The latest slice of cult horror to get the deluxe treatment from the beautiful die-hards at Arrow Video, Maniac Cop is an interesting film almost despite itself, if only as a time capsule, a throwback to a bygone age of high-concept horror that has since sadly died out alongside the scores of video shops where the genre made its spiritual home.
Maniac Cop is the kind of Ronseal movie that has all but disappeared in recent years: there is a cop. He is a murderous maniac. That’s pretty much it. See you in 90 minutes. I imagine you already know if a cop slaughtering people is something you’re willing to drop money on, so what you probably want to know is – does it deliver on the eyebrow-raising premise?
The answer is a resounding ‘kind of’. In an interview with writer and B-movie supremo Larry Cohen on the Blu-ray, Cohen recalls meeting with director William Lustig and Lustig putting him on the spot, asking him to pitch an idea for features. Seeing the chance to cash in on the success of Lustig’s last horror, Maniac, and using the classic high-concept trick of generic x-meets-y (cop movie meets horror movie), Cohen pitched the title of Maniac Cop.
Buoyed by Lustig’s subsequent enthusiasm, he then even managed to ad-lib a tagline: You Have The Right To Remain Silent…Forever. Lustig excitedly ended the meeting soon afterwards, before calling a startled Cohen up two hours later to inform him that he’d already raised the necessary budget.
It’s a nice anecdote that also sums up Maniac Cop’s inherent problems quite succinctly – it seems like both Cohen and Lustig left that initial meeting thinking that the bulk of the work had already been done. There is nothing much in Maniac Cop to suggest that either of them were interested on building on their admittedly great premise, and there’s a sense that the story is content to go through the motions.
Early on, the film threatens to do some interesting with the police procedural/horror hybrid, as frightened citizens start killing policemen in the mistake belief that each one might be the murderous plod.Before long, however, the film turns into the most rote of slashers, lurching along from kill to kill only pausing for a quick back-story that is, at best, adequate.
The kill scenes aren’t gruesome or memorable enough, the film takes itself way too seriously considering the subject matter, and the maniac cop himself, Matt Cardell, just doesn’t compare in terms of charisma to his 80s slasher-villain peers.
Despite all of its many, many flaws, however, Maniac Cop somehow still possesses enough charm to make for an entertaining watch, something largely down to its decent cast. Tom Atkins reprises his lovable gruff detective role almost wholesale from Night Of The Creeps, and Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree, shows up as the police commissioner.
Probably the main reason that Maniac Cop has maintained a significant cult status for many years is the presence of King of Geeks Bruce Campbell, who has a large role as a police officer wrongly accused of the murders. This is before the cult of Bruce really took off, however, and in his role of straight romantic lead he doesn’t get to do much of what he does best, which is a) hurl himself through the air, b) get showered with viscera, or c) spout one-liners, which is a bit of a waste. He’s still as hammily watchable as ever, however.
Another area where Maniac Cop is better than your run-of-the mill slasher of the period is in its action scenes, with some pretty impressively staged fight and chase sequences, particularly towards the end. It’s a very well-made film – much better than it had the right to be, considering it was shot in ten days and conceived in two minutes – which makes it all the more of a shame that it never truly explodes into life.
Maniac Cop 2, the superior sequel, learned from its predecessor’s mistakes by making things campier and sillier, with better kills and more action overall. It’s also a film well worth checking out if only to hear the world’s worst rap play out over the credits, the Maniac Cop Rap (“Set him on fire, shoot him with an Uzi/He’ll still show up in your Jacuzzi”).
So the original Maniac Cop is what it is, and what it is is a film about a cop who murders people. And you know what? Sometimes, that’s enough.
The video transfer is excellent, looking as good as any print as Maniac Cop has ever looked with vivid and natural looking colours. The packaging is also up to Arrow’s typically high standards, with some beautiful original artwork and a fold-out booklet featuring interviews with director Lustig and writer Troy Howarth.
The special features are a mixed bag – there is no commentary, with the bulk of the material focused around three interviews with Atkins, Cohen, and co-star Laurene Landon. Landon’s interview is pretty dull but the interviews with Atkins and Cohen are great fun, with the avuncular Atkins reminiscing entertainingly and Cohen giving an interesting insight into his own storied B-movie career.
You can rent or buy Maniac Cop at Blockbuster.co.uk.