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In New York, a man in a cop's uniform starts killing people for no apparent reason.
For more about Maniac Cop and the Maniac Cop Blu-ray release, see Maniac Cop Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on September 20, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins, Robert Z'Dar, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith (I)
Director: William Lustig
» See full cast & crew
Maniac Cop Blu-ray Review
Another cult favorite hits high definition from up-and-coming Blu-ray studio Synapse Films.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, September 20, 2011
This isn't about romance...it's about murder.
Duh. That quote pretty much sums up Director William Lustig's Maniac Cop, as if a movie with such a title (and reputation) needed that clarification in the first place. Maniac Cop is just as the title suggests: it's a dark and ultra-violent but not necessarily disturbing or even all that entertaining little venture into the Slasher movie genre that was so prevalent in both big-studio and small-outfit cinema in the 1980s. Both the smaller pictures like Maniac Cop and the bigger, more widely popular multi-entry big moneymakers both play out basically the same way, with a killer lurking in the shadows and offing a handful of victims while some hero character(s) tries to piece together the mystery and stop the killer before he/she/it can strike again. The formula does differ slightly between the Freddy and Jason sort of supernatural movies and the reality-driven Slashers. Maniac Cop, The Prowler, and other, similar films prefer to work more in a grimy and gritty real-world rather than exist in what is clearly more of a fantasy realm. The boogeymen in Maniac Cop and The Prowler seem more menacing because the movie plays in such a way that it could happen anytime, anywhere, and to anyone, eschewing the fantastical and unbelievable escapist sort of Horror entertainment in favor of something that hits far closer to home. It's a different kind of terror to be sure. It should be more effective, but in the case of Maniac Cop, the experience is lessened by an inescapable sense of repetitiveness; the movie just doesn't do anything to separate itself from its like-minded peers.
A hulking man dressed as a police officer is murdering random, innocent civilians around New York City. There's no pattern, no motive, and seemingly no way of stopping him. Detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins) suspects the killer to be a cop, and when he leaks that information to the press, the city descends into chaos as people fear the police to the extent that city cops become targets of frightened and well-armed individuals. Meanwhile, city officer Jack Forrest's (Bruce Campbell) personal life is about to land him in hot water. When he's caught cheating on his wife with a fellow officer, Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon), and the misses turns up dead, Forrest becomes the prime suspect in the "Maniac Cop" killings. The on-the-ball McCrae believes otherwise, however, and determines that even if the killer isn't a cop, he's getting some kind of help from inside the department. Can McCrae, Forrest, and Mallory figure who's killing, who's helping, and piece together a motive to help solve the crime before more innocents are slaughtered?
Unfortunately, Maniac Cop is little more than genre filler. There's nothing wrong with the movie per se, but it's grossly unoriginal, even in spite of a few decent little plot twists that do elevate it above the scrapheap. The structure fluctuates between three primary elements: the killer, the wrongly accused, and the cop who seems to be one step ahead of everyone else in the movie but far enough behind to have to work his way to catch up with the evidence. It's the latter, Tom Atkins's character, that's the film's most frustrating. His Frank McCrae pieces things together far too fast; he immediately knows a cop is behind the killings and he has Jack Forrest pegged as a patsy from the get-go (but is he right on both counts?). Still, his immediate revelations and insights don't spoil the film. There remains an air of mystery to the thing, and Director William Lustig balances hunches, revelations, and fact, so that the appearance of any of the three doesn't necessarily equate with the reality between any of the three.
Nevertheless, despite a fair sense of mystery and some decent plot revelations, Maniac Cop can't quite escape its generic façade of killer versus prey. More often than not, the movie slips into all-too-familiar territory during the death scenes, and the surrounding structural elements feel procedural and unimaginative too, even if some of the critical story arcs do manage to retain an air of suspense and play with a legitimately original tone. Still, the picture is defined by its killings, shadowy and careful shots of the title character, and gore, the latter of which is never exactly excessive, but certainly effective. The cast is good but the parts aren't all that meaty. Both Atkins and Campbell do little more than go through the Cop/Mystery/Horror movie motions; for a film that encompasses so many genres and so much opportunity for uniqueness, both the characters and the performances fall a bit flat. Fortunately, Maniac Cop is just interesting enough to make it a watchable and mostly fun little ride back down into the real-world, big-city, crazed killer Horror sub-genre. The film treads down all-too-familar territory, but with movies like this, that's not necessarily a deal breaker, and it's definitely not with Maniac Cop.
Maniac Cop Blu-ray, Video Quality
Maniac Cop's 1080p Blu-ray transfer isn't perfect, but this is nevertheless a sturdy, stable image that should highly satisfy longtime fans. Fine object detail is only fair, but the boost in resolution allows for slightly more revealing textures on complex surfaces such as faces, police uniforms, and odds and ends around the city, inside the police station, and elsewhere. Bright daytime shots fare best in terms of delivering more vibrant and sharply-detailed imagery, whereas dark nighttime scenes feature slightly crushing blacks that see backgrounds and dark foreground objects appear to melt together. The color palette is stable; balance is fine, bleeding is absent, and brighter and duller shades alike appear natural and well-defined. Though the image often looks flat, it's accentuated by a nice-looking grain field that's neither too heavy nor too sharp. A few speckles creep in from time to time, but there's no excessive print damage. Best of all, compression artifacts and other uglies are largely absent. This isn't the prettiest image out there, but it's a quality presentation of an older lower-budget Slasher.
Maniac Cop Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Maniac Cop's DTS-HD MA 6.1 lossless soundtrack mirrors its video counterpart in terms of its high definition presentation. It's solid yet unspectacular but nevertheless quite good given the film's circumstances. It's crisp but not infinitely clear; musical delivery takes advantage of the power and spacing provided to it by the 6.1 offering. The surrounds carry a fair amount of activity, both atmospheric and heavier elements during action scenes. The track truly excels in its ability to create an involved and natural ambience. Music drifting from a closed-door bar, distant honking horns, and blaring background sirens all create a realistic sense of a city winding down after a long, active night. The low end is potent, whether delivering a crack of thunder early in the movie or the heavy thud of an echoing hammer strike in a dreamlike sequence in chapter eleven. Dialogue is clear and crisp, flowing evenly from the middle-front section of the soundstage and never lost under surrounding audible elements. This is an all-around solid track.
Maniac Cop Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Maniac Cop's supplemental section is great in number, but rather small in terms of critical content. Most obviously lacking is an audio commentary track and an interview piece with Bruce Campbell.
Maniac Cop Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Movies like Maniac Cop exist because the slasher genre is a guaranteed moneymaker. Audiences just seem to eat this kind of stuff up, perhaps as some macabre form of escapist entertainment, or perhaps because everyone's life needs a good scare every now and then. Whatever the reason, Maniac Cop and other, similar films seem to each have lives of their own and live on as cult favorites, even the most modest and measly of them somehow enchanting audiences with abhorrent acts of violence despite repetitive plots, incredibly loose structures, and a broad range of technical filmmaking prowess on display. It seems a phenomena for which there just isn't -- and probably never will be -- a real scientific explanation. Maybe it is as simple as a romance after all, a romance between audience and Slasher film, in a strange sort of way making them indeed one and the same? After all, love is the one thing that defies all reason and logic. Synapse Films's Blu-ray release of Maniac Cop is sure to satisfy fans. The movie looks and sounds quite good all things considered. A long list of extras is slightly negated by the "quantity over quality" factor, but they're all nice to have. Synapse is working hard to move up the cult movie home video food chain currently dominated by Blue Underground; a few more releases like Maniac Cop and they'll be right there with Lustig's own studio. Recommended.
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• Maniac Cop Blu-ray - September 8, 2011
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