The ‘Maniac Cop’ of the title is a mysterious man in a police uniform who stalks the streets of New York, murdering innocent people along the way. He seems to have super-human strength, as he crushes people’s necks with his bare hands, but the movie isn’t too clear on that point. Maniac Cop was made in 1988. I’m not sure what the attitude towards police was back then, but nowadays I think some people would mistake this movie for a documentary.
The fact that the killer is posing as a cop (or worse, may in fact be one) complicates matters greatly. Detective Frank McCrae wants to go public with the information, but his superiors would prefer to keep it quite. It turns out the superiors were right; as the news of the killer cop sends people into a panic, draws out mountains of false leads, and results in at least one killing of an innocent cop. While Frank had good intentions in wanting to warn the people, all he really did was cut them off from those that would protect them.
The fact that the killer is a cop and not a random psycho gives the film an interesting dynamic. The inherent contradiction makes the killer a little more menacing than he otherwise would be; and his real-world persona keeps the movie grounded in reality, even when the more fantastical elements are introduced.
It’s not quite a horror movie. A lot of it plays out like a police procedural with a lot of time spent following the cops as they track down leads and question witnesses, but the murder scenes are slightly moodier and graphic than one would expect from Law and Order. Since the killer’s method of choice is strangulation, there isn’t much gore outside of the occasional knife wound. The movie’s rated ‘R,’ though it doesn’t seem to warrant it by today’s standards.
Tom Atkins stars as Frank; he was born to play hard-nosed police officers. He has a nice mix of old-man experience and young-man idealism. B movie king Bruce Campbell plays Jack Forrest, a philandering cop who is suspected of being the maniac, he’s helped by his mistress, the vice cop Theresa. This was one of Campbell’s earliest films, and he does well in it. He’s the ‘dashing heroic lead,’ and manages to make the character sympathetic despite the fact that he was cheating on his wife.
On a basic level, Maniac Cop is little different from any other slasher movie at the time, but the choice of a cop as a villain, and the way that colors everything else in the movie, from the reactions of the victims, to the way he’s hunted down, make this movie feel unique.
The video and audio quality are very good on this Blu Ray from Synapse Films. Extras include some interviews, and additional (and redundant) scenes that were films to pad out the run time for Japanese TV.