Director: William Lustig
Year of release: 1988
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 85 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "You have the right to remain silent...forever".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: The authorities in New York are left baffled after it becomes apparent that a madman is at large stalking and murdering on the cities streets. A sense of panic breaks out amongst the public especially as news filters out that the killer is said to be wearing a police uniform and thus could be part of the force they would normally look to for protection. The news media are having a field day with the story and have dubbed the killer The Maniac Cop. A break in the case appears to have been made when Officer Jack Forrest is taken into custody after his wife turns up dead and newspaper clippings relating to the crimes are found in his home. A detective by name of Frank McCrae working on the case is however convinced of Jack's innocence. Looking to clear the mans name he teams up with Jack's mistress and fellow police officer Theresa and together they dig deeper into the murders. They stumble upon the story of former cop Matt Cordell who was sent to prison for abusing his powers as a police officer and being too brutal on criminals. It comes to light that Matt was murdered while serving time by his fellow prisoners. Though a crazy idea, they begin to suspect that he has somehow returned from beyond the grave to wreak vengeance on those responsible for putting him behind bars.
Good points: The film has a couple of big name actors on board who were well known within the horror genre during the 1980's in the form of Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell. Both do a good job and are fun to watch. They are a large part of what makes the film so watchable.
Although made on a budget of just over 1 million so by no means a huge one the film comes across as if it has good production values and is very slick and stylish in terms of its presentation. Despite not having a massive budget they do a lot with what they have and it comes across as a lot smoother and sexier looking than many other films of the same type from the late eighties/early nineties.
The Matt Cordell character makes for a cool villain and in terms of his size he has that monster aspect and presence to a degree of other more mainstream slasher icons like say Jason. Initially he was only shown in shadows, in silhouette or at a distance which looks stylish yet at the same time keeps us guessing as to just who or what the Maniac Cop is and what he truly looks like. About half way in when we begin to learn more about his backstory we start to see a bit more of him but they delay the reveal of his battered and scarred face until the near the very end so they still manage to retain a bit of mystery.
Maniac Cop is a bit of a mix of genres which perhaps making it not one for purists does help keep it interesting at times. As well as a slasher it can also come across as a kind of thriller or even an action film of sorts so this would maybe enable it to appeal to a broader audience. Initially it starts off very slasher like with three or four early kills but then it slows down a lot until the big action packed scene at the police station occurs where it begins to become more slasher like once again. I sort of liked the change in pace and the variety but others may get a bit bored when there aren't any kills occurring.
Bad Points: It is never really explained why Matt kills the innocent people at the start. You could understand the police workers at the station later as you could argue they were just collateral damage as he worked his way up to the people in higher power elsewhere in the building but there is nothing to explain the early deaths. In light of the backstory when it is revealed they come across as meaningless and unwarranted but on the plus side they at least have his old girlfriend question him about it so at least it is acknowledged.
For the most part the deaths were a bit lackluster I thought as well and there isn't a whole lot to speak of in terms of blood either. With the exception of the flashback where Matt is shown being assaulted in prison it is pretty tame by today's standards. Even the scenes in the police station where there is a huge loss of life can't salvage much with most of the carnage occurring off camera. The only real kill that stood out for me was the guy who had his face pushed into the cement early on.
Another disappointment was seeing Tom Atkins Frank character being killed off about two thirds of the way through the film as he was a constantly entertaining aspect of things up to that point. I've had a soft spot for the guy ever since seeing him in Halloween 3 so it was a shame to see him go. I suppose it was a surprise though so maybe we should give the film makers credit for catching us off guard (assuming you hadn't heard about his early exit prior to watching).
It was a little unrealistic that the rest of the police force didn't take Theresa's claims more seriously that the crippled lady working at the station is the female informant that Frank mentioned on the answering machine message. If they had of at least checked her out they may have found out from the phone records that she called Jack's wife near the start.
Verdict: Although the Maniac Cop franchise isn't one of my favourites I do enjoy this first one which is both well acted and stylish. I enjoy the concept of the murderer wearing a uniform which really sends the city dwellers into a panic thinking they can no longer trust the police. Indeed the character of Matt Cordell was a fine creation and a good addition to the ranks of slasher film villains. I would have preferred to have a tad less focus on the police investigation and media response and more effort put into the death scenes but overall it was an enjoyable enough film.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Cassie: Strangled/larynx crushed. 2) Sam: Stabbed and then thrown against a car window. 3) Musician: Handcuffed and then drowned in wet cement. 4) Officer Davies: Shot in the head by an old woman who mistook him for the killer. 5) Ellen Forrest: Found with throat cut. 6) Cop found hanging in police station. 7) Matt's old girlfriend: Head bashed into wall. 8) Man: Seen propped up against bars with head wound. 9) Man: Hung on railing gate/wall with handcuffs around his neck. 10) Man: Legs seen swaying,presumably was hung. 11)Man: Seen dead on the stairwell. 12) Man: Again seen dead on the stairs. 13) Frank McCrae: Thrown out of a high window. 14) Black Guy, Chief of police maybe? Stabbed in the back. 15) Bald guy, some sort of authority figure though I forget his title who is stabbed in the chest 16) Guard that was watching Theresa: Stabbed in the stomach. 17) Watchman: Killed by being hit by the police truck near the pier. 18) Cop that drove Theresa to the Pier, shot with a shotgun I think, certainly shot anyway.