31 Days of Halloween — Day 4: Maniac Cop (1988) — by Dr. Shock

Maniac Cop 1988

Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

Night time in the city. While on her way home from work, Cassie (Jill Gatsby), a waitress, is attacked by two muggers. During the scrum, she somehow manages to break free, and makes a run for it. With her assailants closing in on her, Cassie spots a policeman in the shadows of a small neighborhood park and rushes toward him. But by the look on her face, we know this is no ordinary cop, and before Cassie can react the officer has his hands around her throat…

This is the opening scene of director William Lustig’s “Maniac Cop,” a 1988 horror / slasher film that, among other things, explores what might happen when honest, law-abiding citizens can no longer rely on the police to protect them.

The two muggers are eventually arrested for Cassie’s murder, but swear that she was killed by a cop. With bruises on the victim’s neck that suggest she was strangled by a much larger person than either of the suspects, Detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins) finds himself wondering if someone on the force is, in fact, a homicidal maniac. Commissioner Pike (Richard Roundtree) tells McCrae to keep his suspicions to himself; if the public believes that a maniac cop is roaming the streets, it could lead to chaos. But when more people turn up dead, and several witnesses claim to have spotted a tall policeman leaving the scene of the crimes, McCrae feels he has no alternative but to leak the story to the press.

A few days after the public is informed, Ellen Forrest (Victoria Caitlin) starts to suspect that her husband, Jack (Bruce Campbell), a patrolman who works mainly at night, may be the killer. To learn the truth, she follows him one evening, only to find that he’s actually having an affair with Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon), a fellow officer. Embarrassed and heartbroken, Ellen heads for home and, on the way, is attacked by the real killer, who, sometime later, dumps her lifeless body in the very motel room that Jack and Theresa had occupied.

The next morning, Jack (who, due to his illicit affair, refuses to give a solid alibi) is taken into custody and charged with his wife’s murder. What’s more, his superior, Captain Ripley (William Smith), thinks that Jack is also the killer they’re searching for. Still not convinced they have the right man, McCrae continues to dig deeper, and during his investigation makes a discovery so amazing that he himself can hardly believe it.

Above all else, “Maniac Cop” is a damn good slasher film. The title character, played by Robert Z’Dar, in an imposing figure with some very lethal weapons at his disposal (including a knife hidden inside his night stick), and most of the kill scenes are appropriately bloody. Not even learning a little about his background (i.e., his name and what made him snap) can reduce his effectiveness; from start to finish, the maniac cop is a brutal, savage killer.

But “Maniac Cop” is also an intriguing mystery (McCrae’s investigation leads him in several different directions, and I liked how the movie took its time piecing the clues together) and an engaging character study (the killer’s backstory is as disturbing as it is tragic). Most interesting of all, though, is how the film provides a glimpse of a society that has lost faith in its police force; in one unfortunate scene (which takes place shortly after the press got hold of the story), a young cop stops to assist a woman whose car has broken down, only to be shot dead by the nervous motorist when she mistakes him for the killer. While I initially agreed with McCrae that the public had a right to know what was going on, this scene proved that Commissioner Pike’s fears weren’t as unfounded as I originally thought.

With great performances by veterans Atkins and Campbell (not to mention a cameo by Sam Raimi, as a reporter covering the St. Patrick’s Day parade) and a few surprising twists along the way, “Maniac Cop” is an excellent horror movie that offers viewers a bit more than the average ‘80s slasher flick.

— Dr. Shock

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10 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 4: Maniac Cop (1988) — by Dr. Shock


    Day 04 – Return of the Living Dead (1985)

    In 1968, zombie fiction was forever changed with the making of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. From that point on, every zombie filmmaker had a basic story and zombie characteristics to base all of their zombie films on. While Romero would end up creating the first Night sequel with Dawn of the Dead in 1978, it was not actually the only direct sequel to the ‘68 classic. Thanks to sharing the rights to creating sequels, both Romero and fellow co-writer, John Russo, set out to create their own Dead/Living Dead franchises. While Romero was quick to release his first sequel, it took over fifteen years for Russo’s first sequel to come out – Return of the Living Dead.

    While the Living Dead series does not have the popularity or acclaim that the Dead series, it would not be fair to completely downplay the Living Dead series. In fact, I would even suggest that the Living Dead series has meant more in zombie fiction than even Dawn and Day of the Dead. To Russo’s credit, he didn’t set out to simply retell Night with a new cast of characters. Instead, Russo introduced several new elements that would later become major influences in zombie fiction. For starters, it’s the heavier emphasis on comedy. This is hardly a Romero film where everything is so gloom and no one is able to have any fun. Whether you’re a fan of horror comedies or not, it certainly creates a different feel to a zombie flick where the intention is to allow the audience to have fun and get in some laughs. Another big addition here is the love of eating brains. Take away Return of the Living Dead and we’d never have the trademark zombie characteristic of loving brains. Sure, Romero’s zombies were all about eating their victims, but it was only Russo’s that actually targeted brains. To combine the comedic addition of having the zombies talk (Which reminded me some of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend) and the love of brains, we get an informative scene where one of the zombies explains that they need to eat brains to reduce the pain they feel. I’ll even say Return deserves some attention for making their zombies far faster than Romero’s zombies. Sure, it’s not as fast as the post-28 Days Later influence, but Russo’s zombies are not slow moving and plenty of times we even see them rush after potential victims.

    One thing I greatly appreciated about Return is the fact that they mixed things up and decided to change the means of how you kill a zombie. There’s a great scene in the middle of the film where the characters are trying a variety of means of trying to kill a zombie. With the inability of just destroying the brain, they finally find some success by simply burning the zombie bodies. Just like everything I included in the previous paragraph, Return is all about following the zombie formula without having to copy everything done in Night. It’s all different, but in a same type of manner.

    The soundtrack of Return of the Living Dead was another home run. Throughout the entire movie, we get one snippet of a fun song after another. Maybe it’s because I’m a total sucker for cheesy movie songs, but every time a new rock song came on, it became my new favorite of the movie. Ultimately, I believe it’s “Tonight (We’ll Make Love Until We Die)” that ends up being my favorite. I love me some cheesy 80’s goodness.

    Despite having a total blast with the film in the first half, I found my attention waning in the second half. Being a giant fan of Friday the 13th Part 6 (Favorite film of the Friday series), I was disappointed when Freddy (Played by future Tommy Jarvis actor, Thom Mathews) was phased out once he and his boss, Frank, became undead and were relegated into hanging out on the couch, moaning, and killing time until they fully became a zombie. None of the other protagonists are as instantly likable as Freddy or even Frank. I’m also not overly thrilled with the ending. It feels like a cop out rather than coming up with a proper conclusion to the movie. I suppose it does make for a different ending than we’re used to seeing in zombie films.

    Overall, Return of the Living Dead is certainly a memorable and far more important zombie film than most gives it credit for being. With the introduction of zombies needing brains, comedy being added to the sub-genre, and technically being a sequel to Night of the Living Dead, it’s all worth checking the film out at least once. Furthermore, with the 80’s being such a monumental time for horror, it’s also worth your time to watch Return to see Linnea Quigley’s performance as Trash. For as big of a scream queen/horror star that Quigley was in the 80’s, I can’t think of a more memorable performance by her than in Return. All that being said, I’ve never felt too connected to Return. Going off of pure memories, I’ve always preferred Return of the Living Dead Part 2. Even if you share my views on Return in that it’s just an average horror film, it’s still one I can throw on for a popcorn flick when I’m bored. It just happens to be a film that I will gradually lose interest in the longer it goes.

    Rating: 6.5/10

  2. Maniac cop, that’s a blast from my past , will have to find this now, I forgot Bruce “ash” Campbell was in this.
    And Robert z’dor must have the biggest jaw in the business
    .I’ve heard rumours online of a remake??

  3. Hey sale sorry for sounding dumb but can you help me out with a question, I remember when I was young there was a zombie film and it started, I think, with a zombie fighting a shark underwater wich was amazing, but for the life of me I can’t remember what the film was, could you help me out?

  4. Day 4: Holidays (2016)

    Rating: 6/10 (rental)

    — — — — — Contains spoilers — — — — —

    What I liked:
    – Each story is completely different from the others.
    – The film gets right to it; there is no wrap-around story fluff.
    – The concept of each story being tied to a holiday is interesting, but some of the shorts are only tangentially connected to its holiday.
    – Some shorts are fantastic; my favorites are “Father’s Day,” “Valentine’s Day,” “New Years Day” and “St. Patrick’s Day.”
    – “Father’s Day,” despite its bizarre ending, manages to build excellent tension.
    – “Valentine’s Day” is a great, simple story.
    – The Easter Bunny’s character design will haunt me forever.

    What I didn’t like:
    – Each story is completely different from the others.
    – Quality and tone of each sub-story is all over the board; I much prefer anthologies that are better connected.
    – Half of the shorts just didn’t work for me.
    – “Halloween” was a cool story, but the over-the-top acting and overall quality was so cheesy; I’m sure that’s what they were going for, but it just didn’t land for me.

    • Agree 100% with this review, Dino. I think Christmas was my favorite, but that was all Seth Green. Father’s Day was a close second. I called this one a rental.

  5. Day 4: Don’t Go In The House (1980)

    This will probably be my shortest review. This movie was a blatant rip off of Psycho, only much, much shittier. A man whose mother tortured him with fire as a child has serious mental issues, abducting women, setting them on fire and dressing them in his mother’s clothes. He talks to them and carries on conversations with them. I made it through an hour, but couldn’t finish the last half hour. I give this one a 1/10 and it’s an avoid.

    • I was interested to see what you made of Don’t Go in the House. I bought it cheap back in college, watched it once, and then sold it back to some third-party retailer. It’s a very odd movie that never really succeeds in creating any tension. I remember the villain being pretty pathetic and laughable, and also recall a very dated 1970s flute-filled easy listening score. It’s been years since I saw it, so my memories might be a little muddled at this point.

  6. Day 4: Isle of the Dead (1945)
    Rating: 6/10

    This is a Val Lewton (Cat People) produced film that stars Boris Karloff. A few people get quarantined on an Island in Greece during the 1912 war. In Val Lewton’s style this film has a catchy horror title but plays more like an intense drama. I really loved it and will watch it again but there is very little horror.

  7. Day 4 – Troll Hunter

    Not exclusively a horror film, but solidly in the realm of an “October/Halloween” movie. Of the found footage films I’ve seen in recent memory, this is one of the better entries. The world of Troll Hunter is imaginative and fun. It’s a great place to spend 100 minutes. Of the two Norwegian films I watched this October, Troll Hunters is the better film over Cold Prey. My only criticisms with Troll Hunter is that the trolls were a bit too goofy for me. The first reveal especially was a let down. However, by the time we got to the end, the final troll stole the show.

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