I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Maniac Cop

tn_maniaccopMANIAC COP is like an ’80s b-movie dream team. William Lustig (MANIAC) directs, Larry Cohen (IT’S ALIVE!) writes, James Glickenhaus (THE EXECUTIONER, THE PROTECTOR) executive produces. And check out this cast: Tom Atkins (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS) is Frank McCrae, a tough NYC lieutenant investigating a murder spree by a mysterious dude in a police uniform. Bruce Campbell, one year after EVIL DEAD 2, is Jack Forrest, a cop who is implicated in the murders and goes on the run to find out who really did it. Hundra herself, Laurene Landon, plays his crimp-haired mistress Theresa Mallory, a fellow cop who helps him in his quest. Richard Roundtree (SHAFT) and William Smith (HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN) are the hardass commissioner and captain. Sam Raimi has a cameo. And also Jake LaMotta, for some reason. And Robert Z’Dar (TANGO & CASH) plays the maniac cop. He’s mostly in silhouette, so his superhumanly giant chin is not as much of a distraction as in some movies.

(Wait a minute… how did Bruce Campbell title his autobiography “If Chins Could Talk Kill” when he co-starred with Z’Dar? He knows his chin ain’t shit.)

Jack gets involved because his wife (Victoria Catlin, GHOULIES, Twin Peaks) notices him sneaking around and suspects him of being the maniac cop. But of course he’s really going to see Theresa. Whoops. Since his wife gets killed by the maniac and left in his hotel room, now it looks like he’s the guy.

But he’s not the guy. We slowly find out the backstory of the actual maniac, Matt Cordell. From the sounds of it he could’ve been the hero in a regular action movie. He’s a supercop who “was a death sentence” for anyone they sent him after. But he knew too much about the mayor and the commissioner and all those guys taking pay offs, so they set him up. He ended up in Sing Sing, where many of the cons had been busted by him, so they had a field day on him. The first time we see Z’Dar’s face clearly is in a dreamily shot flashback where he’s attacked in the shower. In a precursor to the bath house fight in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE EASTERN PROMISES, he manages to hurt all of them pretty bad before he’s stabbed and slashed to death.

mp_maniaccopBut now it turns out he’s free and alive? Not necessarily on that second one there. If he’s dead, undead or indead that would explain why when he takes off his white gloves he has veiny zombie type hands, and why he seems to be able to take as many bullets as you toss his way. Chest or head. But it doesn’t seem like he’s getting revenge from beyond the grave, exactly, ’cause he seems to be killing anybody he comes across, he’s not specifically going after the corrupt fat cats who set him up or even the street criminals he hated. I don’t know what kind of case we can build against him because there’s no motive.

Whatever his deal is he’s so huge he fights like Jason. He effortlessly picks people up and tosses them. Also he’s good at just showing up places and standing in the shadows looking terrifying. But also he shoots guns, that’s something your average slasher does not do. And he goes up behind an innocent guy on the street, handcuffs him, chases him around and then smothers him in wet concrete so they gotta jackhammer him out the next morning. He’s a maniac, all right.

Campbell is playing a completely straight leading man role here, which, remember, he could do back then. The only hint I noticed of his physical comedy from EVIL DEAD 2 is the look on his face when he gets hurled across a warehouse.

It’s kind of an action movie and kind of a slasher movie. It has a taste of each. The off screen body count is probly bigger than on screen because of the part where Jack and Theresa are getting interrogated and then they come out and every person in the damn police station has become a corpse hanging from the ceiling. Of course Jack gets blamed for this too, which starts to strain credibility in my opinion. I mean, look at the guy. He’s not Rambo.

Probly my favorite horror setup is when Theresa is in the custody of a sexually harassing asshole cop who suddenly gets killed mid-mouthing off: “Y’know I’ll tell ya somethin else–” <STAB!> No, you definitely won’t tell her anything else. So she gets chased by Cordell while dragging a dead guy she’s cuffed to. Once she gets the cuffs off she climbs out the window and I think it’s really Landon climbing along the ledge of a building. The urban equivalent of the HALLOWEEN thing where the slasher chases the Final Girl out onto the roof of a suburban house.

It’s one of those movies that they could make back then, where they shoot some crazy stunts on the real streets of New York. There’s a great fall out a window onto a car, a paddy wagon jumping off a dock and flipping in slow motion as a guy jumps out the side, stuff like that. Stunt coordinator Spiro Razotos would go on to not only do all the MANIAC COP movies, but also the even more impressive trilogy of FAST FIVE-FURIOUS SEVEN.

Also it’s cool that they made a major event happen during the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade and got footage of the actors during the actual parade. Cohen also did that in his own movie GOD TOLD ME TO, in the scene with Andy Kaufman.

The script is not as much of the clever high concept as some of Cohen’s stuff, and it doesn’t really try to explore the gimmickry of “police themed slasher” as much as you might think seeing the poster with the A+ tagline “YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT… FOREVER.” But it definitely shows his knack for odd characters. For example, how many movies have the hero be an adulterer and don’t judge him for it? The poor wife just found out, then gets murdered, and he’s running around with his mistress and somehow it’s okay for us to like both of them. I noticed, though, that he still wears his wedding ring.

To me the most interesting character in the movie is (spoilery) Sheree North as Sally Noland, a beloved “fixture at headquarters” and “den mother to us all” who walks with a cane and secretly aids Cordell in his rampage. She has this naive notion that he’s gonna be a righteous crusader cleaning up the city, but also she’s a really desperate person, she attaches herself to him to feel important, and to feel protected. She clearly doesn’t feel equal in the relationship, and when she knows she’s not needed anymore she flips out. She’s really good.

The primary source of fear in this movie is the idea that a policeman, the very person you expect to protect you, is in fact going to harm you. The idea is illustrated in the opening, when a woman being chased by two muggers runs into Cordell and starts thanking God, believing she is now safe. But he grabs her by the throat, lifts her off the ground and then snaps her neck.

As recent events in the United States remind us, that’s more of a white perspective. Plenty of white people hate cops, but we generally have less reason to fear them. We have less experience being profiled or randomly harassed or roughed up by them. Cohen is smart enough to draw on this disparity in a news report about the killings. One of the few black characters in the movie is a man-on-street interviewee who says “I’ve seen plenty of my friends murdered by cops. Shot in the back, shot when they didn’t have a gun or a knife, claimin the suspect had a shiny object. You know cops like killin. That’s why they cops. Yeah. Who’s gonna be next, huh?”

For that guy the Maniac Cop seems like business as usual, but for everybody else in the movie having to fear cops is a new phenomenon. One woman, seeing a cop come up and knock on her window, freaks out and shoots him. I wonder when something like that will happen in a Stand Your Ground state?

But if this is a commentary on anything I think it’s more the tropes of cop movies than anything in the real world. It sort of shows how a Dirty Harry type could be a problem if he got zombified and became less selective about who to slather with his justice.

As far as Lustig’s movies go I don’t find this as satisfying as MANIAC or VIGILANTE, but it’s an enjoyable movie, a unique mix of elements that never goes quite where you think it will.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 at 12:20 pm and is filed under Action, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

31 Responses to “Maniac Cop”

  1. Bruce’s biography is “If Chins Could KILL”

    Come on Vern… every chin can talk… assuming it’s attached to a mouth a suppose…

  2. This is one of my all-time favourites and on the subject of great stunts, I recommend the sequel if only for an amazing stunt that ups the ante on the standard car chase. I won’t spoil how but if you watch it you’ll know what I mean when you see it.

  3. The third one also has a great car chase where one of the drivers is in a full-body burn the whole time.

  4. This is a good film, but I love the second one. As, Kev pointed out it has some amazing stunt work. Actually I think the guy that handled all the stunt driving on MC2 went on to work on the recent Fast & Furious films. I also think Lusting is on record that he feels MC2 is his best film.

  5. Oh, and Jake LaMotta is in the movie because he’s William Lustig’s uncle.

  6. Gotta appreciate that of the nine (non-porno) movies William Lustig did, four of ’em have the word “Maniac” in the title. There should definitely be some kind of congressional medal of honor for that.

  7. But yeah, MC2 is a legitimately great action-horror movie. Awesome stunts, a more interesting story, and more satire. The third is also pretty good, with the great Robert Davi returning from Part 2 as the hero.

  8. The bath house fight was in Eastern Promises.

  9. Also the second one’s contribution to the field of “end credits rap songs that recount the movie’s plot” cannot be discounted. It’s right up there with “Are You Ready For Freddy” and “Ninja Rap,” in my opinion, though perhaps not as legit as “Deepest Bluest.”

  10. Dang you know I’ve been meaning to see this for over a decade now. Time to finally find it.

  11. MANIAC COP 2 really ups the ante with the inclusion of Robert Davi. The whole series is one of the better trilogies in terms of straight up entertainment value.

  12. Jackie Earl Haley is also in part 3.

  13. Factoid:

    Robert Z’Dars chin is caused by the rare genetic disease cherubism: http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherubism

    The more you know.

  14. Come to think of it the scene Majestyk is referencing is the one I was thinking of and he’s right, it’s in part 3 not part 2. I guess a rewatch is in order.

  15. Recently saw the three of these back-to-back (had only seen the first before) and enjoyed it tremendously. The third one is admittedly not too hot, but still fairly enjoyable. I imagine the stunt driver Charles refers to is Spiro Razatos, also mentioned in the review. He, of course, also directed the super-trashy Class of 99 sequel CLASS OF 1999 II: THE SUBSTITUTE with Sasha Mitchell as the indestructible cyborg teacher who – wait for it/spoiler – only thinks he’s a cyborg. Classy stuff, obviously, and still on Vern’s to-do list, I believe.

  16. The Undefeated Gaul

    December 9th, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    “Deepest Bluest.” That reminds me how much I love that movie and how I should go put it on again, it’s been a few years. I have never been able to make anyone understand the glory of Deep Blue Sea, except on this forum. For that, I am thankful.

  17. What I love about “Deepest Bluest” is how committed LL is to the concept. He raps the entire song from the perspective of a supersmart man-eating shark who for some reason has to wear a hat that resembles a shark’s fin.

    “Abandoned pirate ships
    Eels and sod scum
    Fish that glow in the dark
    The Titanic’s hull
    Underwater storms
    Your blood is so warm
    Your life vest is off
    And that turns me on
    Killer for centuries
    The Gotti of the deep
    In the next millennium
    I’m still gonna creep
    Sand under my belly, ocean over my head
    Through the light in the shadows
    You become the living dead”

    That shit is both really ill and profoundly stupid. I love it to death.

  18. And before anyone points it out, I do know that the chorus is an old LL line, but it’s re-recorded for the song so I’m assuming the shark-fin hat is canon.

  19. The Undefeated Gaul

    December 9th, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Honestly I never listened to the lyrics that carefully, to me it was just “Deepest, bluest, my head is like a shark’s fin!” and that was enough. I still love that melody as I do that entire finale, ending with LL suggesting Tom Jane maybe pull his goddamn legs from the water, just in case there’s still something left trying to eat them. One of the best and most satisfying final acts in cinema history. That hero theme that comes blasting in when LL pops up again after we all think he’s been eaten. Magic. Trevor Rabin is not celebrated enough.

  20. DEEP BLUE SEA is a crazy, crazy, crazy fucking movie, stuff like that lady having to strip off her wetsuit for a totally gratuitous underwear shot to LL calling the shark “the Devil” and saving his life by stabbing his cross necklace into it’s eye, who comes up with this stuff?

    And of course Samuel L Jackson getting *SPOILER* eaten right in the middle of his big rousing speech.

  21. Do I smell a franchise review coming?

  22. A funny line in Bruce Campbell’s book “If Chins Could Kill” (actual title) relates to this movie.

    On p220, Bruce describes the first rehearsal for THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, and his awe at seeing the distinguished cast, especially Paul Newman, arrive.

    “No more low-budget stuff for me, I thought. Time to cross Maniac Cop off the resumé!”

  23. I can´t say I care about this one but part two is great. By reducing the dull slasherformula and putting emphasis on action instead made it a much more enjoyable movie in my opinion.

  24. Actual footage of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade also figures heavily in another shot-on-location-in-grimy-old-New York action movie, STATE OF GRACE. And that’s a good film overall, but the St. Patrick’s day bar shootout finale is GREAT.

  25. Arne Kristian Lindmo

    December 12th, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Enjoyed this movie a lot. Saw it on my laptop while having my sleeping infant in my lap, because I thought the movie would be bad enough to not bug me if he woke up and interruptd the screening. Lucky for me he did not and I could enjoy some great stunts (the actual diving out of the car going into the water blew me away – what if the car had tilted slightly left so the dive would be straight down and have the car landing on top?) and that awesome 80s B-horror vibe.

  26. RIP Robert Z’Dar

  27. Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m gonna do my level best to run the trilogy tonight in Mr. Z’Dar’s honor.

  28. So it took me an extra day, but I finished my MANIAC COPathon as promised. I came out of it with a healthier respect for the craft of the first one and an even greater appreciation for the work of future F&F stunt coordinator Spiro Razotos, who at this point has got to be the most slept-on stuntman of all time. His name should be up there with the Armstrongs and the Van Horns and the Lee Hookers.

    On the commentary track for MC1, director Lustig name-dropped a 1987 slasher flick named THE NIGHT STALKER, starring Z’Dar as an unstoppable serial killer, as the movie that got Z’Dar the Cordell job. So I checked it out. It stars respected character actor Charles Napier in a rare leading role as an alcoholic cop with a hooker girlfriend. He has a pet squirrel he feeds vodka. He gets into a lunch counter fight with the fat guy from ROAD HOUSE and gratuitously burns the dude’s face on the griddle. He is kung fu kicked by a girl and knocks her out with a chair. He has a partner who thinks police brutality is hilarious. Their rapport is lived in and believable, and Napier’s drinking is seen as both a serious character flaw and a source of humor. Z’Dar is a berserker-looking dude in a leather vest who learned an ancient Oriental ritual for becoming immortal through continuous murder, so he runs around whisper-chanting in an unknown language and painting kabuki masks on dead hookers. He gets shot like a hundred times and doesn’t feel a thing. There are multiple excellent high falls. George “Buck” Flower shows up for like two shots in a strangling montage. The climax has a car chase and a factory shootout with multiple explosions and people swinging around on giant chains.

    People, this is a great film. It’s like DEAD BANG crossed with THE FIRST POWER. If you get those references, you’re gonna like this movie. Majestyk says check it out.

  29. Sounds awesome.

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