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Release Date(s)1988 (October 11, 2011)
In 1988, writer Larry Cohen (director of Q The Winged Serpent and The Stuff) and director William Lustig (Maniac) teamed up to produce a horror film about a maniacal cop who goes on a killing spree. The film caused a slight bit of controversy amongst police officials and wasn’t very well-received by critics, but it managed to snag a loyal cult following anyway.
Looking from the outside in, Maniac Cop definitely has the look and feel of a Z grade movie with very little to it besides shock value and gore. I’m sure some people looking in see it as such without actually having seen it. The truth is that there’s more to it than what’s on the surface. It doesn’t feature extensive amounts of gore, nor does it rely on gimmicks to help sell its concept. You know what you’re in for in the film’s tagline: “You have the right to remain silent... forever!” With a line like that, I was sold on it. Obviously, if you’re not a fan of horror movies, or slashers in general, you’re likely not to get anything out of the film. But for those with a taste than leans more towards guilty pleasures, then Maniac Cop is right up your alley.
Right off the bat, the cast is pretty great for this movie. You get Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell in starring roles (a lower grade movie would have featured them in much smaller roles and used their names on the poster just to get people in to see it). Also featured are Richard Roundtree, Laurene Landon, acting veteran William Smith, Danny Hicks (Evil Dead 2) in a small role, and Robert Z’Dar as the title character. There’s even a few walk-ons by Sam Raimi, Frank Pesce and Leo Rossi in there, as well. It’s a terrific line-up and it helps strengthen the film’s credibility.
The film’s basic plot is about a psychotic ex-cop named Matt Cordell who seemingly comes back from the dead to go on a rampage through the streets of New York, and it’s up to a hard-boiled detective (Atkins) and another cop framed for the murders (Campbell) to find out who he is and stop him. The film plays detective for the better part of the proceedings, even though we know right from the beginning that it’s a cop. We just don’t know everything about him yet. It’s also very much in the vein of a giallo film, but without all of the overbearing style or secrecy to identity of the killer. They do try to keep the actual identity of the killer a secret for as long as possible, making him that much more menacing, but ultimately, the movie isn’t about the scares. It’s about the tension of the characters and the action, and William Lustig does a great job in directing this terrific bunch of actors. It’s a much better movie than it has any right to be, but it wasn’t a major hit when it was released in 1988. For one thing, the slasher genre was getting tired at that point, mainly because of the Friday the 13th series. You could even compare Matt Cordell to Jason Voorhees quite easily. Despite this, Maniac Cop will always be a cherished cult film, but even with a title like that, it’s still much better than most would give it credit for.
Maniac Cop has also never been a source of great quality as far as its visuals and aural aesthetic goes. It was shot down and dirty on a low budget, so one can’t expect a Lawrence of Arabia-type transfer with this Blu-ray release from Synapse. That being said, this is still a terrific-looking picture. Sourced from a 2K high definition transfer and restoration, this release has a strong amount of image detail with a fine layer of film grain. The color palette is pretty good, but there’s some crush to be had in the blacks, so they’re not always as strong as they could be. Skin tones look pretty good, and both brightness and contrast seem to get the most out of the images. I didn’t notice any major compression artifacts or signs of digital tweaking and tinkering either. The idea during the original photography seemed to be to capture the grittiness of the streets of New York, and this transfer reflects that idea quite well. It’s not perfect, but it’s still quite excellent. The film’s audio is pretty much on the same level. Featuring three different options, English 6.1, 4.0 and 2.0 DTS-HD, there isn’t much to complain about here either. While it’s clear that the original source materials were used to create the 6.1 track and the fidelity is not always up to snuff, it’s still a very crisp and clean soundtrack. Spacing and surround activity is surprisingly vibrant. Ambience and score really shine here, and the dialogue is very clear without ever being overridden by effects or score. LFE is also quite lively. Overall, it’s a great without being perfect presentation. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles included.
Extras aren’t absolutely in-depth, but there’s some nice to stuff to sift through here. There’s the Maniac Cop Memories: Interview with Robert Z’Dar, the Out the Window: Interview with Tom Atkins, the Three Minutes with Danny Hicks interview, 2 theatrical trailers, a French theatrical trailer, an animated promotional art gallery, additional footage filmed for Japanese TV broadcast, 2 TV spots and a Spanish radio spot. I would have liked to have had a documentary on the making of the film itself and an audio commentary as well, but this is a nice little assortment.
It goes without saying but I’ll say it again: Maniac Cop is a surprisingly well-made horror movie, one that horror fans would be doing themselves a disservice by not checking out. Synapse’s treatment of the film is great, and there’s not a reason in the world why you shouldn’t pick their release of it up.
- Tim Salmons