Tagline: You have the right to remain silent. Forever.
Director: William Lustig
Writer: Larry Cohen
Starring: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, Robert Z’Dar, Sheree North, Nina Arvesen, Nick Barbaro, Lou Bonacki, Barry Brenner, Victoria Catlin, James Dixon, Corey Michael Eubanks, Jill Gatsby, Rocky Giordani, John F. Goff, William J. Gorman, Erik Holland, Marcia Karr, Jake LaMotta, Leo Rossi, William Lustig, Dennis Junt
18 | 1hr 25min | Action, Horror
Budget: $1,100,000 (estimated)
When we talk about cinema’s most underrated monsters, Matt Cordell must be right up there with the best of them.
Commonly known as Maniac Cop, Robert Z’Dar’s Cordell is a brute of a killer, a zombified variation of Friday the 13th‘s Jason Voorhees, with the same superhuman strength and nondiscriminatory appetite for murder.
Directed by exploitation junkie William Lustig (Maniac) and written by the delightfully satirical Roger Corman (The Stuff), the movie would prove a financial failure at a time when slasher movies had become largely generic and commercially passé, but if this had been released half a decade earlier, I’m convinced we would be talking about Cordell in the same breath as Krueger and co. Ceaseless, intimidating and veiled in curmudgeon mystique, the character has all the ingredients of a bona fide horror icon, with a delicious pretence that has victims flocking to their deaths like lambs to the punitive slaughter.
To be fair, the movie has achieved cult status in the years since its release, and in spite of its financial shortcomings it would spawn a couple of increasingly ludicrous and highly enjoyable sequels, each descending further into the realms of the self-reflexive. But absurdities aside, this is a very well made effort; much more proficient than the majority of Myers and Voorhees sequels, and with a cast of horror royalty including The Fog‘s Tom Atkins and Evil Dead icon Bruce Campbell, genre fans are almost certain to mark out for this slice of slasher excess.
Mercifully, the movie is quick in displaying its explicit intentions. As bodies fall thick and fast cops are baffled by a seemingly motiveless killing spree, and when news hits the streets about our homicidal boy in blue, innocent cops are gunned down by terrified citizens fearing the very worst. With city officials in a panic, the law is desperate to land their man and bring peace to the streets of New York City, so when officer Jack Forrest (Campbell) is framed for the murder of his wife, they are only too eager to condemn him.
Luckily for Forrest, detective Frank McCrae (Atkins) remains unconvinced. When investigations lead him to a trigger-happy super cop supposedly killed in prison, it becomes increasingly apparent that Cordell has risen from the dead to enact his revenge on the city officials who sealed his fate, and anyone else who gets in his way. The cast are largely suspicious of Forrest’s claims — who wouldn’t be? — but Cordell wastes no time validating their assumptions. This is smash-mouth murder at its very finest.
Atkins is typically likable as the whiskey-swilling McCrae, a man who lives and breathes his profession with a pulp charm that proves hugely endearing. There is also admirable support from Blaxploitation icon Richard Roundtree as the self-serving Commissioner Pike, William Smith as gruff caricature Captain Ripley and Sheree North as Cordell’s crippled accomplice Sally Noland, while the sumptuous and effervescent Laurene Landon brings some much needed sex appeal as Forrest’s resourceful squeeze.
But this movie is all about the eponymous ‘Maniac’, a derivative pastiche of horror’s most memorable modern monsters. Suited and booted and armed with a nifty sword that doubles up as a standard issue nightstick, Cordell is horrifically scarred and dripping with murderous intent, as vengeful as Krueger and as brutal and dead-eyed as Myers, his daunting, uniformed presence working as a commentary on police brutality.
An upcoming reboot may prove an interesting prospect for fans of the franchise, finally giving the character the mainstream platform he so richly deserves, although something tells me the concept works best as the grainy dose of exploitation sleaze it was first conceived as.
Editor’s note: the reboot has since been committed to the slush pile. For this I think we can all be thankful.
Stopping to accost a young couple stuck at some traffic lights, our zombie law enforcer requests the man’s presence outside his vehicle, a request his girlfriend suggests he acquiesce with. Moments later, our savage brute grabs the citizen by the throat and subsequently snaps his neck like a pencil, launching him like a flesh missile through the windscreen of his parked car.
Not even Jason possesses that kind of strength!
Most Absurd Moment
After handcuffing an innocent man who stumbles out of a bar, Cordell pursues his victim through the smoke-strewn city streets before ramming him face first into some wet cement, leaving a rather curious death scene for the morning beat to attend to (see above image). But why would the cement still be wet at such a late hour? Perhaps the mixers had nipped off for a bit of late night supper, or maybe even a floodlight so they could see what in the hell they were doing.
Most Absurd Dialogue
During the autopsy of Cornnell’s first murder, detective Frank McCrae gets the wrong end of the proverbial stick.
Coroner: We have a C2/C3 fracture dislocation. The head was unstable and there was a sudden deceleration injury. The residual hanging where the head just “pops”; that’s not what’s interesting. What’s interesting is we have a crushed larynx. The head’s just flopping.
Frank McCrae: You’re tryin’ to tell me two kids did this?
Maniac Cop‘s Matt Cordell is a Frankenstein’s monster of modern horror icons, a beast whose brutal shenanigans are likely to please genre fans no end. Add to this an eerie theme of lullaby menace and you have all the ingredients for a horror classic. A harshly overlooked addition to the slasher canon which fully deserves the cult status it would later achieve.