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October 17, 2011

Maniac Cop

(1988, Dir. by William Lustig.)

Maniac Cop is one of those movies I'd always heard the cool horror fans talk about, but never checked out anyway.  I'm not sure if I was just trying to be a nerd rebel or if I was afraid it was gonna be one of those movies that SAYS it stars Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell but really only has small doses of said actors.  Maybe it was a combination of both (or maybe it was the fact that my first brush with director William Lustig was the laughable, yet entertaining, Uncle Sam - which I never took too seriously), because I just kinda let Maniac Cop be up until recently.

Curiosity never lets go, however, and I finally found myself sitting down with Synapse Films' new blu-ray disc of Maniac Cop this evening.  And now I'm kicking myself, because those cool horror kids obviously know what cool is. 

Maniac Cop is pretty much the story of a maniac, dressed as a cop, who puts a hurtin' on anyone and everyone in New York City.  He's one of the '80s most imposing killers, towering over victims in his proper uniform and police hat while brandishing a club that has a knifey surprise inside.  This presentation makes him one of the most ominous killers of the decade, even if he isn't at all stealthy.  In fact, the Maniac Cop presents himself more like Frankenstein's monster and other lurching killers than your run-of-the-mill slasher killer, because he's actually a seemingly undead gigantor with a chip on his shoulder.

And when you've got a seemingly undead gigantor, you gotta call in the pros.  It appears the Ghostbusters wouldn't take this case, which leaves a bunch of cops on the case - including Atkins, Campbell (playing the honest cop who was set up, presumably by the Maniac Cop himself), Richard "Shaft" Roundtree and veteran gruff guy William Smith (who I most love for being Conan the Barbarian's dad).  We sadly don't get a lot of Atkins and Campbell on-screen together - possibly because the combination of such amazing elements could have combusted the space-time continuum - but both actors are very welcome as foils to Robert Z'Dar (I checked, he's NOT a robot despite his name) and his massive Maniac Cop frame.  (And, if I'm being honest, I kinda wanted a little more Atkins than Campbell.  Bruce's character just wasn't quite "groovy" yet.)

Maniac Cop combines elements of the slasher genre with the inner city style that made Lustig's previous films Maniac and Vigilante so intriguing, particularly capitalizing on the latter film's gangland focus.  Some of the police scenes feel like they'd be more at home in an action film of the '80s, with Smith and Roundtree occasionally appearing to not even know they're in a horror film.  The balance between police drama and horror isn't hard to find, and the gritty realism of some scenes - even ones with Sam Raimi as a news reporter talking about tensions in the city or a shockingly beardless George "Buck" Flower as a nice homeless man - occasionally makes the film seem a little more serious than it is.

Then the film speeds to a cheesy final act that's full of violence and silly carnage, which makes me dig it even more.  I'm not sure the finale does anything really well - though I did find the final moments very pleasing - but it's at least a fun wrap-up to the film's interesting set up.

I think my thoughts on the finale not doing anything extremely well are indicative of the whole film's quality.  I don't know if I'd really call Maniac Cop a good film compared to Lustig's preceding films - Maniac provided a more interesting look at a killer and Vigilante gave us a crime story that involved us in the inner city action - but there's still a lot of charm to be found in this movie.  Maniac Cop is a brute of a film, just like its killer, and it's a lot of fun to see its mixture of genres play out.  With its unique villain and its horror heroes leading the charge, Maniac Cop should at least provide an entertaining viewing experience for horror fans who are simply looking for a campy thriller.

1 comment:

Kev D. said...

MAN! I just saw this the other day... pretty great stuff. Tom Atkins is THE MAN.

Not a big fan of Uncle Sam, but thought Maniac Cop was worthwhile.