Original release: May 13th 1988
Directed by- William Lustig
Starring- Bruce Campbell, Robert Z’Dar, Tom Atkins, Laurene Landon
Available now on Blu-Ray from- Arrow Films
Maniac Cop is one of those legendary B-movies that many horror fans consider essential viewing, a film “so bad it’s good” from a time when Hollywood was pumping out as many slasher and splatter films as it could. It’s also a film that I’m ashamed to say I had never seen until a few days ago, but has since become one of my favorite B -movies of all time. Arrow Films recently put out a fantastic Blu-Ray version of the film packed with extra’s so I decided it was finally time to give it a watch. With its cheesy dialogue, over the top gore and nonsensical plot Maniac Cop isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s a thoroughly entertaining trip from start to finish.
Directed by William Lustig and written by B-movie auteur Larry Cohen, Maniac Cop tells the story of Lieutenant McRae (Tom Atkins) as he races to catch a brutal killer (Robert Z’Dar) who dresses as a police officer, and hopefully prove the innocence of fellow cop Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) in the process. Having Campbell in this film is a real treat, the legendary Evil Dead star appeared in Maniac Cop shortly after starring in Evil Dead II and his presence only adds to the films’ B movie charm.
For most of the film Maniac Cop jumps between playing out like a straight slasher movie, with its long shots of unlucky victims being stalked and slaughtered, and a police procedural. As the body count gets higher McRae follows a trial of clues to try and track down the killer cop. All the typical cop show tropes are on show here. Interrogations, trips to the coroner, an aging detective weary of life, all present and accounted for.
The familiarity of all these factors, especially early on in the film, is what gives Maniac Cop much of its charm. The blueprint of a simple ‘catch the killer’ story is made all the more fun when outrageous death scenes and buckets of blood are thrown into the mix. The sheer cheesiness of the script “this isn’t about romance, it’s about murder” make the film a lot of fun, albeit for the wrong reasons.
Unfortunately there are a few lengthy cars chase scenes that totally derail the pace of the movie. One second a man is being drowned to death in wet concrete, the suddenly two cars are speeding through the New York streets backed by music so cheesy it belongs on a porn soundtrack. At times Maniac Cop feels like a Starsky and Hutch Halloween special.
Despite this as the film reaches its midway point and McRae gets closer to the killer cops’ supernatural origins, Maniac Cop puts its B movie credentials proudly on display with half an hour of ridiculous plot, awful dialogue and truly amazing action/death scenes.
To talk too much about Maniac Cop’s plot would really spoil it for anyone hoping to see the film, as there really isn’t much plot to speak of and what is there is hilarious. With a title like “Maniac Cop” horror fans know what they’re going to be getting and it really doesn’t disappoint if you go into it looking for a light -hearted experience.
Many of the aspects of what makes Maniac Cop a “bad” movie are what make it so endearing. Like so many movies of its genre Maniac Cop is simply bloody good fun. The actors all seem sincere enough to make their performances endearing, special mention needs to be given to Atkins who gives a performance better than many I’ve seen on the likes of Law and Order, and the dialogue is solid enough to make sense while still providing a few chuckles. The film doesn’t even rely too heavily on gore, the few ‘slasher’ scenes are pretty tame even by the standards of the day making me think even more that Lustig was trying his best to make a cop film despite having a horror movie script.
What makes me so fond of Maniac Cop is the fact that it’s genuine. It tries its best to be an entertaining romp and whilst trying to do something a bit different with the slasher template. It doesn’t succeed, in fact the moments where the film stays true to its horror elements are its best, but the fact that it’s trying to be innovative makes it worth a watch. It’s trying so hard to take itself seriously, but that doesn’t mean it should be watched that way.
As Maniac Cop reaches its climax, something I’ve affectionately named the battle of the chins, it gives up entirely on being a horror film. It also gives up on being a cop film. It all kind of devolves into this amazing bastard child of the two that doesn’t really belong anywhere except that genre film dumping ground we know and love as a the B-movie. It’s utterly ridiculous and well worth a watch if you’re looking for something brainless and fun.
I’m a sucker for B-movies, the more ridiculous the better and if you’re like me then Maniac Cop won’t disappoint. If you approach the film thinking you’re going to be scared witless or grossed out though, you’re not going to get much out of it. I can’t even justifiably give Maniac Cop a high score, just my personal recommendation of it being a true gem of the B movie genre; it’s totally charming and totally ridiculous.