You have the right to remain silent…forever.
Maniac Cop is a timely film to watch the week I saw it, as Ferguson, Missouri was having yet another night of protests and police crackdowns due to the murder of an unarmed black man by the cops. Heck, the latest round of trouble was happening while I was watching the Maniac Cop trilogy! Some of the same elements are there, people trusting the police less because of the killing(s – because there have been several unarmed black men killed by police just this year), a media firestorm, and lots of violence. Maniac Cop was made in an era before increased police militarization was normal (though elements of that filter into the sequels), otherwise we might see Robert Z’Dar running around in SWAT gear in addition to the patrol uniform. Maybe that’s something that will be present in the rumored remake.
Maniac Cop features the twisting of a symbol of trust into an instrument of fear. The juxtaposition of the police, who protect and serve, and one of their own who has become a killing machine plays into the plot, as the media firestorm causes all sorts of tragic results. But the police not always being a symbol of order is hinted in several spots, especially a “man on the street” bit as citizens are interviewed about the Maniac Cop. A black interviewee mentions how he knows several people who were shot in the back by police. They even say cops like killing. It’s chilling how this narrative hasn’t changed in decades. Lustig frames this with elements of film noir, the cynical style fits in perfectly with the concept of police killing people and lone detectives trying to prove who the real killer is.
I saw Maniac Cop at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (yes, Maniac Cop was screened at a museum!) in their Bay Area Now 7 program, under the Invasion of the Cinemaniacs! heading, specifically the part curated by Jesse Hawthorne Ficks of Midnite for Maniacs, who hosted two William Lustig triple features (a sextuple feature?) spread across two days. All three Maniac Cop films screened on the second night, while Friday featured Maniac, Vigilante, and Hit List. William Lustig returned for the second night of screenings and gave some more entertaining Q and As, some of which is peppered into the Maniac Cop reviews.
Of all six films, Maniac Cop was the only one I had seen previously, approximately 20 years ago on cable. I remembered vague things about it: Bruce Campbell, gunshots doing nothing to the gigantic Maniac Cop, the cop running over people, the final stunt off the dock, and the final cliffhanger shot.
A hulking silent cop begins killing innocent people and letting criminals go, and an aging Lieutenant McCrae (Tom Atkins) must unravel the mystery without the press causing a panic. On the way, Officer Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) is framed for the murders, and he must fight to clear his name as it becomes more and more obvious that the Maniac Cop was a former super cop thought dead.
The Maniac Cop is hulking beast who can’t be stopped. He takes bullets with no visible effect, has seemingly inhuman strength, and seems to have a supernatural awareness of where to strike his victims at. He’s also got a tragic backstory. A former super cop with a reputation for shooting first, Matt Cordell was framed by the corrupt people in power whom his police work threatened. Put in general population, he was attacked in the shower and badly disfigured and killed. Only he wasn’t 100% dead. Cordell returned to strike down those that betrayed him, and turned the public against the police force. And also to kill a bunch of random innocent people.
Robert Z’Dar is perfect as the silent and destructive Maniac Cop. He is an amazing villain, and many a B movie has been enhanced by Robert Z’Dar stalking the heroes. Z’Dar has one of those faces that doesn’t need makeup, but whe it’s added, he becomes a literal monster. The awesome film Samurai Cop even got it’s name (and poster) because of Maniac Cop, even though Z’Dar wasn’t the cop in Samurai Cop. The Maniac Cop chasing after Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon) while she’s handcuffed to a dead police officer is some top-notch slasher killer riffs.
Maniac Cop was the result of a collaboration between Larry Cohen and William Lustig, the idea was sparked in February, and by March they had gotten Sam Raimi to play a newscaster and shot some scenes of the St. Patrick Day’s parade. That reel was used to try to get funding, and was worked into the script (which wasn’t written at the time of filming those scenes). Lustig helped convince his friend (and fellow director) James Glickenhaus to help finance, which he did through Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment. Larry Cohen visited the set the day Campbell is pointing his gun at two cops and making them get on the floor, and came up with the joke the cops say on the spot (the voices are Cohen and Lustig)
Maniac Cop was the first film Lustig worked on with stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos. Spiro did many of the stunts in the film himself, he’s the guy hanging on to the side of the van as it dumps off the pier, among other places. He would go on to top himself in the sequel.
While Maniac Cop is entertaining, it features some weird plot quirks. Just what exactly is the plan of the Maniac Cop? You could argue that his brain damage means that whatever his plans were, they are warped into being more violent just because. Killing people isn’t going to clear his name (some of this is addressed in the sequel). Campbell’s character getting framed stretched believability, as he’s built completely different than the Maniac Cop. It adds a new level of danger as the cops are now after the hero, but how anyone would think that Campbell can string up 200 pound adult men from the rafters by himself without people in the next room knowing is just ridiculous. Maniac Cop also suffers because the sequel is just so much better, with more ridiculous stunts and more crazy scenarios. Things are still fun and there are some nice twists, meaning Maniac Cop is a worthy movie for any film fan to check out.
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