Maniac Cop

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Our rating: two lava lamps.

Information about this film in the Internet Movie Database.

Maniac Cop
"Mom... I don't think this power sander
was meant for facial hygiene!"
OK, everyone, all together now in your best Michael Sembello voice:

"He's a maniac, maaaaaniac on the force...
And he's bookin' like he's never booked before!"

(Some of you in the back there were just mouthing the words. We can tell.)

Sadly, Maniac Cop has nothing to do with early Eighties discotronic go-go girls shakin' their hosed-down groove things on stage -- rather, it is the story of the men in the New York Police Department and the psycho killer who gives them a bad -- uh, worse name by dressing as a cop while indulging himself in a murder spree.

Determined to roust this killer from their midst, the cops follow the clues and track down one of their own -- Jack Forrest, played by Bruce Campbell. Campbell, normally one of our favorite actors, is strangely taciturn in this film, as if the director had specifically asked the man better known as "Ash" to tone down all the things that make him fun to watch. Forrest is, of course, innocent (though hardly a nice guy), but the truth of the killer's identity is so strange that he can scarcely believe it himself.

Maniac Cop
"OK, Sam, I'll do Evil Dead 3... but you have
to let me use this great pick-up line I thought up."
Aided by his girlfriend, Theresa (Laurene Landon), who is also a cop on the force, Jack clears his name (if only temporarily) and begins to hunt down the real killer, a former hero cop who was sent to jail for political reasons and was supposedly beaten to death by his fellow inmates. In fact, this maniac cop (named Matt Cordell, and played by Robert Z'Dar) escaped the prison after his near-fatal bludgeoning with the help of the prison's doctor, and he has now returned years later to carry out his vengeance -- against who or what is unclear. Maybe he wants to collect on his back pension.

As is so often the case in this type of movie, returning for vengeance after a traumatic experience has inexplicably imbued the villain with superhuman strength and near-invulnerability. Thus it is that Cordell can take multiple gunshot wounds and keep coming back for more punishment. Why none of these movies ever bother to explain the source of these talents is a real sore point; are we supposed to assume that every psychopath with a grudge is awarded the standard Murderous Maniac package of Unlikely Abilities? We long for the days of films like The Phantom of the Opera, when dangerous villains got by on smarts and careful planning instead of a convenient immunity to bullets.

Maniac Cop
"Boy, these Mann's Chinese Theater sidewalk
things get weirder every year."
Director William Lustig can be blamed for many traumatic moviewatching experiences, especially when one considers the horrific Maniac (1980) and the unrelentingly awful Uncle Sam. Here we see Lustig half-reaching for mainstream comic-horror, similar to A Nightmare on Elm Street, but he has too much practice with the darker, melodramatic side of horror cinema and the humor fails to come through. Given that Bruce Campbell is one of the modern masters of physical comedy, this failing is particularly miserable. You can see Campbell try to inject little bits of his trademark "take a hit and scream like a girl" slapstick, but for the most part, Lustig will have none of it, forcing the actor to play his scenes straight.

As with every mediocre slasher movie of the Eighties, the villain disappears at the end, in a manner that he seemingly could not survive. Will there be a sequel? Will the main characters from the original film survive the opening credits? Will part two borrow a good ten minutes of exposition footage from part one? Even Ash could answer those questions.

Rent or Buy from Reel.

Review date: 2/11/00

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