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.