Maniac Cop DVD Review
Directed by William Lustig
Written by Larry Cohen
1988, Region 2 (PAL), 85 minutes, Rated 18
DVD released on 16 April 2012
Tom Atkins as Frank McRae
Bruce Campbell as Jack Forrest
Laurene Landon as Theresa Mallory
Richard Roundtree as Commissioner Pike
William Smith as Captain Ripley
Robert Z'Dar as Matt Cordell
A re-release of what might just be my favourite slasher movie of the 1980s. This Arrow Video release of Maniac Cop opens with an introduction from horror icon Tom Atkins, cheerfully spoiling a major plot point for those new to the series. Well more fool you for not having seen it sooner.
The Maniac Cop is disgruntled (and mostly dead) ex-cop Matt Cordell; effectively Jason Voorhees in a cop uniform. Betrayed by the top brass in his police department, supercop Cordell finds himself on the wrong side of a shank in his local prison showers. His death greatly (well, slightly) exaggerated, Cordell takes to the streets dishing out his gory brand of no-prisoners justice (think the Punisher, except his victims haven't done anything wrong). An unfortunate turn of events leaves Bruce Campbell's unfaithful but innocent cop in the frame. Grizzled maverick detective Frank McCrae believes his pleas of innocence, and sets about hunting down the Maniac Cop. But can he do so before Cordell besmirches their badge entirely? And will you have the chance to find out before Tom Atkins spoils it for you?
Maniac Cop is a criminally under-appreciated minor classic. Starring Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell alongside the likes of Richard Roundtree (Shaft!) and William Smith (his husky croak instantly recognisable as that of the Malboro Man) its central mystery and drive to prove Jack's innocence give the story more places to go than your average slasher flick. The inner city setting is interesting too. It's fun to see a slasher villain committing his crimes in an environment other than the woods, backwater America or the confines of an isolated house. It gives Maniac Cop a European Giallo feel, rather than being yet another Friday the 13th or Halloween rip-off. It's like Dirty Harry crossed with director William Lustig's earlier work, Maniac.
Meanwhile, the character roster of crumpled cops and paranoid detectives make a welcome change from the usual nubile teenagers and horny losers that tend to populate slasher films. Atkins has made a career from playing tough but righteous detectives, and his Frank McCrae is a great foil to the Maniac Cop's hefty sadist. And of course, Bruce Campbell is no slouch either – his performance here is one of his straightest but most earnestly vulnerable. There's even room for a cameo from his old Evil Dead cohort Sam Raimi as a news reporter. As the perfunctory love interest, Laurene Landon isn't much cop (sorry) but with the likes of Campbell, Roundtree and Atkins picking up the slack, it's hardly noticeable. Robert Z'Dar lends his impressive frame and chin to the Cop, imbuing the character with the same silent swagger as Kane Hodder brought to Jason or the more recent Victor Crowley. You know your chin's impressive when it manages to outshine even Bruce Campbell's.
Whilst Cordell might not be as infamous as fellow slashers Freddy, Jason or Michael, his origins are every bit as tragic as Jason's drowning and memorable as Freddy's burning demise. He shares a nifty soundtrack too; a haunting score played over his flashback sequences and a creepy, atmospheric 'Ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma' like number during his stalking of the streets. Like Harry Warden's coal mining outfit or Don't Go Into The House's flame-throwing number, Cordell's uniform is wonderfully functional if not slightly obvious. He's something of a one-note psychopath: you can just picture Lustig and producer Larry Cohen sitting at a table picking job titles out of a hat. “Maniac Fireman? Maniac Construction Worker? No? How about Maniac Cop?”
It disappoints in that the final fight feels somewhat anticlimactic and a waste of Campbell's slapstick talents. Cordell's threat is wrapped up far too easily and certain characters are wasted in bathetic demises (a series trademark) amidst an endgame that squanders some of the film's potential. The mere ten days it took to make Maniac Cop is evident at times, but its demented pace and lack of finesse all add to the charm. It's an unabashedly silly film; after all, it's about a cop who stomps around drowning people in concrete and lobbing fellow officers out of top-floor windows. And its sequels are even more entertaining - most notably a scene in which the Cop picks up a victim, throws him in the air and shoots him a dozen times before he's even hit the ground. It truly puts the manic in Maniac.
Maniac Cop is great fun. Even today it makes for arresting entertainment.
Video and Audio:
Maniac Cop might be showing its age, but only in the same way as a fine wine or Tom Atkins. The music remains one of the best things about the film.
Tom Atkins reminisces on his experience making the film in a charming featurette. His good natured rambling is witty, amusing and feels like a Grampa Simpson monologue: “you do what you do, and you get killed.” Also included are a trailer and some TV spots.
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