Some titles say it all, and Maniac Cop (1988) – starring cult movie icon Bruce Campbell – would fall into that category. There’s a maniac cop on the streets of New York, killing people, dressed as a cop…and he’s a maniac. Detective McCrae (Tom Atkins) believes the culprit – as well as being a cop himself – is also getting help from someone within the department.
The powers that be rush to accept patrolman Jack Forrest (Campbell) as the prime suspect when he has in fact been framed by the real killer.McCrae and Forrest’s girlfriend, a tough undercover policewoman called Teresa, are the only ones to suspect the truth but their investigation puts them in danger as the next possible victims of the madman policeman.
The film is a late entry into the slasher genre from Grindhouse director William Lustig, who had started his career in pornography with the wonderful nom de plume ‘Billy Bagg’. Maniac Cop’s high concept would be resilient enough to produce a trilogy and a hilarious tagline, ‘You have the right to remain silent…Forever!’
However, in some ways the film’s laughable premise feels under-exploited. The kills are not quite as gory as you might expect and the ‘so bad it’s good’ dialogue isn’t quite bad enough to be that good. The story is well put together and features cameos from Richard Roundtree (better known as Shaft), boxer Jake LaMotta and Evil Dead (1981) director Sam Raimi even turns up as a TV reporter.
Screenwriter Larry Cohen nods towards fears of police brutality and the attractions of vigilante justice, but his maniac cop – played with a creepy physical presence by the strangely chinned Robert Z’Dar – ignores muggers and petty criminals to prey instead on the apparently innocent and the police themselves.
Ultimately, Maniac Cop makes for an untaxing ninety minutes of enjoyable guff. For fans of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez’s Grindhouse project and its offshoots (Hobo with a Shotgun , Machete ) this will be a rewarding trip back to one of the cult classics of the genre, cheesy soundtrack and all.