Synapse // 1988 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // December 1st, 2006
You have the right to remain silent...Forever!
A spin-off sequel to William Lustig's classic slasher flick Maniac, long time audience-pleaser Maniac Cop is a fun, grindhouse throwback. It makes the most out of a penny ante budget, a simple premise, and a great cast. Though the film has been assigned to the grueling public domain beat for several years, Synapse has finally put together an arresting new special edition of everyone's favorite cult cop thriller.
Reports are coming into the precinct that a crazed man in a police officer's uniform has been viciously slaughtering innocent citizens. Detective Frank McRae (Tom Atkins, Night of the Creeps) is convinced that the culprit is one of New York's finest. His superiors, Commissioner Pike (Richard Roundtree, Shaft) and Captain Riley (William Smith, Conan the Barbarian) dismiss this theory until the estranged wife of NYPD officer Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead) is discovered in a sleazy motel with her throat slit. With a brawny build matching eyewitness descriptions, Forrest is arrested for the murders. McRae isn't so sure they've got their man -- especially after Forrest's undercover vice cop girlfriend (Laurene Landon, America 3000) is attacked the next night. Through more investigative work, McRae discovers evidence that points to Matt Cordell (Robert Z'Dar, Tango & Cash), a tough, former officer who was put on trial for abusing a suspect's rights and subsequently murdered behind bars. Or was he?
Despite some set-piece kills and a shadowy, almost supernatural killer, Maniac Cop really isn't a slasher film as it's often categorized. There's no denying that Lustig brings his horror pedigree to the table. Cordell drowns a victim in the wet cement of a freshly-poured sidewalk, and makes decisive use of the ten-inch blade hidden inside his nightstick. But the film is really more of an over-the-top action thriller: a bloody embellishment on revenge films like Death Wish.
Scripted by producer and renowned schlock champion Larry Cohen, the film is all about exploiting its inspired premise. Since the police are supposed to serve and protect the people, wouldn't a vigilante cop on a random killing spree represent the ultimate violation of civic trust? To this end, Maniac Cop is slyly humorous and extremely effective, exploring what it sees as the ultimate form police brutality. As fear of authority figures reaches all new levels and Manhattan is thrown into a panic, one extremely memorable scene has a frazzled housewife blow away an innocent highway patrolman, assuming that he is the unknown killer. It's a sleazy moment to be sure, but it's also simultaneously funny and chilling. Such hallmarks of Cohen's distinctive social satire can be found throughout this engaging B-movie.
Undeniably, one of the best things about Maniac Cop is the film's amazing cast. They turn in worthy, deadpan performances as the terrorized police officers. Cult favorite Campbell is on hand as the put-upon cop out to prove his innocence. He's overshadowed by veteran character actors Richard Roundtree, William Smith, and Tom Atkins, who lend the film the air of respectability that has kept the film a video hit over the last few decades. Likewise, Z'Dar was the perfect choice for the decidedly Dirty Harry-esque Matt Cordell. Imposing and mean, with gargantuan facial features, he brings an aggressive persona to the role despite never delivering a line of dialogue. Things literally explode in the film's exciting climax, as Campbell and Z'Dar go huge chin-to-huge chin in a wildly choreographed final action sequence. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a cameo by Blue Underground honcho Lustig himself, as well as Campbell's earlier partner in crime, Sam Raimi.
Bargain bin releases aside, Maniac Cop was previously given the special edition treatment from Elite Entertainment. But this new edition has to be considered the film's definitive DVD presentation. Sporting a gorgeous 1.85.1 anamorphic transfer, the film is extremely clear, with darker night scenes appearing particularly detailed. Colors are strong and bold, and there is little grain to mar the viewing experience. Impressively, Synapse has prepared both DTS 6.1 and Dolby 5.1 soundtracks for the film, which really open up the mix for directional effects, a bigger music score, and all-around more enjoyable viewing.
Where the disc really shines, however, is in the extra department. Synapse has served up yet another impressive platter of interesting supplemental material. Lustig, Campbell, Cohen, and composer Jay Chattaway collaborate on a lively commentary track that previously graced the earlier Elite disc. Featuring fascinating behind-the-scenes anecdotes and a heaping dose good-natured fun, it's an essential listen for any fan of the film. Also making their reappearance here are a handful of additional superfluous scenes used to pad out Japanese television broadcasts, plus a wealth of TV, radio and theatrical trailers. The sole new featurette is a fun, 12-minute interview with the personable Z'Dar, who talks extensively about his career, as well as his eventual casting as this film's titular psychopath. It's great to finally have his perspective added alongside the others.
Aided by Lustig's capable, no-frills direction, Maniac Cop delivers all the thrills it promises and more. It may not be terribly memorable, but it's a solidly made, entertaining genre film that isn't afraid to throw you to the ground, read you your rights, and stuff you in the back of a cruiser.
Not guilty, flatfoot!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary by writer/producer Larry Cohen, director William Lustig, and actor Bruce Campbell
* Featurette with Robert Z'Dar
* Additional scenes filmed for Japanese Television broadcast
* Trailer and TV spots