Splatter Time Fun Fest 2014: Maniac Cop (1988)

maniac cop

I once wanted to be a cop, I’m pretty sure my shoot first and ask questions later approach would be frowned upon today!

Written By: Larry Cohen
Directed By: William Lustig

I loved, loved, loved the opening sequence to Maniac Cop. In a few short minutes William Lustig, along with writer Larry Cohen, managed to convey the gist of their film. Up close shots of a pristine police uniform, and the tools employed by the police officer. We see these tools, and that uniform, all the time and we never think twice about them. There are police, they are an accepted and needed structure of our society. Mr. Lustig plays to this, and he plays to our naivety when it comes to the power we have given to the police. He lingers on their tools, asking us if we should trust anybody with such tools. It’s a simple sequence, and an economical one, that is a brilliant start to the film and plants the roots for all that is to follow.

On the whole I have mixed feelings with the rest of Maniac Cop. Like the initial sequence, I really loved some parts of the remaining film. There were, however, some characters and diversions in the film that didn’t sit well with me. That’s why Maniac Cop falls short of the greatness it is close to touching. It’s still a worthwhile film, and a sign of how William Lustig was underappreciated for his entire career. It could have been so much better though, and that’s why Maniac Cop leaves me with a somewhat hollow feeling.

The writing has its ups and downs, but I’d rate it as solid for the most part. It’s frustrating when the writing takes the cheap route, such as the trip to the penitentiary by an escaped prisoner. On the other hand it’s refreshing when the film sets a killer loose and allows him to kill a bunch and never really offers an explanation for why he’s killing. He’s a killer, that’s all the writing feels we need to know, and it’s correct in its assumption.

The character of Theresa Mallory is where I take umbrage with the film. She spends most of the film as a scream queen. At the slightest hint of trouble she screams like a banshee and runs like she has no idea how to defend herself. She’s supposed to be a cop, that’s not how cops act. Near the end of the film Theresa starts to act more like a tough cop, but it’s too little too late by that point. Her character is a disgrace, and the sort of female representation that any feminist worth their salt could use to tear apart the horror genre.

The economical nature of the film is its selling point. Maniac Cop is a lot of fun, which is odd to say about a film where the main crux is a psychotic cop killing innocents. The direction of Mr. Lustig is responsible for the swift feel of the film, and that’s a major reason why the film is so much fun. The scenes breeze by in Maniac Cop, and the momentum built from reel to reel was a major factor in my enjoyment of the film. I doubt Mr. Lustig will ever get the credit he deserves as a director, but Maniac Cop is another film that showcases how well his bare bones to the point style can flourish in a horror film.

It has its faults, the character of Theresa is really an embarrassment, but Maniac Cop is a neat ride while it’s going. William Lustig has put together a fast slasher, an economical one where the film hits its marks and immediately moves on with the narrative. There’s a twinge of disappointment in my soul for the film that Maniac Cop could have been. At the same time I’m happy with the film that Mr. Lustig delivered. I’m choosing to live in the now, and that’s why I can safely say that Maniac Cop is a slasher to sit back and enjoy.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill Thompson

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