Just outside the inner circle of horror icons who have become household names, lurk the also-rans. Where your Freddys and Jasons and Michaels and Leatherfaces have soaked up decades of iconic adulation there are many others who, regardless of movie quality, never really joined that fraternity of timeless movie slashers. For every Chucky or Ghostface that regularly turn up mugging on fan art or the biceps of devoted horror fans you have a Candyman or a Victor Crowley (from Hatchet) who despite clocking up numerous sequels are rarely mentioned in the same breath as the murderous elite. My personal favorite of these “second-tier” guys is Matt Cordell, a.k.a the star of the Maniac Cop trilogy, a towering, barrel chested, scar faced rozzer who is neither technically dead nor alive and spends his evenings terminating innocent civilians in order to sate his thirst for revenge. Aside from having a legitimately cool gimmick (his tag line – You have The Right To Remain Silent… Forever – is fucking flawless) he’s one of the few cinematic slayers that actually has the common sense to use a gun AND can drive a car. The brainchild of William Lustig (director of the notorious video nasty Maniac – no relation) and high concept screenwriter Larry Cohen (The Stuff, Q: The Winged Serpent), Maniac Cop is a rollicking low budget ride that enjoyably fuses the slasher genre with classic action tropes to create a wonderfully sleazy horror/action hybrid that riffs on worn cliches only to make them all shiny and new.
There’s a psycho stalking the streets of Manhattan. Nothing too out of the ordinary for New York in 1988, but this is no simple meth head or your basic every day inner city serial killer – no, this psycho wears a badge. Lured in by the uniform hapless, innocent citizens are being slaughtered, a barmaid escaping from a mugging, a musician locking up his car, a guy being pulled over for a falsified traffic violation, all are prey to this towering butcher in blue. The NYPD check the files of on duty police officers, desperately trying to find out if one of their own has spectacularly fallen off the thin blue line and all fingers seem to point to beat cop Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell in a rare, subdued, hero role). I say fingers – but exhibit A turns out to be the mutilated body of his long suffering wife, but Jack claims he has an alibi as he was having an affair at the time with an undercover vice officer (nice, Jack.) but won’t name her as it’ll hurt her reputation and possibly make her a target. Thankfully hard boiled detective Frank McCrae (played by non other than Tom fuckin’ Atkins) is on the case and manages to figure out that this “maniac cop” is in fact disgraced former super cop Matt Cordell (think a beefier Dirty Harry with less gun control) who was brought up on trumped up charges by corrupt superiors and dumped to rot in Sing Sing prison. However, Cordell was apparently fatally sliced into cutlets by a frenzied knife attack years earlier, so does that mean Frank, Jack and his girlfriend from vice, Theresa (Jack got over the wife pretty quickly then, I see) are tracking down a dead man?
Maniac Cop is a glorious slice of late eighties trash that drops us smack (pun intended) bang into a very real, grime infested New York that simply does not exist anymore. While that’s a good thing for people who live there, the NYC of old was this vastly intimidating, sleazy place that was immortalised by such diverse films from the 70’s to the early 80’s that include everything from Taxi Driver to Basket Case.
While you can hardly claim Maniac Cop as high art there is a deliciously blue collar sensibility to it’s high concept and simple, yet effective structure that makes the old school carnage incredibly appealing.
Take the fact that the film indulges in a loose whodunnit format despite the hulking, scarred culprit is glaring at you from the poster, or the suprisingly grounded performances that have all the leads spit hard boiled dialogue at the chaos and yet still seem real.
The action, while small fry compared to the exaggerated bombast of it’s admittedly superior sequel, is still rugged enough to make an impact with a rousing car chase set to Jay Chattaway’s energetic score standing out and a staggeringly dangerous climatic stunt which sends a paddy wagon twirling off a pier with a death flaunting stuntman being flung into the void after it remains one of my favorite to this day. The kills are pretty damn neat too with a memorably mean spirited demise involving a dude being drowned in wet cement only for it necessary for his corpse to be drilled out the next morning standing as a morbidly hilarious highlight.
So while Robert Z’Dar’s meaty jawed villain may not have broken into the big leagues, he’s still got the goods to get the job done and who knows – with Nicolas Winding Refn showing repeated interest with a reboot/TV show as of writing, maybe there may yet be time for Officer Cordell to get that promotion he deserves.