Thursday, July 9, 2009

Maniac Cop (1988)

With one of the best taglines ever committed to a film (“You have the right to remain silent…FOREVER”), Maniac Cop is one of those action-packed popcorn flicks that are always a pleasure to watch when you need to shut your brain off for a bit. Written and produced by Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, God Told Me To, etc.) and directed by William Lustig (Maniac), Maniac Cop is one of those movies that unfortunately not too many people know about, but those that are in the know can’t stop (maniacally) singing its praises.

In New York City, innocent people are being brutally butchered by a hulking man dressed as a cop. Lieutenant Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins) is on the case and evidence soon suggests that the killer is one of the police’s own. When philandering Officer Jack Forrest’s (Bruce Campbell) wife is found dead in a hotel room, he is fingered as who the media have dubbed the “Maniac Cop”. His girlfriend, Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon) who is also a cop, must convince Lieutenant McCrae that Jack didn’t commit the crimes, and together they must find out who the real killer is…before it’s too late.

Maniac Cop is a mish-mash of B-movie genres, spanning horror, action and cop-thriller to create an all-around entertaining film! You’ve got car chases, great action sequences, a solid mystery as to who the killer is and why he’s killing, a good smattering of gore as the “Maniac Cop” dispatches his victims and plenty of smart-ass cop-talk (“Whole city’s goin’ to hell. You can’t take a pee anywhere anymore.”).

Maniac Cop’s ability to encompass several different genres and make it all work is what really sells the flick for me. As mentioned earlier, this genre-bender takes an action-packed cop film, throws in a bit of mystery and intrigue along with a whiff of the supernatural, and blends it all with horror, all the while never taking itself too seriously. Things never get too heavy and things are kept light by the characters’ tossing about classic lines like, “Look at the size of those hematomas!” or “You always take a leak with a gun in your hand? That’s a good way to blow your balls off!”

The film also has an amazing cast. Besides the obvious bad-ass contribution of Tom Atkins, we also get Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree, as grumpy Commissioner Pike and Robert Z’Dar as the title character, whose chin rivals that of the film’s other star, Bruce Campbell. Campbell does a great job as well as the wrongly convicted cop – this film is a definite must-see for all Campbell fans! I also enjoyed performances from Laurene Landon as the tough female cop and Sheree North as the cop with something to hide.

The direction by Lustig features New York at its grittiest and dirtiest – similar to what we saw in his Maniac. The city has a grimy feel to it, from oil-slick puddles to dim streetlights, lurking hoodlums, discarded trash and dingy neon signs. This is the sleazy New York when 42nd street was king of grindhouse and exploitation films, before Time Squares was deemed “family friendly” and overrun by MTV tween fans. This is the perfect setting in which to imagine Cohen’s rogue cop creation murdering innocent people in dark alleys while neighbors shut their windows to the screams! The nitty-gritty atmosphere of the flick just fits so well and I really couldn’t imagine any other place where the story could have been set.

Maniac Cop is something of a cult favorite, but I’m not sure why it hasn’t quite broken out of its shell and garnered a wider audience. Its mix of cop-thriller, horror and action seems like it would catch on with a variety of movie fans, but I find it surprising how few people have checked out (or even heard of) this film! If you haven’t checked this film out yet, what are you waiting for?! Maniac Cop orders you out of the house with your hands up…to go grab a copy of this classic flick now!

Buy it on Amazon!

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