Maniac Cop, 1988.
Directed by William Lustig.
Starring Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon and Robert Z’Dar.
A man dressed as a police officer is mercilessly killing people, and it’s up to a detective and a young cop to figure out why.
On the mean streets of New York City a man in a police uniform is savagely murdering innocent people. Detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins) is heading up the case whilst fingers are pointing to young cop Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell), who is seemingly being framed. In a bid to escape his marital problems Jack has sought the company of a fellow police officer, Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon), and when the body count starts rising it’s left to McCrae and Theresa to prove his innocence.
Maniac Cop is a mixed genre offering, predominantly a thriller but with strong horror elements that borrows heavily from the slasher subgenre. There’s police procedure amidst grisly killings, and the whole film is infused with a gritty charm, expertly bringing New York City’s seedy underbelly to life. Unfortunately it loses its way a little towards the ending, shunning the horror elements for an action-orientated finish, but it’s still a fun ride while it lasts.
Penned by Larry Cohen, this late-1980s B-movie has a certain cult appeal primarily for starring Bruce Campbell. He made a name for himself in The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987), where he played an iconic but somewhat slapstick role. While there are definitely still traces of Campbell as a very physical performer, here he tones down the mania and gets the opportunity to play a relatively straight character and romantic lead. Intriguingly, the maniac cop responsible for the killings is played by Robert Z’Dar, who shares a striking physical feature with Campbell – both sport rather large chins. Thus the inevitable face-off is a jaw-clenching climax which may have benefited from being a little more exciting.
The madness of the plot is held together heroically by a stellar performance from Tom Atkins as the grizzled detective who sells his role completely. Bizarrely, ArrowDrome’s release features an introduction to the film by Atkins which gives away a major plot point towards the end of the film. This introduction isn’t even offered as a special feature, but instead plays automatically before the movie. It’s a disappointing oversight which did manage to drain some of the tension that director William Lustig strived to establish.
If you’re a fan of low-budget B-movie madness, Maniac Cop should provide you with a solid helping of fun. It’s a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously and appears to be having a good time. Although it would be easy to criticise the film for its nonsense story and occasionally iffy acting, the whole thing has such a charm about it that I can easily forgive any flaws. It may have been the appeal of Bruce Campbell that initially drew me in, but Tom Atkins ensured I stayed around. Maniac Cop won’t be to everyone’s taste, but to pilfer the tagline, if you don’t like it you have the right to remain silent… forever!
Maniac Cop comes with a disappointingly slight selection of extras, including the previously mentioned spoilerific introduction, an interview with Tom Atkins, two theatrical trailers and a TV spot.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★