PSYCHO COP is no MANIAC COP, I’ll tell you that. You know, MANIAC COP is a low budget indie exploitation movie, but it’s the kind with scope. The kind where they use all the resources they have, sneak shots on location, try to push the envelope on stunts, stretch the budget, get as much bang for the nickel as they possibly can. The kind that were made to play in a theater in Times Square for a while but that people are still interested in today. PSYCHO COP (which came out between MANIAC COPs 1 and 2) is the other kind.
Instead of an action-horror hybrid this is a generic shitty slasher with its closest thing to a redeeming value being the cop-themed killer, Officer Joe Vickers (played by Bobby Ray Shafer, now best known as Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration on The Office). He’s an officer who suddenly goes on a killing spree. Also he’s satanic. In the opening he puts on his uniform in a dingy apartment with a pentagram painted on the wall and candles everywhere. He dips his hands in a bowl of blood before putting on his sunglasses. Later he sets up a bunch of wooden crosses in the woods for a ritual.
The victims (they almost don’t count as protagonists) are three obnoxious college dudes and their girlfriends who road trip in a convertible to a huge, fancy house that they rented out in the middle of nowhere using money they got from investing their tuition money in stocks. There’s a pool and a jacuzzi and a brawny, ax-wielding caretaker who lives in a dumpy trailer nearby. He only introduces himself as “the caretaker,” no name, and the actor is also not credited. Possibly so as to avoid reprisals from B.O.S.O., the Brotherhood of Satanic Officers.
This is the kind of script where at least 90% of the dialogue is the characters whining and complaining at each other. One exception is right at the beginning when one of the girls tells a joke: “What has 18 legs and two tits?”
A guy in the car says “a gang bang,” but the girl’s answer is “The Supreme Court.” So that would be a good illustration of the difference in intelligence and attitudes between the genders in the movie, if they were to go on to be real characters.
They get followed to the house by a police car, then try to have fun drinking beer and lounging. They have pretty good instincts though because for some reason they know to panic when they can’t find the caretaker. Even if there was no psycho cop and he had just gone to the store to get milk their vacation would’ve been ruined because they expend so much energy on worrying about him being gone and trying to figure out why. They also get real upset when a purse and some beer disappear. I guess that’s fair though.
It should be noted that on the way there one of them throws litter from the car. This never comes up again but I think the emphasis on it might imply that it’s the source of their troubles. What kind of a dumb asshole throws garbage on the ground? The kind that needs to get Psycho Copped.
The DVD I watched was put out by a small company that just transferred it straight from a VHS tape with the questionable claim that it’s in the public domain. In the UK it’s slapped onto a double feature with TALONS OF THE EAGLE. But I doubt anybody cares too much that there’s not a higher quality release. Filmatistically it’s amateurish and crappy in that distinctly late ’80s b-movie type of way. Since there’s no style or atmosphere, no likable characters and minimal effects, following the standard slasher formula is no fun. You gotta put some meat on those bones for it to work. And also to make the audience forgive nonsensical cheats like a door she can’t exit because she doesn’t have the key. What kind of an ineptly designed house is this?
This might have the most uses ever of lines like “if this is another one of your stupid practical jokes…” Also, “I’ll kill you if this is a joke” and “I’d lose my head if it wasn’t for you.” If I’m not mistaken though there is no decapitation in this one. That would be too much work.
The only fun comes from Shafer as the cop, speaking in a deep commercial narrator type voice, making terrible jokes and then laughing. He says things like “You shouldn’t run from the police!” to somebody he’s strangling, or, before tasing somebody, “Tired? Rundown? Need some energy?” And the more Freddy-esque “Have a heart! Ha ha ha!” while holding a heart that he ripped out of another cop’s chest. But my favorite is when he’s on the roof of a car, reaching in to commandeer the steering wheel, and saying “Turning! Turning!” for some reason.
I guess I also got sort of a kick out of the dudes in the movie because at least two of them seemed to me like they were gay, but they’re playing macho aggressively hetero dudes. So it adds some unintentional subtext.
Writer/director Wallace Potts also directed at least one gay porn movie and was an administration assistant on SHARKY’S MACHINE. Of the cast, the one who seems to have gone on to the most notable career is Greg Joujon-Roche, who plays Zack (whichever one that is). He had previously been in HARD ROCK NIGHTMARE and has since become a personal trainer who choreographed the workout montages for G.I. JANE.
Of course the inspiration for watching these movies was the recent rash of highly publicized police killings. But even more than the MANIAC COP series, PSYCHO COP does not really address police brutality in any kind of meaningful way, it’s just using it as a horror gimmick. Since all of the characters are rich white kids there is nothing to be gleaned about police/race/class issues. It does, however, capture the more low key fear/hate that young people have of cops as the authority figures who will pull them over for speeding or ruin their unruly drinking plans. So it does have that: the group of kids seeing a cop car on the side of the road and getting scared. That’s the type of cop-fear they’re playing off of in this one.
The world of PSYCHO COP does not recognize a systemic problem with police brutality. The Psycho Cop is a weird anomaly rooted not in machismo, prejudice or lack of accountability, but in occultism. And the rest of the force are on it fucking immediately. They notice that Officer Vickers is missing, they search his apartment, run his fingerprints, connect him to murders, come after him, openly admit that this is what’s going on. In fact, an officer that reports to the scene immediately tells the surviving kids the Psycho’s entire backstory including that he was using a fake name, had a history of mental problems, even going back to his childhood and the events that caused him to become disillusioned with God and turn to devil worship. I mean, they have done a thorough investigation and are immediately revealing all to the public without them even asking about it. Complete transparency.
Then in the last scene it’s implied that not only is Vickers a fake name, but also the name Hanley that they said was his real name is also fake and he’s actually some notorious serial killer. So the takeaway here is that they need to do way better background checks when they hire new officers. So in that sense it is a story that is applicable to current events. Don’t hire officers that have been found unfit for duty on other forces, and also don’t hire officers that are escaped serial killers. Try harder.
And you too, makers of late ’80s z-grade slashers. I think you are capable of at least a y-grade if you put some more elbow grease into it.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.