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MANIAC COP (1988) 

With Saint Patrick’s Day just around the corner and the cultural outrage over police brutality still a hot topic. This month’s RetroMovie will be William Lustig’s Maniac Cop.

With Saint Patrick’s Day just around the corner and the cultural outrage over police brutality still a hot topic. This month’s RetroMovie will be William Lustig’s Maniac Cop.

 Maniac Cop directed by William Lustig the infamous director of Maniac and stars Tom Atkins, Laurene Landon, Bruce Campbell, Robert Z’Dar and Richard Roundtree as Commissioner Pike. The film was written by Larry Cohen the writer of a handful of Columbo episodes, Return to Salem’s Lot (87),Cellular(2004) and the director of Black Caesar, Hell Up in Harlem and the Master’s of Horror episode “Pick Me Up”.

 The setting of this piece is New York City of the 1980s: The filth, the violence, the sex, the despair, the moral drought and the corruptionof yesterday; when police officers dressed like police officers before they were militarized and loaded with clunky utility belts and AR-15’s. 

This movie takes the common and modern fear of law enforcement and amplifies it. What do you do when the people paid to protect you start to become as violent as the criminals they pursue and turn on the public? Themes of deep police corruption and good cops betrayed are at the center of this violent grindhouse thriller. 

When a series of late night murders take place the NYPD is on the hunt for a serial killer on the loose. The only problem is the victims are all unrelated and the only description of the murder is that he is wearing a police uniform. Lieutenant McCrae is investigating the case but is pressured to suppress any information about the killer wearing a uniform from the press or else cause a public panic and mass hysteria. 

Enter a philandering cop played by a young Bruce Campbell and officer Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon) into the mix as they are soon implicated in the investigation and together with Detective McCrae must put a stop to the killing before the city completely turns against its law enforcement. 

From the beginning of the film you are thrown into a seedy environment where danger comes in all kinds after midnight. The pacing of the film might turn away younger viewers but for the sake of plot development serves its purpose of being a slow pressure cooker until the action kicks in. 

– Compared to its sequels which are way more kinetic with their action, this flows more like an urban thriller than typical slasher film.

These films are Robert Z’Dar’s best known films outside of small roles in action films like Tango & Cash and Samurai Cop. Often typecasted because of his size and his large jawline, Robert was possibly “born” to play Officer Matthew Cordell; a large imposing hulk like figure of carnage. 

The other performances are pretty good. Bruce Campbell plays a douchebag and is a good match for Landon’s ballsy heroine. Tom Atkins is gritty and hard boiled like a Frank Miller detective. Richard Roundtree plays the typical superior who doesn’t care what has to be done to get the job done as long as it’s by the book and not messy. 

The music is recurring and unmemorable except for the haunting theme of a lone whistler.

 The setting however, is the main selling point much like it was in Death Wish and The New York Ripper. Splashes of twirling sword batons and broken necks match sublimely with the night time environment and urban lighting. 

If I had to recommend one film from the Maniac Cop trilogy, it would be this one – the very first chapter in the Matthew Cordell trilogy. 

  Maniac Cop was released May 13, 1988. It played in 50 theaters and had a U.S. gross of $671,382. The film was mostly panned by critics at the time of its release. 

A remake directed by John Hyams and produced by NicolasWinding Refn was announced in 2015 and scheduled for a 2017 release with a screenplay written by comic book writer Ed Brubaker (Captain America, Criminal,Fatale, The Fade Out, Kill or Be Killed)

Watch it like you would a peep show. Sit back, get comfortable and keep your eyes on the experience and your fingers on that blue rewind button.


A misanthropic fiction writer and pop culture killer, originally from NYC as well loiterer of the Philadelphia area. The author of a handful of spoken word albums. Member of the Jade Palace Guard; a collective of underground lo-fi artists. Creator and author of HAINESVILLE. Currently residing in Tucson, AZ.

Review overview


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