Maniac Cop is, in my opinion, one of the most under rated horror films of the 1980s. Not only does it blend subgenres like a Magic Bullet on high-speed, it boasts one of the best line ups of genre legends in its cast and crew. Okay, try to keep up – in front of the camera we’ve got Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell, neither of which need introduction here. Next we have Richard fucking Roundtree as Commissioner Pike. That’s right, Shaft himself is the HNIC of the police force! Behind the camera we have director William Lustig (Maniac, Vigilante), writer/producer Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, Q the Winged Serpent), executive producer James Glickenhaus (The Exterminator) and cinematographer James Lemmo (Madman, Vigilante, Ms .45, etc). It doesn’t get much more solid than that. Maniac Cop has always held a strong cult following, but I’ve always felt it deserved more attention.
The film starts in traditional Lustig style, with a woman walking home from work through the New York City night only to be attacked by a couple of scumbag hoods. Barely escaping, she spots a cop in the distance and heads for help. This turns out to be a fatal mistake as we are introduced to the maniac cop. Bodies start piling up throughout the city, all at the hands of the mysterious killer in the police uniform. Citizens start to fear the police, more so than usual, and whether the killer is an actual member of the force is unclear. When Officer Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) is arrested for the murder of his wife, the case seemed to be closed. So was The Chin the maniac cop? Was it a set up? That’s where Detective Frank McCrae comes in. Tom Atkins plays McCrae to cop drama perfection. In fact, next to his role in Night Of The Creeps, I would say that this is honestly his best performance. Atkins’ McCrae is a no-nonsense, bar dwelling cop with a knack for making the ladies’ blush – nothing new for Atkins, this is what he’s good at. McCrae is out to prove Forrest’s innocence and uncover the true identity of the killer in blue.
The killer is played by Robert Z’Dar, who is a big old ugly sonofabitch who really doesn’t need much in the way of make-up to be scary and whose chin put Bruce Campbell to shame. Seriously, the man looks like he’s storing a ham in his jaw for the winter. But the man makes a perfect maniac cop, that’s for certain. When you see his shadow in the distance or his hulking frame coming towards your car, you bet your ass you’re going to be scared!
The film works on many levels. It’s equal parts eighties slasher, cop drama, murder mystery and revenge film. All set against a New York City that no one captures quite like William Lustig. From what I’ve read in the past, and from some of the cast interviews on this release, Lustig apparently had a very minimal directorial style. He was more of an “okay, go…” kind of director, but it obviously worked for him as evidenced here. The recent Blu-ray release of Maniac Cop from Synapse Films looks great with a brand new 2K high def restoration print that captures the raw quality of the film perfectly. Besides the film you get extras in the way of interviews with Atkins and Z’Dar and a bunch of scenes shot for Japanese television that involve a subplot focusing on the mayor’s involvement in the whole thing. Once again, Synapse gives a solid Blu-ray release of a cult classic that stands above all previous versions.
Maniac Cop rates 4.5 out of 5 screaming Jamies