Maniac Cop came out in 1988—the same year Lou Reed recorded New York. This was a transitional period in the cine-mythology of this most-filmed metropolis, before Rudy Giuliani’s transformative term as mayor, before Manhattan began to feel like a theme park, yet quite a while after such canonical New York movies as Taxi Driver (1976) and Ms 45 (1981) helped establish the city as an infernal sewer of rampant crime and near-palpable scuzz. Written and produced by the legendary Larry Cohen, who by this point had already made a few key NYC movies himself, such as Black Caesar (1973) and God Told Me To (1976), Maniac Cop opens with a waitress getting assaulted by a couple of Puerto Rican gangbangers from Central Casting before turning to a shadowy hulk in NYPD blues for help. He snaps her neck. She’s but the first in a series of victims of this mysterious, indiscriminate killer in uniform.
He’s a maniac! He’s a cop! He’s maniac cop! Though the police commissioner (Richard Roundtree, star of Shaft, another iconic ’70s NYC movie) wants to keep the part about the killer’s alleged affiliation with NYPD hush-hush. There is, of course, a backstory that I won’t ruin for you. Let’s just say that the ghost of brutality and corruption is made manifest in the maniac cop and it will take the heroic efforts of numerous non-maniac cops to stop him. Or not stop him, as is implied by the subsequent appearance of Maniac Cop II (1990) and Maniac Cop III: Badge of Silence (1993).
William Lustig had already helmed the films Maniac (1980) and Vigilante (1983), so he must have been a shoo-in for Maniac Cop, which he directs with a likable flair for low-budget mayhem, a blood-smeared windshield here, an overhead shot of a prison shower stabbing there. (He’d go on to become CEO of exploitation flick home video distributor Blue Underground.) Besides Roundtree, Lustig’s cast includes Lethal Weapon‘s Tom Atkins, cult star Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead II) and Laurene Landon, a big, tough-looking, Toronto-born blonde who actually trained for a career in law enforcement before opting to simply play cops in the movies instead.
Maniac Cop is goofy, charming and limited in what it can do. It’s inventive and responsive to the culture in a comic-book sort of way. It is by no means essential viewing but it is very evocative of a certain time and place and way of thinking about genre and cities and crime and how best to capitalize on popular paranoia and social stereotypes. Metro is showing it Tuesday night as part of its laudably eclectic Crime Watch series. Could be a fun screening.
Tue, Oct 21 (7 pm)
Directed by William Lustig
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Originally released: 1988