Synapse // 1988 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // September 26th, 2011
You must have been so afraid, Cassie...and then, you saw a cop.
In New York City, a young woman runs from a pair of assailants. She sees a police officer. "Officer, help me!" she screams as she hurries toward him. The officer picks her up by the neck and kills her.
A young couple out for a drive are pulled over by a cop. The cop motions for the man to get out of the car. While his girlfriend watches, the man is stabbed by the cop and thrown into the car windshield.
A musician returning from a gig is accosted by a cop. The cop handcuffs the man. The man runs, the cop in pursuit. When the cop catches the man...well, he doesn't exactly read him his rights.
Is there a serial killer out there masquerading as a protector of the peace? Or is it, as veteran detective McCrae (Tom Atkins, Lethal Weapon) suspects, a Maniac Cop?
Maniac Cop was director William Lustig's third film, not counting a couple of pornos he made in the late '70s. His first non-porn film was the great, gritty, and disturbing Maniac, one of the most memorable low-budget indies to come out of the '80s. He followed that up with the lesser-known Fred Williamson urban-revenge actioner Vigilante, and then came Maniac Cop. With Maniac Cop, Lustig found some mainstream success without completely sacrificing his cult cred, and the film went on to spawn a pair of sequels.
Maniac Cop is a cool movie. It has a cool title. It has a cool cast: Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead) plays a cop being framed for the maniac's crimes, Richard Roundtree (Shaft) is the police commissioner, William Smith (Hell Comes to Frogtown) is a cynical police captain, and Robert Z'Dar (Soultaker) is the title character. It has cool violence. It's an easy and entertaining -- and gruesome -- watch.
But I was expecting a little bit more than the film had to offer -- maybe, due to my fondness for the far darker Maniac. Unlike the earlier film, Maniac Cop is extremely accessible; it looks glossier, there's nothing controversial about it, and while there's a high body count, the violence is pretty well on par with what was being produced in R-rated horror post-Friday the 13th.
While the acting is fine -- Campbell, as always, is goofily terrific -- the script, by Larry Cohen (It's Alive), who also produced, is awfully random. Coincidences and contradictions fuel this fest. There's a whole story as to how the Maniac Cop became the Maniac Cop, but it doesn't jibe with his choice of victims -- one character even articulates this, as though speaking on behalf of the audience. Characters do stupid things, and the police seem to have zero investigative skills or forensic experience. There's a rampage that's extremely well done but makes little sense in the context of the story, and when the people MC should have been targeting all along finally get theirs, it's quick and anti-climactic.
Plus, the Maniac Cop is superhuman. He's like Jason in blue. Like Jason, we never learn how Maniac Cop developed the ability to survive a fusillade or the various other indignities visited upon his person, nor do we understand how he can seemingly appear out of thin air and then disappear just as quickly. With Jason, it was basically understood that he was some sort of avenging monster from the beyond, but a similar explanation in Maniac Cop just seems like a cop-out.
Now, is it possible I'm being too hard on Maniac Cop? Probably. It's a fun, mindless gorefest with good effects, plenty of action, and enough of a plot to keep it chugging along between kills. I guess I was just expecting something more from Lustig than a generally conventional slasher flick.
The disc from Synapse is sharp looking, with a solid 1080p transfer that retains the "film" look. Contrast and color are near perfect, and there are just enough small blemishes to remind us that this was a low-budget film. Audio comes in three flavors, with an outstanding DTS-HD 6.1 track leading the way.
Synapse put out a special edition DVD in 2006 that contained a commentary track with Campbell, Cohen, Lustig, and Jay Chattaway, who composed the score. That track had been ported from an earlier release; unfortunately, it didn't make it to this one. An interview with Z'Dar that was on the DVD has been ported here, along with trailers and TV spots, plus some scenes that were added for Japanese television. These scenes -- which involve the mayor's increasing fear that the Maniac Cop is coming after him -- actually work pretty well from a narrative standpoint.
The only new additions here are a pair of interviews, one with Atkins and the other with actor Danny Hicks, who has a brief role as a cop who roughs up Campbell's character. These are both short, entertaining pieces.
It's a good-looking Blu-ray, but the skimpy supplements -- and loss of the best supplement from the 2006 release -- might have fans thinking twice before upgrading.
As far as the film...while it's a little more conventional than it could have been, it's a good time.
Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 6.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 4.0 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Scenes
* Art Gallery
* TV and Radio Spots