Review: Maniac Cop (18) / Director: William Lustig / Screenplay: Larry Cohen / Starring: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith, Robert Z’Dar, Sheree North / Release Date: April 16th
Writer Larry Cohen's mad mash-up of Police procedural and grisly slasher flick doesn't seem half as daring, edgy and revolutionary as it must have done when it first appeared at the tail end of the 1980s. In fact, if not for the presence of cult favourite Bruce (Evil Dead) Campbell in an early starring role, it’s unlikely that Maniac Cop would be remembered today as anything other than a derivative, surprisingly-tame quasi-supernatural thriller straight out of the bargain basket. As it is, this is a movie which has only its vaguely interesting premise of cop-as-serial-killer to distinguish it from dozens of other straight-to-video titles from the late '80s.
A new killer is cruising the sleazy mean streets of New York City; innocent members of the public are being brutally slaughtered by a ruthless, hulking, silent killer dressed in Police uniform - a man with a terrible past and a terrible grudge. Innocent Police officer Jack Forrest (Campbell) finds the finger of suspicion pointing in his direction and grizzled homicide detective Frank McCrae (Atkins) and giant-haired rookie Theresa (Landen) team up to uncover the identity of the real butcher prowling the streets of the city.
Cohen turns the slasher flick craze of the 1980s on its head in Maniac Cop by creating a killer who's not some twisted loser or escaped lunatic but, disturbingly for an audience used to powerful, reassuring Police authority figures, a man in the familiar uniform of the NYPD cop. Cohen's Matt Cordell is a tormented figure with his own tragic story; a former cop unjustly imprisoned, disfigured and left for dead in the prison shower in one of the film's more graphic sequences, and driven insane by a desire for revenge which is entirely arbitrary. No one, it seems, is safe from the scarred Maniac Cop as he dispatches anyone who crosses his path, usually some hapless individual looking for help from the one figure they should be able to trust in the dark, shadowy back streets of modern New York.
There's a quaint, almost TV Movie charm about Maniac Cop betrayed only by a bit of casual blood-letting, a sense of heightened tension in some sequences where the Cop bears down on his desperate victims and some narrative wrong-footing which still has the capacity to surprise - the death of a major character after about an hour is a real sit-up-and-take-notice moment. The final reel, with Cordell slaughtering everyone in the Police station and with only Forrest and Theresa left standing against the savage killer, sees Maniac Cop fully embrace the slasher genre and, with Cordell dispatched in the final reel, it sets up the inevitable sequel which arrived two years later with a final entry in the saga turning up in 1993.
Fans of cult 1980s thrillers and films once spoken of only in muted whispers are likely to get a few cheeky nostalgic thrills from Maniac Cop but a modern first-time audience are likely to be surprised, not only by the 18 certificate it still carries, but how mainstream and mundane it frequently is.
Extras: Trailers and TV spots and an interesting 20 minute chat with star Tom Atkins who recalls his B-movie career in general and his experiences on Maniac Cop in particular.