Maniac Cop

Dir. William Lustig

Innocent New Yorkers are being brutally murdered by a uniformed police officer. As the death toll mounts, officer Jack Forrest finds himself accused of the slaughter. With few friends, powerful enemies and a psychopathic slayer still at large, Jack teams up with hardboiled Detective Frank McCrae and blonde-bombshell rookie Theresa, to prove he’s not guilty and bring down the killer.

You have the right to remain silent… Forever!

Boasting a cult-tastic cast of 80’s exploitation veterans including Tom Atkins, Richard Roundtree, Bruce Campbell and Laurene Landon, Maniac Cop has so much going for it. The script, by Larry Cohen, coupled with William Lustig’s bruising direction, ensures the film unravels as an entertaining and riveting suspenser. Cohen has made a career out of subverting normal, everyday things into objects of terror: babies (It’s Alive), ice-cream (The Stuff), paramedics (The Ambulance), and public phone boxes (Phone Booth). Maniac Cop subverts the notion of the police as a bastion for law and order, and twists it around to create something more sinister and unsettling. By taking a figure usually associated with safety, security, law and order and capsizing it, Cohen and Lustig are able to create effective scenes involving innocent people seeking help from the police, only to come face to face with a ruthless, psychotic killer.

Maniac Cop meshes together standard slasher movie tropes with police procedural movie trimmings. As well as the plethora of stalkings and murders, the film also boasts an engrossing central mystery; who is the cop and why is he killing people? As the eponymous cop, Matt Cordell comes complete with a tragic back-story and a thirst for revenge. That he is also a hulking brute who never speaks, is severely disfigured and wears a rather iconic garb means he could sit comfortably alongside other slasher villains of the 80s such as Jason, Michael or Freddy. The ways in which he kills his victims are both brutally violent and slyly humorous, particularly the scene involving a handcuffed man and a pool of just poured concrete. An especially taut scene features one woman handcuffed to a dead man and trying desperately to escape as the psycho-cop bashes down her door…

The central theme of the film seems potently relevant today, given the increasing instances of police brutality in society; the most prominent one in recent memory being the case of Ian Tomlinson, who on April 1 2009, was passing through the G20 summit protests in London and was pushed to the ground by a policeman. He died soon afterwards and the officer responsible for pushing him – demonstrating disproportionate force - has been charged with manslaughter. Another instance of contemptible police brutality that I couldn’t help but recall when watching Maniac Cop was the case of Jody McIntyre, who was dragged from his wheelchair by police during a student protest over tuition fees in London, 2009. What happens when police abuse their power and the trust we have in them? Who do we turn to then? This notion is exploited perfectly throughout Maniac Cop, most obviously in the opening scene where a woman, fleeing through a darkened park from a pair of muggers, spies a cop ahead of her and runs to him for help, only to receive a crushed throat for her trouble.

It is ingrained within us as a society not to question the police, and there are a number of suspenseful scenes where the titular cop exploits the authority his badge gives him – notably in the scene where he yanks a guy from his car as the dumb girlfriend looks on with weak trepidation, realising something isn’t quite right but feeling powerless to protest. Cohen’s witty script also finds time to take a few side swipes at the media – particularly at its ability to whip up frenzied panic by sensationalising stories, resulting in people panicking and acting without foresight or rational thought - perfectly conveyed in the scene where a lone woman in a broken down car listening to the news with increasing anxiety, shoots the cop who comes to her assistance, believing him to be the killer.

The New York City depicted is gritty, sleazy and menacing and the dank atmosphere is perfectly enhanced by the score, courtesy of Jay Chattaway; a typically 80s horror movie affair – all pulsing synths, taut strings, creepy atmospherics and a haunting Goblinesque lullaby theme that echoes throughout the flashbacks.

If you’re looking for a trashy, though well written and tightly executed exploitation flick with major slasher tendencies and some Tom Atkins AND Bruce Campbell action thrown in for good measure, you really can’t go wrong with Maniac Cop.

Maniac Cop (cert. 18) was released on Blu-ray (£27.99) by Arrow Video on 31st October 2011.

Special Features: Brand new High Definition transfer of film presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio; exclusive UK introduction to the film by star Tom Atkins; Doomed Detective: Tom Atkins on Maniac Cop; Lady Of The Night: Laurene Landon remembers Maniac Cop; Scripting A New Slasher Super-Villain: Larry Cohen on Matt Cordell; trailer; collectors’ booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by author Troy Howarth and “The Original Maniac: An interview with William Lustig”, adapted from Calum Waddell's book “Taboo Breakers”; reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork; double-sided fold out artwork poster; original Stereo 2.0 audio; optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired.


thekelvingreen said…
I remember seeing this film's cover in the video shops of my youth but I only saw the film itself only recently. I was surprised at how good it was.
Yeah another good film, and another Arrow Blu-Ray to purchase...James have you bought the Blu-Ray of THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE yet - I read some horrendous things about Arrow's presentation of this film...not just the crank reviews on Amazon, but reputable sites. Also have you obtained the Shameless BR of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST? If so, any good?
Kev D. said…
I was so sad when Atkins was axed. It's cool the Campbell makes it to the end, but I'm still on the fence as to whether I like his character or not... dude's an adulterer...

Great review.
James Gracey said…
@Kelvin - Parents of a friend of mine owned this on VHS - it sat on the shelf in their livingroom and the cover used to creep me out big time! As did their copy of Lost Boys!

@Shaun - Yeah, I was sent a screener of Arrow's BWTCP Blu-ray - I thought it was just fine - no major complaints. Alas, I haven't obtained Cannibal Holocaust - but it's Shameless's forthcoming release of Four Flies On Grey Velvet I can't wait to get my hands on!

@Kev - I liked Campbell's character - mainly because he was played by Bruce Campbell! ;)
James Gracey said…
PS @Kelvin - I probably should have mentioned that the cover of Maniac Cop in my friend's livingroom creeped me out WHEN I WAS YOUNG! This wasn't a recent thing! ;)
Yes the FOUR FLIES Blu-ray could well be the release of the year for fans of cult horror, as long as Shameless do a decent job. I have their Blu-ray of NEW YORK RIPPER, even though I don't like the film much, and they did a good job with that one. I have quite a few Arrow Blu-ray's but I try and wait until they are under a tenner, it doesn't usually take long.
James Gracey said…
I have all the Argento titles and a few others - quite a lot of the Shameless titles too - particularly their gialli, natch.
As much as I love Blu-rays - they do tend to be expensive.
I also really enjoyed the Shameless release of New York Ripper. I enjoyed the film - if such a film can actually be 'enjoyed', especially its score and grimy atmosphere. Not sure I'd be in a hurry to ever watch it again - it made me feel very scuzzy! ;)
Anonymous said…
You hit the nail on the head with Cohen. It's the subject matter he chooses that make his films so unsettling.
Great review. You bring up so many interesting points especially regarding the film's relevance today.
James Gracey said…
Cheers Christine. While I haven't seen nearly as many of Cohen's films as I should have, the one's I have seen were really memorable. And there always seems to be some sort of biting social commentary simmering under the B-movie allure of each.

As for the film's relevance today - there is so much more I could have worked into the review (didn't even get a chance to mention controversial police actions throughout The Troubles in Northern Ireland) - but I didn't want to get too bogged down in politics. It is Maniac Cop afterall! ;)

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