Thursday, 9 August 2012

Maniac Cop

1988, US, Directed by William Lustig
Colour, Running Time: 85 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, Region B, Arrow; Video: 1.85:1 1080p 24fps, Audio: LPCM Stereo

Two yobs are chasing a nubile young female along the dark streets of New York at night, first wanting her money, then maybe more. An indistinct shadowy figure appears, upon closer inspection turning out to be a particularly well built policeman: the yobs halt the chase and hide in the shadows. Running into the apparent hands of safety the female is relieved that help seems to be available. But the cop brutally kills her. On Manhattan Island there seems to be an officer on the loose who’s killing any random victim who happens to cross his path; detective McCrae is on the case.  With good intention he lets information slip to the press and, following a news report on television highlighting the presence of a ‘maniac cop’ in the city, everybody is suddenly frightened of the Law. One officer soon comes under suspicion thanks to his wife turning up dead and her diary containing details of his mysterious excursions into the night. But all is not what it seems and, while McCrae is convinced that the perpetrator is connected to the police force somehow, he’s not so sure the man is still an actively employed member. But given the nature of the maniac's activities, it seems he’s getting inside information from somewhere. And not only that, following an encounter between the killer and McCrae before a close escape, he proves to be inhumanly strong and almost indestructible.
A few years after making one of the greatest exploitation films ever (Maniac), Bill Lustig returned to his forte of the killer-on-the-loose study, but this time focusing on someone who would, at a glance, be trusted by his potential victims. Nice idea and one that is pulled off well enough thanks to some fitting performances by the likes of Tom Atkins (made for police detective roles; see, for example, Night of the Creeps) as McCrae, Bruce Campbell as The Wrong Man blamed for the spate of violent crimes in the city, and Richard Roundtree as the perpetually angry commissioner. Sam Raimi even turns up in a cameo appearance as a reporter. Initially the viewer thinks this may be comfortably erring towards moral expectation, with the killer cop knocking off villains and other people who deserve death, but it comes as a surprise when he actually brutalises innocent people. His own history is explained at a certain point in the film and this retrospective passage itself provides the story with its most horrific moment, though the nature of occurrences removes any positive moral standing that could have been taken with the film itself (though there are the questionable morals of a couple of characters to take into consideration).  Of course, a positive moral standing is not an obligation for any film.  Rounding out the final act is a pretty exciting car/lorry chase that edges this movie into the uncommon action-horror genre, providing a reasonably satisfying way (without sophisticated expectations) to spend eighty minutes courtesy of exploitation specialists, Bill Lustig and Larry Cohen (Q The Winged Serpent).

Previously I'd owned the Medusa UK videotape, which was fullscreen and missing some of the gorier footage at the request of the BBFC: primarily this affected the attack on Matt Cordell, the slicing (by the editors) here being particularly sloppy. Censorship was to become more professional than this later on (how kind of them…) but the jump cut at one point is ridiculously noticeable. It has since been released on a fairly basic DVD by Optimum in the UK and Elite in the US. The best discs to go for by far have arrived on Blu-ray from Synapse in the US and Arrow in the UK.  The Arrow disc, now uncut, features a stellar image; grainy during nocturnal and some indoor shots, but really dazzling during diurnal shots, especially impressive for aerial photography.  Audio is limited by its eighties source and was never going to amaze.  There are also three featurettes (edited as usual with a pointless excess of footage from the film itself as well as overlong title sequences), some trailers, and a lovely package holding a poster, Arrow catalogue, and booklet for the film.  Overall, a fine package from Arrow.  Technically a slasher film I suppose, this isn’t up there with the nasty Maniac but, script and narrative anomalies aside, it has a moderate amount of entertainment value.

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