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If anything can be said about this late 80s slasher, it is that it contains a virtual who’s who of 80s/genre icons both before and behind the camera. Produced by James Glickenhaus (The Exterminator, Shakedown), written by Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, Q The Winged Serpent) and directed by William Lustig (Maniac), while starring Tom Atkins (The FogHalloween III), Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead), William Smith (The Ultimate Warrior), Richard Roundtree (Shaft), Laurene Landon (All The Marbles) and started the career of genre favorite Robert Z’Dar… an impressive list. And while the film doesn’t quite live up to the potential of the sum of it’s makers and cast, it is a fun slasher made at a time where the 80s slasher genre had pretty much run it’s course and this flick is among some of it’s last gasps before Scream brought the slasher back as the subject of pop culture nostalgia 8 years later.

Maniac Cop is set in NYC and tells the story of a murder spree that is being committed by a large hulking assailant dressed liked a police officer or, worse yet, actually is a police officer. This killer is being hunted by Det. Frank McCrae (Atkins) who can’t seem to get a lead till fellow officer Jack Forrest (Campbell) is framed for the villain’s handiwork, with the murder of Forrest’s own wife. McCrea knows the cheating Forrest was with his mistress, Officer Theresa Mallory (Landon) at the time and begins to suspect the killer is indeed a cop getting information from the inside. What’s more, the man he suspects, Officer Matt Cordell (Z’Dar), a once hero cop sent to prison for rights violations to keep him from exposing city officials, was supposedly murdered in prison by vengeful inmates. If proving Forrest’s innocence is not hard enough, he now has to prove that the real culprit is a man long believed dead.

NYC set slasher is directed fairly by the numbers by William Lustig but, Larry Cohen’s script is filled with his trademarked sly humor and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s definitely a bit livelier then Lustig’s cult classic Maniac was though, far less gruesome. It’s not one of the best of the 80s slashers but, is entertaining and has enough gore and action to make it a fun nostalgic watch, especially when one sees NYC landmarks and once famous night spots that are no longer there. The plot, if thought about, makes little sense. While Cordell may have suffered brain damage when assaulted in prison, it still doesn’t make too much sense that he now preys on innocent civilians when he was once a dedicated cop. But, there is a deviation with him wanting to kill those responsible for setting him up and at one point, he decimates a precinct full of fellow officers whom he may feel betrayed him and it is an 80s slasher so, very little inspiration is needed for a killing spree and like other flicks of it’s kind, you just go with it. The film is well produced and looks good and there is some effective gore though, not as much as one might expect. The pace is rather brisk and there is an effective score by another genre favorite Jay Chattaway (Missing In Action, Star Trek: TNG).

And if nothing else, it’s great to see the cast in action. Atkins chews up the scenery as only Atkins can but, still takes the subject matter seriously so we do too. Campbell is actually playing a straight hero type here, though he spends a lot of time incarcerated and in cuffs while the perky and leggy Landon tries to free him and get him out of Cordell’s grasp. Not sure why Cordell wants his patsy dead but, like I said, go with it. The rest of the genre vets have lesser roles but, Smith and Roundtree add some nice character to their small roles. And Z’Dar may have no dialog but, cuts an imposing figure as the vengeful cop whose basically Michael Myers in a police uniform… but, it works and Z’Dar is a perfect fit for the badge and night stick. The cast go a long way in making this one a fun viewing.

So, while Maniac Cop is not a prime example of it’s sub-genre, is a fairly entertaining one and the cast of familiar B-movie faces makes it fun to watch as does the nostalgia of 80s NYC. It isn’t very stylish but moves quickly and has it’s share of well executed gore and stunts. Not among my favorites but, does have personal nostalgia from seeing it at the long gone Hyway Theater in Fair lawn, N.J. which showed a lot of B-movies like this back in those days.

3 maniac cops.

maniac cop

CAUTION: The trailer does show a lot of spoiler-ish scenes if you haven’t seen this cult classic yet.





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maniac 1980


MANIAC (1980)

Having recently watched and really enjoyed the 2013 remake of this 1980 cult classic, I thought I’d revisit the original and see how it holds up. I’ll be honest, I never really liked this slasher flick much and upon watching it again, my opinion hasn’t changed. Maniac is an ultra-gory slasher about the mentally disturbed Frank Zito (Joe Spinell who wrote the story and co-wrote the script.), a man who likes to slaughter and scalp young women and then dress up mannequins to resemble his victims, scalp and all. He was abused by his now dead prostitute mother and he has quite bi-polar feelings about women as a result. The deranged Frank is carving his way through NYC’s nightlife when he encounters beautiful fashion photographer, Anna (Caroline Munro). Frank falls for Anna, but can he keep his scalpel in his pants or will Anna join the mannequin of the month club?

As directed by William Lustig, Maniac is a sleazy horror that would fit perfectly in the Time Square grind houses it was made for. It seems more like an excuse to gorily dispatch young woman and their dates, if they aren’t alone, than an actual attempt  to make a good thriller. Spinell’s scenes of talking to his mannequins and crying about what he’s just done to the latest victim come across as more silly than scary or disturbing. Spinell, a New York native who passed away suddenly in 1989, made a career of playing sleazy street thugs and gangsters, but doesn’t have the range to really make these scenes work and they just induce giggles. Though, it does add a bit of a camp factor I must admit. The film itself is slow moving and there is no tension or suspense as the victims are basically just that, fodder for Frank’s arsenal of weapons. They are dispatched soon or immediately after we meet them and there is no emotional investment in them and their fates are obvious from the minute they appear. The film is really most famous for some of make-up FX master Tom Savini’s best gore effects, used in the victims’ deaths. The scalpings, stabbings and shootings all are quite realistic and disgusting and any effectiveness the film carries, is from his work. He even got to shoot himself as he plays a young victim’s date who has his head shotgunned to pieces by Zito. The catch is that Savini was also a stuntman and doubled for Spinell by jumping up on the car hood and shooting his own character in the face. Savini’s work here was considered quite shocking and got Maniac released unrated. His FX still hold up today, though the rest of the film really doesn’t.

My final gripe is that I don’t believe for one minute that Munro’s beautiful photographer would actually date a guy like Spinell’s Zito. Aside from the fact that he is just sleazy looking with his long greasy hair and pot marked face, more importantly, he just acts weird and the fact that he tracked her down to find her, should set her internal creep alarms off immediately. He basically stalks her and she agrees to go out with him after a strange conversation that should have any woman on her guard. Also, they don’t finally meet till the last act and their ‘relationship’ is never given time to develop to the point of believability. If it was given more time, maybe we could see Frank overcome the creep factor and win her over. Based on what little we do see, it doesn’t work. If they didn’t date, though, the movie wouldn’t go anywhere and technically, it doesn’t. Predictably, cuckoo Frank can’t help but emerge when taking Anna to visit his mother’s grave (which should have been another sign, Frankie is a tad off), which sends the movie to it’s gory and somewhat abrupt conclusion.

All in all, I recognize Maniac’s place as a cult classic 80s slasher, but Tom Savini’s masterful FX aside, I think it’s reputation far exceeds it’s actual merit.

2 and 1/2 mannequin heads

maniac 1980 rating






MANIAC (2013)

Maniac is a remake of the classic 80s horror flick and if William Lustig’s gore-fest was a quintessential grind house slasher than Franck Khalfoun’s film is an art-house slasher as well as a remake…and a very effective and disturbing remake it is. Maniac, like the original, tells the story of Frank Zito (a brilliant Elijah Wood), a man who restores mannequins by day and stalks and gruesomely murders young women by night. The story is basically the same as the 80s film except this one is set in L.A. and the original was in New York. Frank has serious mother issues and when he murders his pretty victims, it’s an extension of the hurt and anger he felt from watching his now dead hooker mom ply her trade when he was a child. Sexuality brings out entirely different urges in poor Frank and a lot of young ladies are suffering the consequences as Frank’s hook-ups end rather gruesomely. After his objects of desire are slaughtered, he dresses his mannequins up like his victims including their scalps, so they, unlike his dead mother, will stay with him forever. But, Frank meets Anna (Nora Arnezender) and quickly falls for the pretty French photographer with an artistic interest in his mannequins, but can Frank overcome a deeply twisted mind and really be happy with her or will Anna soon become just another  piece in his horrid collection?

Produced and co-written by Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, Piranha 3-D) Maniac is a film that is not only a beautifully shot art house style flick, but a very disturbing and gruesome horror. Khalfoun films most of the movie from Zito’s perspective, so we generally only see him in reflections and mirrors. Only on a few occasions we see Wood’s serial killer from our perspective, but maybe it’s because in these moments Frank is watching his own gruesome actions as if a bystander in his own life, separating himself from his deeds. This effectively put’s us in his eyes and very uncomfortably in his head and it really gives this film it’s impact especially during the film’s intense and blood soaked last act. We stalk his victims along with him and this first person perspective makes us both an unwilling participant and a helpless witness to his demented acts.

This view point works so well because Woods gives a bold yet, disturbingly subtle performance in the role originated by Joe Spinell, who also wrote the original. Woods really paints the portrait of a truly deranged individual yet, gives us reason to believe that his Frank could actually be a kind and gentle man had he not been twisted by watching his mother’s depraved sexual acts as a child. Arnezeder’s Anna is sweet yet, a little eccentric as the artsy photographer, making her likable and obviously causing us to fear for her as we know the true nature of the man she sees as a gentle, timid soul. The rest of the cast are fine though the focus remains on Frank and Anna, but Khalfoun’s camera captures enough of the supporting characters personality so those that fall prey to Frank’s sharp bowie knife don’t come across like the mannequins that populate his shop/home and aren’t just body count. His camera also captures some beautiful images too and there’s a really nice nod to the original’s movie poster captured in the reflection of a car door…there’s also a playful jab at that film’s lead, Joe Spinell, too that will amuse fans of the original.

The film is set in modern day yet has a delightfully 80s feel to it, including it’s atmospheric electronic score by ‘Rob’. The gore effects by Greg Nicotero and KNB are extremely realistic and graphic and will make even the most jaded gorehound wince. While not quite as gory as the 80s classic, I felt the gore here was more effective because, it is used a bit more sparingly and has more impact when it occurs. Maniac ranks among some of the best of the recent horror remakes, it has some flaws, such as some dialog was added by Wood in post production whose line readings seem to be a bit flat, but it does improve upon the trashy, gory, fun original by making it a seriously disturbing ride in the shoes of a twisted mind. It’s chilling and shocking at times and and very unsettling even in it’s quieter moments. One of the best horrors I’ve seen this year and ironically, one of the others (Evil Dead) was also a remake.  So much for my complaining about all these horror remakes. A highly recommended horror.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated a solid and disturbing 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) mannequin heads!

maniac rating