Release Date: May 13th, 1988
Directed by: William Lustig
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Richard Roundtree, Robert Z’Dar, Laurene Landon, William Smith, Sheree North, Buck Flower
Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, 85 Minutes
This is a film that stars four incredible bad asses. First you have Tom Atkins, who kicks the bejesus out of anything in his path even if he doesn’t look like a traditional action star. Then you have Bruce Campbell a.k.a. Ash Williams from Evil Dead and Brisco County Jr. from The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Add in Richard Roundtree, who will always be known as Shaft, and Robert Z’Dar, most famous for his role here, as the Maniac Cop, but who has also been in a slew of bad ass roles over his career.
If that isn’t enough to sell you on this film, I don’t know what is.
In the film, there is a serial killer who seems to be picking random people to murder. It isn’t long before it is discovered that the killer is a cop. Bruce Campbell’s character gets blamed for the killings but he isn’t the guy doing it. Tom Atkins is leading the investigation and has to answer to his boss, Richard Roundtree. The killer is a hulking giant of a man in a police uniform. The Maniac Cop is actually Robert Z’Dar and the story tries to put the pieces together in an effort to discover his identity and why he’s become a murderous maniac.
While this film fits the slasher formula, it is more of a whodunit mystery. This film is also more of a crime thriller, whereas its sequels went the more traditional slasher route.
It is a pretty decent film overall but it isn’t anything exceptional. The cast makes it much better than it should be. The movie is bogged down by poor editing, direction and a shrill and incomprehensible score. The music is fine to a point but there are scenes where the score takes over and is a distraction, most notably in the shower fight scene.
The cinematography is pretty good though. While the film is dark, for the most part, the highlights and subtle lighting work add a depth to the visual side of storytelling. The scene where the Maniac Cop is flashing back to his demise in prison, is a good example of how a really dark shot can have life, as the sliver of light highlighting the character’s eye while his body is a black silhouette adds a sense of humanity to the monster.
Maniac Cop is not so much a classic, as it is just a really cool slasher picture that is different from the norm. It takes itself more seriously and it has a bit more gravitas than your run of the mill 1980s masked killer movie.