Dir: William Lustig, Stars: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Robert Z’Dar
I’ve never been to New York City, but I’m in love with the way it looks on film. When you get a movie that filmed there in the 70’s or 80’s, it has a character to it that’s immediately discernible, that adds a layer of grit to any story that wants it. Maniac Cop uses these qualities to quickly establish a tense setting, opening on streets that are simultaneously deserted and claustrophobic, with sidewalks hemmed in by canyon-like building walls and endless lines of empty cars.
Maniac Cop takes the tension of those streets and adds a psychopathic police officer to a film that ends up being a naked satire of both police-community relations and the very idea that the shoot-first-ask-questions-later, Dirty Harry-style cop is something you’d ever want around. As the idea that a police officer is murdering innocent people, all of whom are white, spreads on the news, you get a bunch of little reactions from people in the community. Uniformly, the white citizens are freaking out, while everyone else is completely unconcerned, informing the audience that this is business as usual.
The climax of the film takes place at a St. Patrick’s Day parade, that is proceeding despite there being threats of bombs and violence, and is being picketed by protesters decrying police violence. It’s all a sidebar to the quasi-supernatural murder cop that’s stalking all of the main characters, but it’s an amusing reminder that issues between the police and the people they’re charged with protecting aren’t anything new, no matter what your relatives on Facebook think.
None of the performances are remarkable. Tom Atkins does a good job as the grizzled old detective who really cares about finding the killer, despite being dressed in the worst suit I have ever seen in my life. Bruce Campbell doesn’t get to bring much comedy to his role outside of throwing himself around into walls and doors, so he’s pretty wasted. He manages to look really skinny and insane, though. Robert Z’Dar does well as the titular Maniac Cop, selling being an unstoppable murder machine with his lumbering but intense movements. The payoff where you finally see his face [link is spoilers] was pretty startling and effective, and I’m glad they saved it for the last few minutes of the film.
There were a few things that didn’t really work for me. Bruce Campbell’s subplot is boring, and one of those bad horror movie cliches where you and half the characters know exactly what’s going on and you’re just waiting for everyone else to catch up so the plot can move along. The flashbacks to Maniac Cop’s origins, while filmed incredibly effectively, didn’t do anything to really enhance the character for me. I couldn’t tell if the movie was trying to engender sympathy for him or not, but if it was, it didn’t work.
Overall I’d give Maniac Cop a solid recommendation for a horror movie night. It’s not excessively gory so it’ll work for most situations, and the pointed social commentary is novel enough to carry the slower bits.