Director – William Lustig
Cast – Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith, Robert Z’Dar, Sheree North, Nina Arvesen, Nick Barbaro, Lou Bonacki, Barry Brenner, Victoria Catlin, James Dixon
Release Year – 1988
Reviewed by John of the Dead
The long convoluted 80s slasher scene was given true creative awesomeness with Maniac Cop, a bloody and well-written Larry Cohen(The Stuff, God told Me To, Q: The Winged Serpent, It’s Alive) story giving us two of horror’s finest actors, among other veteran horror filmmakers. Directed by William Lustig(Maniac), produced by Larry Cohen, and with filming/production aid from Sam Raimi(The Evil Dead), Maniac Cop embodies everything great about the 80s slasher sub-genre, and gives us one of the best horror films of that glorious decade.
The city of New York suffers political and social catastrophe when a uniformed officer begins committing brutal crimes on those he swore to protect. As the city officials plan for a cover-up, do-right Detective Frank McCrae(Tom Atkins) takes the lead on the case with full force, much to the behest of the mayor who would like to keep this mess quiet. When young officer Jack Forest(Bruce Campbell) is arrested for the crimes due to a clever set-up by the killer and his accomplice, Det. MrCrae looks the clear Jack’s name and refocus the force’s efforts on catching the real killer before he strikes again. However, Frank faces undoubting challenges as the killer not only makes him his next target, but the political forces target Frank as well…
It came as no surprised to me that Larry Cohen would come up with a story as awesome as this one, and from the get-go till the closing credits we are given nothing but well-written horror awesomeness. I loved the idea of a police officer serving as the slasher, and that came for the obvious reason that police officers are sworn to protect the public, not massacre them in grisly fashion. To make matters cooler, our killer was a giant police officer who relied on simple yet effective methods of killing, and did so without prejudice in that he targeted those who were NOT guilty. There is much mystery as to why he is killing the innocent, and as the film progresses many twists and turns abound and justify his reasoning, which is also what brings in the political ramifications regarding the mayor and police chief trying to keep things under wraps. I enjoyed this idea because it added more to the story than just the usual horror bit, and made things especially hard for the hard-working Frank McCrae to get things done due to the constant obstacles in his way. The inclusion of character Jack Forest as great as well, and he added much to the film by serving as the fall-guy and adding to the conflict and drama expertly written into the story. What really surprised me as how the maniac cop’s killings affected the people of NYC, who were forced to be wary of the police force and in some cases took drastic measures to protect themselves from officers simply doing their jobs. When I mention that the story comes with great conflict and drama I really mean it, and it is a big reason behind this being one of the best horror films of the 1980s. Every character thrown into the film offered much to the plot and aided not only the development but the pacing as well, showing how a good writing job can make or break a film, and in this case it made Maniac Cop as awesome as it is.
Director William Lustig was fantastic with this film, and from the get-go he had me hooked with his great execution of the horror and all other related elements. His usage of the maniac cop was great, and he not only employed one hell of a big man but he used him in awesome fashion by always keeping him under low lighting and having him give simple yet awesome kills. Actor Robert Z’Dar(Maniac Cop 2, Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence) was great as the maniac cop, and his mannerisms gave us a creepy, silent, slow moving killer coming off somewhat like a Michael Myers in uniform. Tom Atkins(Night of the Creeps, The Fog, Bruiser, Two Evil Eyes, Halloween III: Season of the Witch) was his usual awesome self as Det. Frank McCrae, and Bruce Campbell(The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, Army of Darkness, My Name is Bruce) gave us a good serious performance showing that the guy really can act and not just play the fool, although he sure plays fools very well. Heh. We get a decent amount of gore in this flick, but this film isn’t so much about the gore as it is about everything else having to do with the horror. The maniac killer, the conspiracy behind him, and the social unrest forming due to him donning a police uniform all play a heavy part in the horror of the film, and William Lustig, in his first horror film since Maniac, shows that he can give us much more than just the usual 80s slasher film, making this not just one of the best horror experiences of the 80s, but showing Lustig’s talent as one of horror’s most underrated/under-appreciated directors.
Overall, Maniac Cop is an awesome late 80s slasher film that gives us much more than the usual cliches thanks to a great story from Larry Cohen. We are treated to much horror awesomeness thanks to Larry’s story and William Lustig’s great direction, as well as Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell taking on leading roles that result in true treats to fans of the horror genre. Highly recommended.