Dir. William Lustig (1998)
There's a maniac on the loose who is killing people while dressed in a cop uniform. He's a maniac cop. Which we maybe should've seen coming.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
From director William Lustig, known for such movies as Maniac, Maniac Cop 2, and Maniac Cop 3, today's review will be about the similarly uncreatively titled Maniac Cop. This movie is basically Maniac, but, get this... he's a cop! The film's written by genre staple Larry Cohen, who also brought us It's Alive, The Stuff, and a single episode of NYPD Blue (but I'm sure it was one of the good ones.) When folks start dying on the mean streets of New York, it's no surprise that the police don't believe local hoodlums when they tell stories of a huge cop that killed the person they were trying to mug. As the murders begin to mount, the local citizenry become terrified of the local NYPD officers. Can you imagine that? Living in a world in which you're scared of the NYPD?
While Maniac is a gorehound classic, Maniac Cop is more of a standard slasher movie based around the police department. Thankfully, it's a "standard slasher" starring Bruce Campbell! It also is a bit more of a social commentary, clearly delineating the experiences between white and black denizens of the city. This might be giving Lustig and Cohen a bit more credit than is due, because the social commentary is only really seen in a single throwaway line in a television interview and the rest of the movie is standard slasher fare. It's clear from the pacing and cinematography of this film that both of these horror mavens know what they're doing behind the camera. There's also a pretty clear difference between this movie and a lot of the other stuff these two have done. This was clearly a made-for-theaters movie, taking advantage of the early-80's boom in horror/slasher movies.
What this movie lacks is one of the major things it has going for it: Bruce Campbell. Through the first hour of the film, he's in maybe five minutes of it. Don't get me wrong, Tom Atkins, who stars as Detective Frank McRae, does a great job in the movie. He's an at least adequate actor and is able to carry most of the film by himself. As he digs further into the titular killer cop, he manages to come face to face with both the maniac cop and his accomplice. He also doesn't seem to bat much of an eye at the thought of an undead serial killer walking the streets, which is quite handy for advancing the plot. But for all of the plot advancement that Atkins is responsible for... he's no Bruce Campbell.
The only way to stop bad guys who throw people out of windows is with good guys who throw people out of windows.
I do love how, every chance it gets, the movie refers to the killer as a "maniac cop." That's the kind of self-referential cheesy horror that you love to see. There's also a shoehorned in holiday, no doubt attempting to play off the trend at the time of basing horror movies around holidays. This time, it's Saint Patrick's Day. Thankfully, this is also the part of the film where Campbell begins to play a bigger part of the proceedings. Eventually it all comes out that the Maniac Cop is after the police chief and the commissioner, who put him in prison for brutality claims against him. While in prison, he gets sliced and diced by the prisoners and somehow comes out "alive." Then he goes on his killing spree with the help of his girlfriend. It's all fairly derivative to be fair, but its still a unique take on the genre, especially for 1988. There's not a whole lot more to see here that you can't see in 100 other basic slasher movies, but this one, largely due to the prowess of Cohen and Lustig, is more well-made and coherent than most.
Who this movie is for: Slasher fans, Bruce Campbell fans, People who want more reasons to hate the police.
Bottom Line: Above average slasher with bits of Bruce Campbell sprinkled in. Decently written, adequately acted, and a cult classic for a reason. Watch this one and check out the remake, coming soon! Next up are the sequels. We'll see how they hold up.