‘Maniac Cop’ (1988): Cult Slasher With Shield Appeal – Retro Review

I have a confession to make. Despite being a connoisseur of all things horror, I have never seen the underrated cult gem that is Maniac Cop. That’s right, I have not seen every horror film to emerge from the motion picture industry. Shocking, right? Written by Larry Cohen (It’s Alive 1974, The Stuff 1985) and directed by William Lustig (Maniac 1980), this unique spin of a thriller was released in 1988, flying way under my radar… mostly because I would have only been 2 years old when it hit theaters. Approaching its 30 year anniversary, this clever slasher holds up today by retaining originality while encompassing action, crime, mystery and drama.

When bodies begin dropping in New York City at the hands of a deranged lunatic dressed as a police officer, the NYPD try to handle the matter silently. However, when the news starts reporting this psychotic police brutality and blaming the NYPD, it’s all taken to a whole new level. Before long, widespread hysteria falls upon the Big Apple.

The plot thickens when Officer Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell: The Evil Dead 1981) is framed following the murder of his wife, Ellen (Victoria Catlin: Ghoulies 1984). When Jack’s affair with Officer Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon: Airplane II: The Sequel 1982, Syndicate Smasher 2017) is exposed, the NYPD believe they have their killer and motive. Fueled by skepticism, Lieutenant Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins: Halloween III: Season of the Witch 1982, The Fog 1980) continues his investigation, uncovering the dark past of the police force.

Maniac Cop, bloody knife
Maniac Cop villain just after a fresh kill

With a seasoned cast carrying the film, Maniac Cop is driven by outstanding performances by Atkins, Landon and Campbell. Having rocked this type of role before in films like Night of the Creeps (1986), Atkins adds a natural, old school investigative feel to the film. Landon is fearless in her role of a concerned lover determined to prove Jack’s innocence. Bringing an uncharacteristically serious touch to the film, Campbell gives a surprising performance that differs greatly from his retired character of Ash “Ashy Slashy” Williams, known and loved so well by the horror community.

Maniac Cop, Laurene Landon
Laurene Landon as Theresa Mallory, working vice

What really makes Maniac Cop worthwhile is the original spin on traditional slasher features. Simple yet brilliant, the story utilizes a symbol that is supposed to stand for peace and justice and turns it on its head. Likely inspired by true life stories of police brutality which have existed since the birth of law enforcement, this underrated cult classic showcases a Michael/Jason-esque villain that’s bearing a badge that ironically represents protection and service. Having an interesting backstory that adds depth to the psychotic character, the only major flaw is the final reveal of the killer’s mangled face.

Bruce Campbell, Maniac Cop
Bruce Campbell as Jack Forrest laying eyes on the Maniac Cop villain

If you’re a fan of slashers, Maniac Cop is a fun, worthwhile ride. Some fans of horror may be turned off by a few of the elements that can be perceived as cheesy. I’ll admit that the film is far from a dark, brooding tale. Regardless, lovers of low budget horror who can approach this feature with an open mind will thoroughly enjoy themselves.

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