Valley of the Overlooked Franchises: Maniac Cop

Yeeeee in a time when trust in the cops not to shoot you is lower than a Madonna chart debut, it’s surprising that they’re remaking it. But until that happens – and also, if ever – let’s revisit the trilogy of original 80s-into-90s thriller-cum-slasher-zombie flicks. Some spoilers follow.

*

maniac cop 1988

MANIAC COP

3.5 Stars  1988/18/82m

“You have the right to remain silent… forever.”

Director: William Lustig / Writer: Larry Cohen / Cast: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith, Sheree North, Robert Z’Dar.

Body Count: 16

Laughter Lines: “You always take a leak with a gun in your hand? That’s a good way to blow your balls off!”


RoboCopSumurai CopBeverly Hills Cop, Kindergarten CopPsycho Cop and Maniac Cop – sure were a lot of ‘Something Cop’ movies around in the mid-80s-to-early-90s. While most of these garnered a following – maybe not Psycho Cop - and several generated sequels of their own, Maniac Cop is a strange venture, a weird fusion of ideas from action thrillers with some voodoo-slasher shit mixed in too.

Starting as so many serial killer films have, a young woman is walking home alone in New York City, tormented by some thugs, she runs into a uniformed cop – BUT THEN HE KILLS HER! The thugs are the only witnesses but nobody believes them. Soon after, a guy is pushed face down into drying cement and a driver slashed to death over a traffic violation – all in the first twelve minutes.

New York is in the throes of terror – which of the boys in blue has turned to slaying the residents? Grizzled detective Tom Atkins is on the case and in shepherded into suspecting Bruce Campbell’s beat cop, Jack Forrest, after his wife turns up dead she follows him, having received a series of calls from a mystery voice who keeps telling her that Jack is the killer. Turns out Forrest was just having it away with vice cop Theresa Mallory (Landon). Concerned to clear his name, the two of them investigate the suspicious death of a cop sent to Sing Sing some years earlier and was beaten to death by inmates – or was he?

maniac cop 1988 tom atkins bruce campbell robert z'dar laurene landon

Before Forrest and Mallory can alert the important people to the truth, the undead cop – old-style super-cop Matt ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ Cordell – goes on a rampage around their precinct, even turning on his old flame after she tries to tell him he’s losing control.

Maniac Cop crams a lot into 82 minutes (look for Sam Raimi’s cameo) and is thus never boring. Cordell’s carnage-creating romp around HQ is expertly done; A scene where Malloy is handcuffed to a body; Car chases with slo-mo crashes, and all manner of creative shots and visual cues that serve to keep the horrors of the killer’s face out of shot. A longer cut with more to say on the city-in-fear perspective would be interesting, as that kinda gets left behind once our leading lovers suss out what’s really going on and who has covered up what.

Lustig and Cohen worked together on all three movies and separately have a few slasher credits between them (notably, Lustig directed the nasty Maniac, which also makes the most of NYC as a player), but this is arguably a stand-out. Although rarely bandied in with slasher movies, it has enough elements to include it, even if some of those were traded in for more mainstream concerns in the follow-ups.

*

maniac cop 2 1990MANIAC COP 2

3 Stars  1990/18/84m

“You have the right to remain silent… forever.” – again??

Director: William Lustig / Writer: Larry Cohen / Cast: Robert Davi, Claudia Christian, Michael Lerner, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Robert Z’Dar, Clarence Williams III, Leo Rossi, Lou Bonacki, Paula Trickey, Charles Napier.

Body Count: 32

Laughter Lines: “Shooting Cordell is only good for getting his attention.”


At the end of the first one, it was plainly obvious Matt Cordell wasn’t done with his Make New York Obedient Again missive, and so he returns shortly after his ‘death’ to take revenge, quickly doing away with Forrest and Mallory, who transfer the reigns of hero over to Robert Davi’s Detective McKinney and a department shrink (Christian), who has had a hard time believing Mallory, until she comes face to face with Cordell for herself.

After this solid first act, things begin to wobble as Cordell inexplicably teams up with serial killer-of-strippers Leo Rossi, breaks into Sing Sing to finish off the inmates who ‘murdered’ him, and go on a machine gun spree at police HQ, which explains that sky-high body count.

There are still some great scenes, peaking with Landon and Christian in a cab, attacked by Cordell, who handcuffs the latter to the steering wheels and sends her off down the city streets while he takes care of Mallory for good.

Some fun parts, but it lacks the charm of the first one. Joe Spinnell was originally to play the role taken by Leo Rossi, but died before production began and so the film carries a dedication to him.

*

maniac cop 3

MANIAC COP 3: BADGE OF SILENCE

2.5 Stars  1992/18/81m

“The wrong arm of the law is back.”

A.k.a. MC3: Maniac Cop 3

Director: William Lustig / Writer: Larry Cohen / Cast: Robert Davi, Caitlin Dulany, Gretchen Becker, Robert Z’Dar, Paul Gleason, Jackie Earle Haley, Robert Forster, Julius Harris, Doug Savant, Bobby Di Cicco.

Body Count: at least 18


A religious oddball resurrects Matt Cordell for no reason, just as a decorated female cop (Becker) is shot during an armed robbery and set up by the media to be a Cordell-like villain. Our maniac cop develops a bit of a crush on her and sets about clearing her name in the only way he knows how – by killing all of those responsible, as well as anyone else who crosses his path.

Davi returns as McKinney, this time joined by Caitlin Dulany as a doctor who just stands around in designer workwear looking pretty and screaming on cue.

More in the mould of a slasher film than the previous entry, but loses itself in a series of plot holes you could navigate the Titanic through. Still, as before, it’s a fun ride with lush production values and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Had so much time not passed, and Lustig not quit the project (his original cut was shorter than an hour!), from that ending we could’ve expected Bride of Maniac Cop to follow in 1994.

Overall blurbs-of-interest: Tom Atkins was in My Bloody Valentine 3D; Bruce Campbell appears briefly in Intruder; Robert Z’Dar was also in Grotesque; Michael Learner was in National Lampoon’s Class Reunion; Leo Rossi was Bud in Halloween II; Robert Forster was in Lustig’s Uncle Sam and also the 1998 Psycho remake; Charles Napier was in Camping Del Terrore and Wacko; Jackie Earle Haley was the new Freddy Krueger; Bobby Di Cicco was in The Baby Doll Murders; William Smith was in Valley of Death.

Wronger Turn

albino farm 2009

ALBINO FARM

1 Stars  2009/85m

“The Legend is Real…”

Directors/Writers: Sean McEwen & Joe Anderson / Cast: Tammin Sursok, Sunkrish Bala, Alicia Lagano, Nick Richey, Chris Jericho, Richard Christy, Duane Whitaker, Bianca Allaine, Kevin Spirtas.

Body Count: 10+


Cheapo Wrong Turn clone with a quartet of college kids on a project lured to go and investigate the ‘Albino Farm’, a local legend, that’s brimming with malformed outcasts, who are also, naturally, all murderers.

Notable only for a likeable Indian guy cast as the nominal hero, and Kevin Spirtas from The Hills Have Eyes Part II and Friday the 13th Part VII in a three-minute role as a preacher. Everything else is a fifth-rate photocopy of something you’ve seen ten times before, scraping such depths as a guy willing to allow complete strangers to molest his girlfriend for a ride to the farm. Total bollocks.

Express Elevator to Hell… going down

botched 2007

BOTCHED

3 Stars  2007/15/91m

“Russian Mafia, insane hostages, twin serial killers… Ritchie Donovan’s luck has run out.”

Director: Kit Ryan / Writers: Derek Boyle, Eamon Friel, Raymond Friel / Cast: Stephen Dorff, Jaime Murray, Bronagh Gallagher, Geoff Bell, Hugh O’Conor, Jamie Foreman, Russell Smith, Sean Pertwee, Norma Sheahan, Gene Rooney, Edward Duly Baker.

Body Count: 10

Laughter Lines: “You have to get the police – various people are trying to kill me.”


Definitely a first for a slasher movie – a virtuoso mix of gore and slapstick comedy, with Dorff as an American grafter caught up in the theft of a sacred Russian artifact. Things descend into chaos when one of his comrades kills somebody and then the thieves and an elevator full of passengers gets stuck on a secret floor in a Moscow building.

Believing the police are on to them, the trio of crap crooks try to bargain their way to freedom with the release of a hostage, who ends up decapitated by a pair of giant shears. It becomes clear that it’s someone other than the cops keeping them at bay – someone with a cache of weaponry, all of it destined to hack, slash, and skewer through the cast.

botched 2007

If this weren’t bad enough, a group of three seemingly nervous religious women decide to take over the situation and turn the tables on the hostages, a jittery journalist joins forces with a wannabe commando security guard, leaving Dorff with a sexy Junior VP (Murray) to go about things the smart way.

The plot makes a few surprising turns as more above the Ivan the Terrible-lite killer and his purpose is revealed, all of it peppered with some great lines, fart gags, and Three Stooges physical comedy, all the while parodying the likes of Hostel with a very British sense of humour. Botched is like nothing you’ve seen before and definitely not for all tastes, but an entertaining hour and half however you cut, hack, or gut it.

Blurbs-of-interest: Sean Pertwee was in Wilderness; Geoff Bell was also in Tormented and Comedown.

VIP’S of Slasherdom: Melissa

One of the first Friday the 13th‘s I saw was Part VII: The New Blood, which, on the back of the original, I found to be pretty lax. There were still enough scraps to feast on as the genre was still new to me then. Aside from the awesome Maddy, and the swoon-worthy Nick, there was, after previous VIP Inductee Wendy, the best bitchy girl found in the genre… bow down for Melissa.

melissa susan jennifer sullivan

“…’Like’ has nothing to do with it.”

Missive: To get Nick (Kevin Blair) into bed at any cost.

Talents: Manipulation, seduction, eavesdropping, but also hair care and modelling those Hamptons-housewife pearls that her daddy gave her for being ‘the perfect daughter’. Hmm… hey Melissa, meet Madison Penrose!

Why we love her: Melissa is just a force of pure evil, rivalling Jason from a social perspective – while he destroys people physically, Melissa and her ilk are destructive in another way entirely, cutting them down with her scheming ways rather than a bladed weapon.

…56 years later

lake bodom 2017

LAKE BODOM

3 Stars  2016/85m

A.k.a. Bodom (original title)

Director/Writer: Taneli Mustonen / Writer: Aleksi Hyvärinen / Cast: Nelly Hirst-Gee, Mimosa Willamo, Mikael Gabriel, Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä.

Body Count: 3


I’ve lost count of the number of horror movies that claim to be ‘based on true events’ over the years, which usually means the source event has been evolved by producers thirsty to bend it into a tellable tale, be it Ed Gein into Psycho and/or The Texas Chain Saw MassacreWolf Creek, or even the folklore used in Urban Legend - at least here, the Lake Bodom murders actually occurred.

In 1960, two teen couples were attacked while camping out at the Finnish beauty spot; three of them were fatally injured, the fourth survived to become the prime suspect, eventually arrested 44 years after the fact, and acquitted, meaning the killer is effectively still undetected.

The story fascinates slightly morbid high schooler Atte, who, with his buddy Elias, dupe gal-pals Nora and Ida into accompanying them to a party at a lakeside cabin his family owns, to be joined by other friends the next day. This is all a ruse for him to investigate his theory on what actually happened 56 years earlier (yay! it’s not 5, 10, or 20 years!), and there’s no cabin either. The girls don’t have meltdowns over it, but are peeved. Atte, it seems, wants to reenact the crimes to gauge the likelihood that he’s got it solved.

lake bodom 2016

As darkness falls and they sit about the campfire by the lake, tiny hints suggest that there might be someone else there – was that a flashlight amongst the trees across the lake? Oppressed religious girl, Ida, is still sore over nude photos of her taken when she was drunk at a party and were seen by the entire school – but who took them?

Lake Bodom tosses a twist into the mechanics halfway through (I half-guessed it), but with so long left, what next? A second twist, unlikely as it is, shifts the film into its Wolf Creek gear, with an excellently original tow-truck scene of terror. It doesn’t go to lengths to explain the connection between what’s going on and the 1960 murders, wisely leaving that cloaked in mystery, as the original killings probably always will be.

lake bodom 2016

Beautifully lensed, with shades of Cold Prey alongside echoes of Haute Tension – European slasher films tend to go further with their production quality, rarely turning out shot-on-video cheapies, and stepping away from tying up every loose end. Nevertheless, it feels like the opportunity to make an amazing straight-up teen slasher film is squandered by the plotting, which is undeniably contrived, and leaning towards disproportionately torturing the female characters.

An exercise in brilliant craftsmanship behind the camera, which is worth it alone.

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