As a fan of eighties horror movies, I kept bumping into this movie. Especially since it has two sequels and stars none other than Robert Z’Dar. You might remember him from another eighties classic Tango & Cash. His huge chin is hard to miss. So, late last night I decided it’s time to finally find out what’s all the fuss about. Maniac Cop is an unashamedly B horror movie about a vicious serial killer and a detective trying to catch him. Pretty basic stuff, you’ll have to admit. In a nutshell, this is a pretty average eighties B horror movie. The reason why it became so popular was the explosion of the video rental market.
People were willing to watch anything back then if it had a cool poster. And Maniac Cop not only had a great poster but also a catchy title. Add to this memorable Z’Dar, young Bruce Campbell, and prime Tom Atkins and you got yourself a sleeper hit. Fast-paced and featuring a running time of just eighty minutes, this is a movie you can play any time you want and have a good time. It follows a well-established formula of the cat-and-mouse game between the killer and the detective trying to catch him. However, it also isn’t too afraid to experiment and throw in a couple of nifty twists.
Maniac Cop is also surprisingly stylish for a Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment production. And yet it still has that distinct B-movie charm we see in their movies. We’re talking about movies like Frankenhooker, TC 2000, and Moontrap. Just think of them as Cannon Group Inc.’s younger brothers. The story takes place on the dark and menacing New York streets, a perfect place for any self-respecting serial killer. This was William Lustig’s third movie about a killer prowling NYC after Maniac and Vigilante. Moreover, Maniac came out exactly two years before Fulci’s classic The New York Ripper.
A huge hulking figure wearing a cop’s uniform just claimed its third victim. There’s no pattern or eyewitnesses, just bodies left in the wake of this vicious serial killer. The latest one is the wife of a real NYPD officer Jack Forrest. However, Detective Frank McCrae, in charge of the case, soon starts to suspect that Jack could be the killer. So, he places him under arrest until he figures out what to do next. He won’t have to think long because what’s going to happen next is going to blow the case wide open.
Terribly heavy-handed and over-the-top at times, Maniac Cop manages to get away with a lot of things. In exchange, it offers an unhinged narrative and one hell of a villain. A villain whose face we won’t see until the very end, just like in Spielberg’s Jaws. I respect the fact that the movie doesn’t try to be anything more than it actually is: a commercial B action horror movie. It also explores the innate distrust residents of such a big city have toward the police.
And rightly so as we could learn in the following decades. If you want to know more about this I highly recommend you take a look at The Seven Five documentary. Finally, if you’re looking for movies like Maniac Cop, I suggest you check two much better New York serial killer movies Cruising and Fear City. The two sequels Maniac Cop 2 and Maniac Cop III: Badge of Silence are not that good but still watchable for fans of the genre.
Director: William Lustig
Writer: Larry Cohen
Cast: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Robert Z’Dar, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, Sheree North
Fun Facts: You won’t believe it but the coroner you see explaining how the first victim died is William Lustig’s real-life physician. A man is sporting one hell of a mullet, you have to give him that.