Now something of a cult favourite among film fans, 1988’s Maniac Cop garnered negative reviews upon its original release. But to be fair, 1988 had some big horror related releases including Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, John Carpenter’s They Live, Hellraiser II: Hellbound, Child’s Play, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master, Friday 13th Part 7: The New Blood AND Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, to name but a few.
Then there are the classics like Die Hard, Big and, erm, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker… so writer Larry Cohen and director William Lustig’s action slasher about a trigger happy cop who’s returned from the dead (with super strength!) to wreak havoc on the streets of New York City wasn’t really going to distract cinema goers from the ever popular titles above. And I didn’t even mention Killer Klowns from Outer Space!
But despite this, Maniac Cop does have some kind of appeal. Particularly for fans of 80s horror. Of course, a large part of this would be down to the universally loved Evil Dead legend Bruce Campbell who plays cop Jack Forrest, who soon becomes a suspect in the murders that are happening around New York by a large man in a police uniform. However, Lieutenant Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins) is on the case and, as ever, it seems there is more to this case that meets the eye.
William Lustig’s attempt at combining cop thriller and slasher flick may have seemed like quite a weak idea at the time. An ill-advised attempt to draw in fans of the likes of the Halloween series as well as Die Hard. But on a budget. Looking back you can see why film fans might not have seen the point but Maniac Cop does actually pretty much succeed in its premise and if you consider it’s really just an 80’s b-movie, it’s a decent little horror/thriller.
Tom Atkins already had form in the likes of the underrated Halloween III: Season of the Witch, The Fog and Escape from New York so a solid, dependable performance was expected and he delivered. And Bruce Campbell was Bruce Campbell. Say no more. But William Lustig also did well in adding a bit of intrigue into who exactly our villain is and his history, despite the knowledge of him being a cop, adding in an ever useful flashback scene to help us along the way.
The mix of brutal, if not overly gory compared to the infamous slasher films it had to contend with, murders and police station/investigation scenes don’t come across as too clunky either, which is a good thing when trying to splice two genres together. But of course, this being the 80s, you had your fair share of cheesy, hammy dialogue. Add to that the very 80s musical score courtesy of Jay Chattaway and a hot blonde in the shape of Laurene Landon’s vice cop Theresa Mallory and you have a recipe for 80s cult success.
Although the big reveal of the “Maniac Cop’s” face towards the end of the film isn’t exactly the scariest horror movie villain you’ll ever see, the final scene, involving a police van crashing into the sea with both Jack Forrest and our villain inside is quite exciting with the final shot leaving the film open for sequels; which it got in the form of 1990’s Maniac Cop 2 (obviously) and 1993’s Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence, both once again written by Larry Cohen and directed by William Lustig. The trilogy has since gained cult-like status everywhere.
Maniac Cop is a fun little cop thriller with a hint of slasher-style horror and a dash of humour, which may or may not have been intentional. Add to that the tagline of “You have the right to remain silent… forever” and what’s not to love?