Maniac Cop (1988)

Now this is a bit nostalgic for me, though not for the reasons you would expect, as this is actually the first time I’m watching the movies from the Maniac Cop series. You see, I have very vivid and dear memories about looking at the VHS copies of these movies in a department store way back in the late 90s/early 00s. Browsing the movie selection was a bit of a hobby for me at the time because everything was always so expensive that I rarely could afford to buy anything on my own and I never had the balls to try and steal one, so I developed a habit of browsing through new titles and imagining what they were like, based entirely on the vague plot synopsis found behind the tapes, for entertainment. This eventually led to me to accumulating a rather long list of titles that even today I have never watched but towards which I have very fond memories associated to, making it oddly nostalgic whenever I finally do end up watching one on that list. You wouldn’t believe how giddy I got when I finally had the chance to watch saw the second Child’s Play movie for the first time two years ago. I was absolutely stoked when I pressed the play button because I could picture myself perfectly re-reading the same synopsis countless times and being drawn to the creepy cover box art of Chucky with the giant scissor. Oh man, now I really want to go and watch the first Child’s Play that I still haven’t seen… But I digress.

Maniac Cop didn’t pan out to be as great as I was hoping (or as I had envisioned) but it wasn’t that bad actually once I got around my built in fantasy expectations. For years now I’ve heard people fondly mention Maniac Cop when talking about Bruce Campbell movies and by association I had kinda began to assume he was the main lead in this, as either the Maniac Cop himself, or as the main hero stopping Maniac Cop. But of course, that’s not really the case here. Technically he’s the secondary lead once Tom Atkins dies, but in an odd  way the movie still sorta treats Campbell as a side character despite his frame up for the murders serving as a pretty big plot point. He just doesn’t feel that important, which was kinda annoying, and for the most part kinda plays second fiddle to his girlfriend who is a fellow cop in the story. But once I got over that, I found myself really enjoying the B-list plot of the movie.

I was already familiar with Robert Z’Dar as an actor thanks to all the varies B-list movie reviews I’ve had the pleasure of consuming, but this was the first time I’ve ever actually seen one of his pictures myself. He wasn’t bad in this as the titular Maniac Cop, but it’s pretty hard to judge his performance properly because for most of his screen time he’s just a silent homicidal juggernaut with very little real personality. They  also like to keep him hidden from the camera as much as possible, either by keeping him in shadows, showing only his torso and back to the camera and rarely showing his cherub face, so he’s more of a looming presence than an actual fully developed character. On the other hand, keeping him out of the frame in the early part of the movie and choosing to still hide his face after he’s revealed to be Officer Matthew Cordell did very efficiently build him to be really intimidating, unstoppable monster in your mind. He’s no longer a mere man, but a force of nature and they do some really great things with that, like when Bruce Campbell escapes the interrogation room and immediately encounters all the dead bodies laying around that Cordell’s left in his wake when he’s entered the station, with some of the bodies being strung up and made to hang from the ceiling.  Little touches like that really made this more of a monster movie than a typical slasher, because it gives the murderer almost supernatural prowess to murder people around the main heroes.

The ending of the movie is a bit of a lackluster. It’s basically just Cordell driving a police truck off a peer after seemingly getting impaled, and while the truck flying to the water looks nice, it doesn’t really work as a very climactic ending. Fortunately they don’t even pretend that Cordell’s dead, because they very wuickly show his hand coming out of the water after the crash. It’s actually a bit comedic how that scene plays out because it’s still daylight and they have his hand shoot out from the water right next to one of the visible outer support beams of the pier, not even  that far away from the truck that’s being lifted from the water by the police. Considering how many cops there are circling the area and watching the truck being fished out, you’d think someone might notice Cordell. But no, the movie  don’t even bother to try and make it slightly sneakier and atmospheric, like cut to under the pier, where it’d be darker and which might make it a bit more dramatic when you show his survival. I suppose that is a bit much to ask from a B-list movie.

Summa summarum, a disappointing ending aside,  it’s a fairly solid flick about a guy in a police uniform killing innocent people left and right, with the murders showing agreeable level of variance and brutality. The frame up subplot also goes a long way to make it stick out from most serial killer movies, because it actually does a great job at setting it up from the start. They also get some nice mileage from the press getting a whiff of a police officer murdering people subplot with simple scenes a panicked citizen blowing the brains off a completely innocent cop by mistake. The cast is pretty solid and Bruce Campbell’s still pretty cute and boyish in this, so you do get some male eye candy. In essence you get what you pay for and for what it is, everything is reasonably well done. 

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