Now I know what you’re thinking my cine-literate well educated horror loving readers. With a film called Maniac Cop there are two things that you must expect. One is a cop who is a maniac, and the second is a film that is as gory and entertaining as it is completely stupid.
With the first point you would be right, because Maniac Cop does indeed revolve around the blood letting rampage of a mysterious uniformed police officer, who stalks New York murdering anyone who gets in his way be they guilty or innocent.
The madman’s menacing onslaught on the metropolis sends the city spiralling into chaos, with citizens in fear of anyone wearing a badge. It is left to wizened and world weary Detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins from My Bloody Valentine (2009), The Fog (1980) and Escape from New York) to hunt the murderer down and clear the name of a young cop named Jack Forrest (played by the all mighty Bruce Campbell), who has found himself somehow accused of the killings.
As McCrae, Forrest and his girlfriend a fellow cop attempt to work out what drives this Maniac Cop to murder the story that unravels sends them on a journey into the past and the realms of the supernatural desperate to stop the killer cop before he claims any more victims.
So that’s the first expectation covered I hear you cry, but what of the second?
Well although there is no denying that Maniac Cop is both gory and entertaining, it is also surprisingly a lot less ridiculous than one might imagine. It takes in some interesting issues and some fine serious performances along its well plotted course, to a conclusion which delivers all the madness and mayhem you would expect.
Directed by William Lustig, Maniac Cop is also written by Larry Cohen, the man behind the original It’s Alive, the torture-porn-tastic Captivity and the surprisingly intellectual phone-related action movies Cellular and Phone Booth. Lustig and Cohen both do a great job crafting a coherent and gripping script and story out of such a contrived and preposterous concept.
The actors achieve the same, especially Campbell who made this after Evil Dead II and looks almost unrecognisable as the clean cut very serious victim who turns the tables on the maniac cop after being framed for the crimes he didn’t commit.
Atkins is as excellent as ever, and the rest of the supporting players which includes the excellent Richard Roundtree do a fine job. There are even some celebrity cameos to look out for from Sam Raimi and the Raging Bull himself Jake LaMotta.
Well directed with some excellent shots, Lustig and Cohen cleverly keep us in the dark not only about the identity of the Maniac Cop (or whether he is in fact human at all or something more sinisterly supernatural) but literally in the dark by refusing to show the killer fully until late on in the film.
With a slow build from the start, it takes a while for the film to settle into its stride. However this means we have time to fully appreciate both the characters and the climate of fear created by the blood letting going on in the streets of NY.
This mass hysteria which we see and which is expanded upon via a news report of concerned citizens and most shockingly a cop killing by a seemingly normal woman in her car, is an interesting and very realistic added element to what would have been a cheesy horror. And the ideas of law and order breaking down through fear and mistrust of authority figures raises a variety of comparisons with real life events throughout our social history, such as the Rodney King beating or the death of Charles de Mendez.
Luckily for the audience Maniac Cop’s social comment doesn’t infringed on the fundamental fun that is found in the graphic and great deaths. The excellent story and the fact that the film is packed with action to keep you entertained right up until the somewhat silly ending.
With two sequels after it, Manic Cop became a franchise – albeit a short lived one. It is easy to see why with the first film creating an iconic killer and a classic horror hook. However underneath the cheesy title and outlandish idea is a great storyline with some intellectually stimulating themes which well deserves not only your attention but the excellent reissue packed with extras that Arrow have given it.