Maniac Cop (1988) [31 Days of Gore]

This is it, folks: the year’s final 31 Days of Gore post. It’ll be eleven whole months until the next one.

I hadn’t seen Maniac Cop in so long I forgot how good it is. With a screenplay by the legendary Larry Cohen, who wrote some seriously offbeat genre flicks (It’s Alive, God Told Me To, Black Caesar, and The Stuff), the pacing of the movie is extraordinary. The movie opens with a kill, does a normal scene, shows another kill, normal scene, kill, normal scene, etc, etc. The titular maniac cop snags himself more victims in the first twenty minutes than the average horror movie dispatches in its entirety. Sometimes you see where an individual scene is going—and sometimes you’re right—but overall this is one surprising cookie.

Imagine you’re being chased by a couple of thugs through the dark, curiously empty streets of New York City. Then you spot a rather large cop (Robert Z’Dar) standing in the shadows of a nearby park and race to him for assistance. When you get close, however, you realize something is wrong and, before you have the time to recoil, he wraps his hand around your throat with superhuman strength and wrings your neck. It’s a creepy premise, the implications of which are properly explored through news segments which reflect the city’s growing fear and distrust toward police officers. Most genre films wouldn’t bother going so deep.

Now check out this cast of players: Robert Z’Dar, Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Lauren Landon, William Smith, and Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree. As far as exploitation movies go, can it get any better? It rarely does. I love this cast.

Tom Atkins plays a straight-shooter lieutenant who can’t stand the thought of some bozo walking around in a police uniform and killing people. When Bruce Campbell’s character, also a cop, is implicated as the serial killer, Atkins is the only one who stops to consider it could be a setup. It turns out the real maniac cop knows exactly how to set someone up because he has inside information. And he has that inside information because he really was a cop at one time in his life, which leads to the whodunnit elements of the film.

Naturally, when the maniac cop shows up to the police station to tie up loose ends, Bruce Campbell escapes custody with the help of his mistress, fellow cop Lauren Landon. The two lovers then team up with Atkins to work out the killer’s identity and clear Campbell’s name.

I love this movie. It turns out Nicholas Winding Refn, the director of Drive and Bronson, is also a big fan. He and director William Lustig are co-producing a remake. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a remake in my life.

Cameos include Jake LaMotta (Lustig’s uncle) and Sam Raimi.

Note: I was planning to feature the entire trilogy, but I think I’ll be getting the sequels on Blu-Ray to review at a later date. Right now, the streaming options available to me aren’t even in widescreen. 

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