I’m in the process of watching a Maniac Cop marathon of sorts. It doesn’t really fit in with the Christmas spirit, but I recently found out that Netflix has all three movies online to watch so I’ve jumped in. What’s Maniac Cop you ask?
Maniac Cop is a series of films that vaguely fall under the “slasher” formula starting Robert Z’Dar as a cop back from the dead inflicting death upon those who wronged him when he was an NYPD…. And anyone else who gets in his way. The first film up is Maniac Cop from 1988, the one that started it all! And by all… I mean the other two sequels.
The first Maniac Cop movie is surprisingly good in premise if not in execution, with a chilling open, and a downright haunting score by Jay Chattaway. This film also features Bruce Campbell in one of his lesser known roles. I mean, you always hear people talking about Bruce, but no one ever brings up Maniac Cop!
The movie is uneven at best, with a good performance from Tom Atkins as the detective trying to figure out who’s killing people in NYC. Everyone else doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of acting and even Campbell seems a bit tame. There are a few good supporting characters, but the movie isn’t pieced together well enough, nor are the characters fleshed out enough. Unfortunately the movie suffers elsewhere as NYC feels like a tiny city where no one ever seems to go. Some of the plot points are rushed, or never clearly explained at all. There’s also some good effects mixed in, but some bad ones as well. Not to mention a really long police chase that seemed to be padding out the run time, more than advancing the plot.
Atkins character is the central figure for the first half of the movie, until the movie flips and makes Bruce Campbell the central character. Campbell is a NYPD who is brought up on charges that he’s the psycho cop who’s been killing innocent people in the city. The movie doesn’t immediately reveal that it’s not Campbell and I think Bruce is a good choice because of his large chin, which Robert Z’Dar also sports. Although it’s pretty clear Campbell is nowhere near big enough to be the killer.
I guess I should now mention that Robert Z’Dar is a freaky looking dude. We always called him “Big chin man” when I was a kid, but I don’t think that’s actually accurate. Yes, he has a big chin… But he also has huge cheekbones. Check out Z’Dar over at his official site Z-Dar.com and see what I’m talking about.
Maniac Cop works because the camera work is very clever. They avoid showing Maniac Cop’s face for most of the movie. All you see is his hulking frame and huge cheekbones. The rest is blacked out. In fact, by the time you see Z’Dar’s face it doesn’t come off as creepy. They put some scarred makeup on him, but it’s not very good looking. It just looks like he’s got acne and bad teeth. I think they’d done better by just making Z’Dar’s face very pale with maybe just a hint of scarring. Because Z’Dar is creepy looking as is.
In the end, Campbell is cleared, Maniac Cop is dead and all is well… Or is it? Maniac Cop 2 is next. This time Maniac Cop returns from the dead again and looks much more dead this time. I’ll go on record now for saying that Maniac Cop is one of the few slasher flicks of the 80’s that could actually USE a Hollywood redo. The story isn’t as convoluted as Freddy or Jason and there isn’t a ton of emotional attachment to any particular element. It could be tinkered with and improved upon. So long as Robert Z’Dar gets a cameo!
I mentioned how creepy Z’Dar looks and here’s a picture of him with another man who’s made a career out of looking strange, Mr. Michael Berryman. These guys are true throwbacks to the old days of Hollywood horror cinema when you could get a job based on your creepy looks instead of makeup. These guys are modern day Boris Karloff or Vincent Price! They sell the macabre on their natural features, no CGI or prosthetics required.