Maniac Cop

Costumes provided courtesy of Chess King
William Lustig
Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Robert Z’Dar
The Setup: 
Some freaked-out cop dude is on a killing spree.

This is one of those movies I’ve heard about and seen around forever, and finally decided I needed to check out. I knew it was directed by William Lustig, famed for Maniac, but I didn’t know it was written by Larry Cohen of It’s Alive and God Told Me To [among others] fame. Cohen is known [to me at least] for having interesting little situations with clever twists and vivid characters… but sometimes when his situations aren’t THAT interesting and when his characters aren’t THAT vivid, he just writes it and has someone else direct it, and that seems to be the case here. Anyway, this movie also features Robert Z’Dar [who later went on to rock Samurai Cop], Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins [of Halloween III], Williams Smith [of Run, Angel, Run and Memorial Valley Massacre] and Richard Roundtree, Shaft himself. Really all we’re missing is Tom Savini.

So this was made in 1988, a sad year or women’s hairstyles, as evidenced in the first scene, in which a woman with rather large, flopsy locks is assaulted on a deserted New York street. She fights off her assailants, then runs to a cop she sees standing in the distance. But rather than serve and protect her, he strangles her and tosses her limp body! Well that’s a fine how do you do.

So Tom Atkins, now all silver haired and lookin’ pretty good to me, is on the case. Everyone thinks it’s just a madman DRESSED as a cop, but Atkins thinks it may actually BE a cop, which does not sit well with chief of police Richard Roundtree. Then this other guy is assaulted and killed by the cop on a deserted New York street. One might be distracted by his trying to push apartment buzzers with his nose, but even this can’t prevent one from asking: Were New York streets ever really THIS deserted? He ends up drying in a fairly creative way that will ensure that his face is remembered on the sidewalks of NYC.

So the populous is now terrified of cops, which is the one interesting idea I was telling you about. One woman sees a friendly cop pulling over to help her with her car trouble and, well, let’s just say that she doesn’t take the risk of trust. We meet William Smith as a badass bald senior cop, and Bruce Campbell as a regular officer who has grown a little cold to his wife’s affections, to say the least. As soon as he leaves, the wife gets a call from a woman asking “Is he going to kill again?” I just can’t get enough of menacing, psychologically damaging crank calls. Anyway, the wife follows him to some sleazy motel and finds him in the sweaty embrace of this fellow officer [female, thank you] with crimped blonde locks, the full horror of which will only be revealed later.

So Campbell is framed as the maniac cop! We have a nice news montage that demonstrates the way the city now hates and distrusts the cops, and have by now fully come to appreciate the fact that Atkins’ wardrobe was clearly provided courtesy of Chess King.

So Atkins has a suspicion, that the Maniac Cop [MC] is this guy Cordell, who has a wife that’s still in the department. He follows the wife and sees her meet with the MC, pleading with him to stop killing innocent people, just people that deserve it. We find out a little history on our MC, which is that he was a volatile rogue cop who put a lot of criminals away, then was sent to Sing Sing himself, locked up with the very guys he put away. He was jumped in the shower, where we get a chance to admire Z’Dar’s quite nice torso, slashed and left for dead. Back in the present day, we soon discover that the MC is pretty much bulletproof, making us wonder if he is some sort of zombie or something—which makes the whole thing less interesting to me, but whatever.

So Campbell is in jail when he is met by Atkins and his girlfriend, her horrifying hair, like stalks of wheat left to dry just after harvest, fully revealed in the harsh light of day. Unfortunately, MC is also in the office, kills his own wife, then dumps Atkins out the window. Campbell escapes and goes straight over to stand by the window looking out [like an idiot], where it looks once more like HE is the maniac cop. Add this to the fact that before Atkins died, he left a message on Roundtree’s machine that the MC is being helped by a female police officer, making it look STILL MORE like Campbell is the MC. This is on top of a lot of other coinkidinks that I haven’t mentioned, which strain credulity but, in Cohen fashion, offer a somewhat interesting angle from which to view the action from.

I won’t spoil the shocking conclusion [which was a bit too over-the-top for me], but I’ll give you some highlights. At one point the girlfriend is handcuffed to a cop, then the MC kills that cop, leaving her to have to drag this corpse around as she tries to escape. Pretty clever! Campbell and the MC finally duke it out, amounting to a showstopper battle of the chins—although it must be said that Campbell’s chin, despite its fame, is NO match for Z’Dar’s. Toward the very end there is am amazing stunt where a man jumps off a large truck AS it flies off the end of a pier, landing in the water just a few feet from the crashing truck! Under the credits is an arial shot of Manhattan that documents how much the city has been built up over the past 20 years—kind of amazing to see. And it’s over!

I must say that I had kind of hoped for more. It had Cohen’s typical interesting ideas [people suddenly fear cops instead of looking to them for protection], and intriguing characters and clever situations, but all just not clever and interesting enough. The story is all a little trumped-up to highlight the concepts, which detracts from one’s ability to just settle in and believe it. As a result the whole thing does seem to go on and on and get a little tired, despite being less than 90 minutes. I also grew weary of the Campbell-must-prove-his-innocence story, relying as it did on so many little coincidences. And once we realize that MC is well-neigh indestructible, that loses a lot of interest, too. So it starts out okay and slowly deflates over the course of its running time, and had completely lost my attention by the end.

There are many goofy elements and an all-star B cast and all that, so amusement is to be had… just not as much as one would hope.

Should you watch it: 

As you like, but it seems that there are many, many other things you should watch first.