexes. That Grindhouse experience of the 70s, watching cheap exploitation flicks, suddenly became domesticated. The comfort of your own sofa to watch the splatter of insides with a few brewskies was a new and enjoyable concept. Maniac Cop, like many of the more memorable explo films of the period was shot for peanuts, and though briefly played in theatres, really hit it big on video. Its star, Bruce Campbell, is of course synonymous with the outstanding Evil Dead movies, which were hugely popular on VHS (god, if I say VHS or video one more time, I may start crying!).
The premise is simple, yet one of those which is brilliantly evocative. As A Nightmare on Elm Street made us fear the comfort and recharge of slumber, Maniac Cop gives us the frightening scenario of a law enforcer turned bad, and punishing the innocent. Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar) is a former cop, presumed killed in prison years previously. However, bent on revenge against the society and its leaders, who put him in jail, Cordell goes on a killing spree, randomly targeting innocent victims, whilst pinning the crimes on working beat cop, Jack Forrest (Campbell). Detective McRae (Tom Adkins) knows something is amiss and investigates.
The film is pretty cheesy, as you’d expect from a schlocker. The acting is on the hammier side of the market, right by the cheese stall. Adkins leads effectively, until the film shifts protagonists to Campbell, which makes for an equal parts jarring and interesting change. Campbell of course, is charismatic and just a little bit wild browed in his acting this period. Let’s face it though, Bruce is a legend and exudes likeability. He can be relied upon in this genre. Laurene Landon is good too, playing a surprisingly efficient, sassy, and strong female character given the norm in this film mould. Elsewhere, Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree pops up in a cameo role as the Commissioner.
In terms of the set pieces, this doesn’t have the imagination of better horror flicks, but is effective enough given its premise and Z’Dar’s imposing physical presence (and enormous frigging jawline!). It’s not the bloodiest of films, but there’s certainly no shortage of the red stuff, whilst we get a few memorable dispatches too. The finale too is effective. In addition, Jay Chattaway’s score is decent, and like most of his 80s synth music is often overlooked, but much appreciated by the enthusiasts of these old school synth scores.
Maniac Cop quite rightfully has a cult following, and while it’s not the classic that say Campbell’s Evil Deads were, it’s still a decent watch when you’re in the mood for some B-movie horror. A popular 80s staple, which more surprisingly hasn’t been targeted yet by the re-make gravy train. It will though… sadly.
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