I have a weakness for cheesy, "so bad they're good" low-budget horror, sci-fi, or action movies. I watch' em so you don't have to!
"Maniac Cop" (1988)
Directed by: William Lustig
Starring: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Robert Z'Dar
Greetings and welcome to the column where your humble, B-Movie lovin' narrator digs randomly into his DVD collection and drags a classic cult film back into the light. Tonight we'll be examining a fine example of late '80s urban horror/action, Maniac Cop.
If this sleazy, gritty little slasher thriller had been produced in the 70s, it would've been a perfect fit for the inner-city grindhouse (or suburban drive-in) circuit, but by the time Maniac Cop was released in 1988, that era was all but gone. Maniac Cop settled for a limited, blink-and-you-missed-it cinematic run before eventually finding a receptive audience via cable TV and home video.
If you're a B-Movie aficionado, a quick scan of Maniac Cop's credits should tell you that you're in for a treat. How can you possibly go wrong with a flick directed by low-budget legend William Lustig (best known for 1980's controversial splat-fest Maniac with Joe Spinell), from a script by Larry (It's Alive, Q: The Winged Serpent) Cohen? To sweeten the pot even further, the cast is a veritable who's who of genre-film, featuring Bruce (Evil Dead) Campbell, Tom (Halloween III: Season of the Witch) Atkins, and even Richard "Shaft" Roundtree!
As Maniac Cop begins, we witness a hulking psycho in a police uniform (Robert Z'dar) strangling a random pedestrian on a darkened New York city street. We soon learn that this is not the first such murder, though the NYPD is trying to keep a lid on the crimes in order to avoid panic. Officer Jack Forrest (Campbell) and his partner/lover Detective Mallory (Laurene Landon) are put on the case.
The Maniac Cop kills Forrest's wife while he's having a tryst with Mallory, so the NYPD arrests him for her murder, thus providing the Maniac with a patsy to pin his string of crimes on. Case closed? Not so much.
Detective Frank McCrae (Atkins) believes that Forrest is innocent, since bodies continue to pile up even while Forrest is locked up in the pokey. As panic grips the city and pistol packin' little old ladies start blowing away innocent beat cops on the streets, McCrae learns that the Maniac Cop is in fact a disgraced former NYPD officer, Matt Cordell. Several years previously, Officer Cordell had uncovered a trail of corruption that went all the way up to the Mayor's office, so the Powers That Be had him framed and sent off to prison, where he was supposed to die in lockup....at least, that was the plan. Now it's up to McCrae to bust Forrest out of jail and stop the Maniac before he can exact his revenge on the Mayor of NYC and the rest of the corrupt officials who put him away.
OK, so maybe it's not Shakespeare, but Maniac Cop is a nicely twisted little thriller that finds the right balance between the police procedural and the slasher genres. The violence is quick and brutal, the performances are believable (as usual, Bruce Campbell's fun to watch, even if he's not in lunatic "Ash" mode) and the film moves quickly enough that the viewer never gets bored. Some of the action sequences are a bit underwhelming due to the film's obvious budget limitations (and the make-up on the Cordell character, when he finally gets his close-up, is almost laughable), but the slam-bang finale on the docks between Campbell and the Maniac Cop ends things on a high note (and, of course, sets things up for the inevitable Part 2).
Sequelitis and Remake Rumors...
Maniac Cop spawned two direct-to-video sequels (1991's Maniac Cop 2 and 1993's Maniac Cop 3: Badge Of Silence), which cranked up the violence to over-the-top levels and introduced some supernatural elements which were barely touched on in the first film. As the series progressed, Officer Cordell eventually became yet another indestructible psycho slasher, ala Jason Voorhees, in a cop uniform.
The series has maintained a rabid cult following since then, and rumors of a fourth film (or a remake of the original) have been circulating for more than a decade. MC fans' hearts started beating a little faster in mid-2012, when director Nicolas Winding Refn (of 2011's critically acclaimed Drive) signed on to direct a new Maniac Cop prequel (with a script by original screenwriter Larry Cohen!) but years passed with no further progress.
Larry Cohen passed away in 2019, but it appears his creation may yet live on. Last I checked, Refn's Maniac Cop project was slated to become a limited "event series" for HBO, though no casting or premiere date has yet been announced.
© 2011 Keith Abt
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 20, 2016:
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 31, 2015:
Updated to mention the passing of actor Robert Z'Dar, who played the Maniac Cop, earlier this week
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 24, 2015:
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 07, 2014:
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 17, 2013:
Cool, Georgie. As them old guys in the wine cooler commercials used to say, "Thenkyew fer yer support."
Georgie Lowery from North Florida on February 17, 2013:
I put a link to this Hub in my Bruce Campbell list. Thanks for letting me know it was here! :D
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 01, 2011:
Thanx for stopping by, E. -- I assure you, there's more to come.
Elizabethvano from Carlisle, PA on July 31, 2011:
Great post - I'm looking forward to hearing further 'it came from the bargin bin' movie reviews!
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on July 31, 2011:
Thanx Carl... I personally think "2" is superior to the first installment (rare that a sequel outdoes the original!) but I figured I'd start with the first "MC" and perhaps do an entry on "2" at a later date.
Carl on July 31, 2011:
I've actually heard of this series, never had the time to see it, but now I guess I have to watch it. Thanks for sharing. Voted Up, Useful, and Interesting