For some odd reason, I always forget that Bruce Campbell stars in William Lustig's 'Maniac Cop.' Of the long list of movies in which the chin-tastic actor has appeared — and not necessarily counting the hundreds of cameo appearances — this 80s cult favorite is often overlooked, in spite of the countless times I've watched it. It's not that the beloved B-movie actor, best known by as the wisecracking hero of the 'Evil Dead' series Ash Williams, is all that terrible in his role as the wrongly-accused Officer Jack Forrest or that he's somehow overshadowed by another cast member. It's just that the role is unmemorable and the character himself is rather plain and humdrum. Frankly, there's nothing notable about his performance.
Campbell basically plays the character straight — a beat cop with marital problems, in love with another woman on the force but unluckily caught in the middle of a city-wide scandal. A madman dressed in the uniform of New York's finest is on a murder rampage, randomly killing innocent people while walking the streets at night. Campbell's ill-fated Jack fits the profile... or so we're told. Earlier, in a conversation with the police commissioner, the description was some six-foot-six giant with massive hands that can crush necks. But after Jack's wife (Victoria Catlin), who also suspected him of the killing spree, is found dead in a hotel room, all eyes suddenly turn to the supposedly shorter Jack. The evidence pointing to him is so flimsy that it's difficult to take it the least bit serious.
Going against type, as if demonstrating his range, Campbell gives it his dramatic best, making the character at least likeable and affable despite him being ultimately forgettable. Playing opposite him is Laurene Landon as Jack's secret lover with the crimped blonde hair Officer Mallory. But now that the wife is dead, they're making their affair public. Also, because she is Jack's best alibi. Funnily, the character is as equally unmemorable and nearly useless as a police officer because she spends more time screaming her lungs to death and acting the damsel in distress. Joining the pair, though he doesn't share much screen time with Campbell, is the always awesome Tom Atkins as tough, smart and resourceful Det. Lt. Frank McCrae. With the exception of Landon, he's the only one on the entire force who believes Jack's innocence, yet fails to ever mention the guy doesn't fit the very profile he described earlier. It's a minor nitpick easily forgiven because he is Tom Atkins after all.
Of course, the film's main attraction is the maniac cop himself, played by veteran cult B-movie actor Robert Z'Dar. One of the more amazing aspects of the production is the fact that the actor didn't require much makeup for the role. The man has one of the most remarkably unique faces ever seen in motion picture history, and he does a fantastic job of making the lunatic killer into a frightening presence. Although he's not much taller than Campbell in real life, he makes for a startling monster nonetheless, thanks to his unusual facial features, incredibly broad shoulders and the excellent cinematography of James Lemmo and Vincent J. Rabe. Nicknamed "The Chin," it could be argued that Z'Dar overshadows Campbell as the one memorable face of the movie.
From a script by B-movie auteur Larry Cohen ('Phone Booth,' 'It's Alive,' 'Q: The Winged Serpent') and directed by William Lustig, 'Maniac Cop' is meant as a "slasher" horror movie, but it really feels more like a murder-mystery procedural that suddenly turns into an action thriller in the second half. The first half follows Atkins's detective as he pieces clues that connect back to someone within the department. Campbell and Landon take over after Atkins meets his unfortunate demise, uncovering not only the killer's identity but also a larger police conspiracy. It's an awkward shift in the narrative, but Lustig maintains an energetic pace with a few surprisingly good action sequences, making the entire production an amusing and appealing low-budget actioner for cult enthusiasts.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Imported from the United Kingdom, this Blu-ray edition of 'Maniac Cop' comes courtesy of Arrow Video. The Region Free, BD50 disc arrives inside a slightly thicker than normal blue keepcase with an attractive slipbox and reversible cover art. The package includes a double-sided poster, a catalog of the distributor's video library, and a 15-page booklet with color photos with an essay by Troy Howarth and a text interview with William Lustig by Calum Waddell. At startup, the disc goes straight to an animated menu screen with music playing in the background.
Maniac Cop takes out his vengeance on Blu-ray with a great-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that offers a noticeable improvement over previous standard definition releases. The source used appears to be in great condition, showing excellent clarity and resolution from beginning to end, with crisp, comfortably bright contrast levels. Of course, considering its low-budget origins, the movie doesn't really offer the sharpest image around, but there are plenty of visible details and fine lines on buildings, clothing and in a variety of background objects. Blacks are rich and true, providing the high-def transfer with good dimensionality and a welcome film-like quality. Colors are well saturated with primaries looking particularly bold, and flesh tones appear natural.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the image also comes with the occasional white speck though it's never distracting and only adds to the presentation's cinematic appeal. However, I did detect the light use of digital noise reduction in a couple moments, but again, it's not applied too terribly or heavily. Otherwise, Arrow Video delivers a strong picture.
Compared to the U.S. Blu-ray release from Synapse Films, the two transfers appear identical with the only notable difference being this U.K. version from Arrow Video looking slightly brighter. The former is a smidge darker with a bit paler skin tones in the cast.
Complementing the video is an equally strong uncompressed PCM stereo soundtrack that nicely fills the entire soundstage with a variety of discrete effects. With good fidelity and balance between the channels, imaging feels wide and welcoming. Jay Chattaway's score terrifically opens the soundfield while minor atmospherics are delivered off-screen convincingly, and dialogue reproduction is well-prioritized in the center. The mid-range is clean and for the most part detailed; however, it also falls a bit on the flat side with little to almost no movement into the upper frequencies. Low bass also seems lacking, which makes the few action sequences noticeably dull. Nevertheless, there's plenty to enjoy in the lossless mix and fans will likely find it satisfying.
English subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired are also included.
Meant as a "slasher" horror movie, 'Maniac Cop' is an amusing low-budget murder-mystery procedural from William Lustig and Larry Cohen. Starring Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell, the movie is rather simple and straightforward but also quite entertaining, largely thanks to Robert Z'Dar's uniquely commanding presence. The Blu-ray from U.K.-based Arrow Video arrives with a strong and generally satisfying audio and video presentation. With a decent assortment of exclusive supplements to boot, the package makes for a worthy addition to anyone library of imported titles.