Disc Spotlight: Maniac Cop (Blu-ray)

You have the right to remain silent… forever!

It should surprise no one that Larry Cohen came up with the tag line above before a single word of his script for Maniac Cop was written. It’s beyond perfect, and it sums up the attitude behind the film pretty damn well. Director William Lustig had been best known for his Joe Spinell slasher, Maniac, so Cohen worked his magic and scripted this film with a similar sounding title but a more blackly comic tone. The result is a genre “classic” that spawned two sequels of varying quality and remains an entertaining slice of horror cinema.

Arrow Video in the UK released Maniac Cop to Blu-ray last month, and we gave it a test drive below.

The Movie:

A madman in blue is stalking the streets of New York City and killing seemingly ordinary citizens. Is he a rogue cop or a maniac dressed up to look like one? It takes one to know one, so Lt. Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins) is assigned to the case by the top brass, but what he discovers just may be something they don’t want to hear. But he’s Tom Atkins goddammit so they’re going to hear it whether they want to or not.

And by ‘may be’ I mean ‘is’ as the motivation for this killer cop involves a crime from the past that’s now returning to haunt them. Caught up in the bloodletting maelstrom are Officer Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) who becomes prime suspect when his violent behavior gets out of hand and Officer Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon). Domestic abuse, police brutality, and political agendas are all facets of the story, but the core remains bloody murder and a race to discover the truth. And then more murder.

The movie looks good too especially in many of the silhouette shots of the titular killer. The opening scene in particular makes excellent use of light and angles, and while the killer’s face is revealed late in the film these earlier attacks are more threatening for what we don’t see. Lustig stages a couple of relatively impressive action sequences too.

Robert Z’Dar plays the barrel-chested killer cop who himself remains silent throughout the film, but he manages to convey just enough to make him something more than a faceless killer. And you really can’t go wrong with Atkins. The man plays his seemingly 1000th role as a cop with attitude, but when he’s this entertaining at it why change? Plus I imagine he shows up on set with his own trench coat by now.

Maniac Cop is a fun horror film that rides a balancing act between terror and camp fairly well. It never shies away from the neck snapping, throat slashing thrills, but it makes time for a loose and casual atmosphere as well as some over the top ridiculousness. It’s not jokey in the typical sense, and Campbell even reigns it in from his usual eyebrow arching, but it’s not the heavy, dark, dread-filled experience that fans of Maniac might expect. Cohen’s script and Lustig’s direction would come together three more times after this, but their initial outing remains their best. Sorry Uncle Sam.

The Blu-ray:

Arrow Video’s newly remastered, high definition transfer of Maniac Cop looks pretty solid and is both bright and sharp. It’s relatively free of debris and doesn’t appear to have suffered excessive DNR of any kind. The disc’s special features offer some interesting insights, but they surprisingly lack any input from Lustig or Z’Dar.

The disc’s special features include:

  • Doomed Detective: Tom Atkins on Maniac Cop (20:14) – Atkins reminisces about the movie, his co-stars and career, why Night of the Creeps is his favorite role, his affection for Patrick Lussier and their plans for a Hellraiser remake
  • Lady of the Night: Laurene Landon Remembers Maniac Cop (13:26) – Landon discusses why she took the role in Maniac Cop, her audition for Robert Aldrich’s All the Marbles which required her to wrestle other women in front of studio executives, her mad crush on Bruce Campbell and her career in general
  • Scripting a New Slasher Super-Villain: Larry Cohen on Matt Cordell (18:55) – Cohen talks about how the idea for Maniac Cop was hashed out in thirty seconds, why NYC cops are far better than LA cops, why he would have preferred a more agile actor behind the lead character, and why his films seem to have such long life spans
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • TV Spots

I was sent a disc-only review copy of Maniac Cop, so I can’ t speak to the physical extras included in the release other than to list them. They include:

  • Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
  • Double-sided fold-out artwork poster
  • Collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by author Troy Howarth and The Original Maniac: An interview with William Lustig, adapted from Calum Waddell’s book Taboo Breakers

Bottom Line:

Maniac Cop is exactly what you’d expect from a movie with that title. It’s fun, bloody and more than a little ridiculous, and if you’re going to watch it you can hardly do better than Arrow’s new Blu-ray release. The extras a re a bit light, but the transfer and (typically excellent) packaging/presentation make it a definite buy for genre fans.

Buy Maniac Cop on region-free Blu-ray from AmazonUK

Rob is the Chief Film Critic of Film School Rejects. He doesn't eat cheese on weekdays.

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