JULY 29, 2008
When DVDs first became available, there were an inordinate number of titles that went out of print within a few months of their release. I have no idea why for the most part, while some had legitimate reasons (like Little Shop Of Horrors, which was pulled due to Frank Oz being a big baby about the deleted ending being one of the extra features), others were just taken off the shelves for the hell of it. One such title was Maniac Cop, and thus when I found a copy on Ebay for pretty cheap (less than 20 bucks) I snapped it up. And now, 9 years later, I finally watched it!
As the movie began, I saw a possible reason why it was put on moratorium (it has since been re-released - the one in the Amazon link is the new edition, not the one I am reviewing): the transfer is fucking atrocious. I have seen better quality on VHS tapes. It looks like its streaming over Youtube or something. The credits are all blurry, nothing has any detail, the blacks are washed out... it’s just a really piss poor job. Granted, in the early days of DVD there was a lot of inconsistency, but I really cannot recall a transfer this bad (especially on a widescreen transfer, which means they were working off some sort of master, as opposed to an actual VHS tape like Chopping Mall).
Luckily the movie itself is pretty fun. It’s an odd blend of standard cop/revenge movie and slasher, but it more or less works. If the film has one real flaw, it’s the casting of genre greats Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell, and not giving them any real scenes together. I think they share the screen for a total of three minutes, all of which is just dialogue and exposition. Campbell, in fact, spends most of his time in a jail cell or an interrogation room, and it isn’t until Atkins is removed from the movie (via being killed) that he gets to actually DO anything. Bummer.
Another thing that annoyed me was the use of freeze credits. This is when you watch 3-4 seconds of film footage, and then it freezes to provide a credit. Whoever invented this should be shot to death. Unless it’s a Bond film, there is never anything worth paying attention to in the opening credits of a movie; and thus we aren’t being distracted by anything. You don’t need to literally slow the movie down to guarantee the viewer knows who the production designer or casting person is.
Some highlights include: the score, particularly when the title character has a flashback to how he became a Maniac; the rather high body count (there are like 4 kills in the first 15 minutes!); Atkins’ usual gruff awesomeness, and of course, Robert Z’Dar (“Oh Z’no!”) as the cop. You only see his legendary face toward the end of the film, but it’s a great “reveal” nonetheless. Action fans know Z’Dar from his amazing work in Tango & Cash, where he played “Conan”, a guy who just kept popping up to piss off Stallone (it’s really pretty amazing how much the guy is in the movie when he’s essentially an anonymous bad guy – I think he has more screen time than Jack Palance).
I also love the ending, because if you think about it, its kind of a downer. Everyone thinks Campbell is the killer, but of course we know it’s Z’Dar. So there’s this big car chase, which results in the Maniac drowning in the river. His body is not recovered (sequel set up – we see him rising out of the water unnoticed), and everyone else that encountered him is dead, so I guess Campbell’s name isn’t cleared. I would imagine this is explored in the sequel, but I kind of like the idea of a big fuck you ending, even if not intentional.
There’s also a bit I really liked where Atkins goes to a bar (shock). Not that it’s a really great scene or anything, but the bar (exterior anyway) reminded me of a location from Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law, a fantastic movie that I haven’t seen since college. Thanks, random 80s B movie!
Bill Lustig rarely directs anymore, and that is a shame (his last film was Uncle Sam, in 1996). His movies are always fun (having a Larry Cohen script doesn’t hurt), and he’s just a great guy to listen to on the commentary track. What he is doing instead is just as important (if a great exploitation movie hits DVD in a giant special edition, chances are Bill is the guy who got the ball rolling on its creation), but I wish he could take time off to make a movie now and then. He’s always been under-appreciated outside of die hard horror nerds, and his sensibilities would definitely play well with today’s horror market.
What say you?