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Maniac Cop

Synapse Films // R // October 11, 2011 // Region 0
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 19, 2011 | E-mail the Author
"You have the right to remain silent...forever!"

Truth in advertising! The title for Maniac Cop tells you just about everything you need to know about the premise this
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time around. The Big Apple is in a panic when some nutjob dressed up as a police officer starts racking up a hell of a body count. It's not even a case of some cop with a screw loose trying to clean up the streets; most of the poor bastards he's hacked apart hadn't so much as jaywalked. Since no one's gotten a good look at this maniac cop and lived to talk about it, a wave of fear and mistrust has blanketed the city, with some terrified New Yorkers even starting to gun down policemen on sight. The NYPD is desperate to pin the blame on some random psychopath playing dress-up. Detective McCrae (Tom Atkins), though...? He can't shake the nagging suspicion that the deranged lunatic is someone on the force. Whoever this maniac is, he's clever enough to frame beat cop Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) for a double homicide. While Forrest is in the clink taking the heat for this rash of murders, his girlfriend Theresa (Laurene Landon) and McRae work overtime trying to figure out who's really sloshing gallons of blood all over the streets of New York. 'Course, that just means that this butcher has a couple of new targets in his crosshairs...

Maniac Cop is just about exactly the movie you're expecting it to be. There's a buddy cop thing going, an investigation into something seedy that the boys in charge want to keep under wraps, a good-looking hero-type police officer on the run for a crime he didn't commit, an unstoppable slasher who can take a couple magazines of lead without flinching, a climactic car chase, a couple of great kills...I mean, I like the movie and all, but it's not exactly overflowing with surprises. The overall concept is pretty great, though. Instead of some unmistakably psychotic killer in a
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fright mask, the slasher this time around is a policeman...someone who's supposed to make you feel safe and protected. Maniac Cop doesn't try to paint its madman as some kind of misunderstood hero, and even though there is a dark backstory swirling around the higher-ups who were supposed to look out for him, they're not badniks in black hats either. The moral ambiguity there is kind of intriguing, and that this isn't some sort of whodunnit is also an appreciated change of pace. There's a mystery that's gradually uncovered and all, but it's not all leading up to some shocking reveal that a harmless character from earlier in the movie is the mastermind behind all these murders. Director Bill Lustig keeps things visually interesting enough too, keen on Dutch angles and extreme framing. Pulling double duty as an action flick and as a slasher, the pacing never really has a chance to drag, and some of the setups -- like being chased by an unflinching murderer when handcuffed to a bloated corpse -- are really inspired. If you look at the movie as just a movie, it's a solid action/horror flick...good enough, and maybe even a bit above-average, but kind of routine and unremarkable at the end of the day.

What makes Maniac Cop so completely irresistable, at least for my money, is the cast. I mean, mega-faced MST3K icon Robert Z'Dar stars as the maniac cop. Bruce Campbell, settling for wielding the second most noteworthy chin in the flick, is cast alongside fellow genre legend Tom Atkins. You're also looking at supporting turns by Shaft's Richard Roundtree, gravelly-voiced William Smith, Larry Cohen mainstay Laurene Landon, Evil Dead 2's Dan Hicks, and...hey, even a cameo by Sam Raimi! If Maniac Cop had the exact same cast and exact same direction, just with a different gaggle of actors in front of the camera, I'd probably shrug it off as "okay, I guess", but the cast here really does elevate a movie that's kind of disposable fun into something close enough to a cult classic. Recommended.

If you've already grabbed Synapse Films' special edition DVD release of Maniac Cop from back in 2006, you might remember it saying on the flipside of the case that the DVD was culled from a high-def master. For this Blu-ray disc, Synapse
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went back to the drawing board and transferred the movie again rather than rehash that same five-year-old master. So many other shops out there will just lazily shove whatever creaky, aging masters they have handy onto Blu-ray, so it's really great to see that Synapse invested the time and expense to really do this one make it better than it has to be.

...and, yeah, Maniac Cop looks every bit as perfect on Blu-ray as I could ever hope to see. As you've come to expect from Synapse, Maniac Cop looks remarkably natural and filmic. The grain structure is just about always tight and unintrusive, and even when grain spikes during optically-processed shots, that filmic texture still shows no signs whatsoever of being digitally smeared away. The AVC encode is given enough headroom to render the grain flawlessly as well, and I couldn't spot a single sputter or stutter in the compression at all. Detail, clarity, and contrast are rock solid, especially whenever there's plenty of light for the camera to play with. The image does get slightly softer and somewhat flatter during the night exteriors, although the camera doesn't trot outside in the dead of night nearly as often as you might expect, and what little of that there is clearly dates back to the original photography. There's no speckling or wear of note. Color saturation is robust. I mean, I feel kind of like the clock rolled back to 1988, and I'm in a private screening room watching a newly-minted answer print of Maniac Cop...absolutely pristine and perfect.

Maniac Cop is served up on a BD-50 disc, and the movie gets pretty much every last byte of the first layer to itself. Ihe image is very lightly letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

Synapse has piled three DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks onto this Blu-ray disc, and that has to be some kind of record. There's the original stereo audio, a 4.0 surround track, and a killer 6.1 remix. Honestly, Maniac Cop is in the running as the very best sounding film from the 1980s that I've come across on Blu-ray, regardless of genre or budget. I can't get over how clean, clear, and distinct seemingly every last element in the mix is. Bolstered by a thick, meaty low-end, the synth-driven score roars from every speaker. Really, even with as much of an '80s sensibility as the music by Jay Chattaway has, it's so big and thunderous that it sounds as if it could've been recorded last Thursday. The remix fills every available channel with sound, from the heavy atmosphere you'd expect in a flick set in a sprawling metropolis all the way to a violent car chase careening wildly out of control. Quite a bit of attention is paid to directionality as well, making it feel more natural and immersive. The only gripe I have about the 6.1 remix is that there's a dropout just before the three minute mark, coinciding with a crack of thunder. It's a repeatable hiccup, and when I toggle over to the stereo track, the audio doesn't waver at that spot. That's a really minor complaint, it's out of the way just about immediately, and that doesn't dial down my enthusiasm even a little bit for one of the best sounding genre flicks on Blu-ray.

Although you have plenty of choices for how many channels you want this English soundtrack to have, the audio options end there. No subs. No dubs. No commentary.

I don't know if there's a story behind this or what, but the audio commentary from Synapse's special edition DVD -- with star Bruce Campbell, writer/producer Larry Cohen, director Bill Lustig, and composer Jay Chattaway -- is missing-in-action on Blu-ray. It's definitely missed since none of the four folks from the commentary appear on any of the other extras on this Blu-ray disc. This isn't one of Synapse's DVD/Blu-ray combo packs either, so if you want to listen to that commentary, you'll have to track down the DVD on your own.
  • Interviews (27 min.; HD): Robert Z'Dar and Tom Atkins both score reasonably lengthy interviews, clocking in around eleven minutes a piece. Z'Dar
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    starts his interview off with a retrospective of his early years in front of the camera, building up enough of a résumé that he didn't actually have to audition for Maniac Cop. He also chats about the rest of the cast, his character's huge fanbase in law enforcement circles, and how that completely silent performance came together. Tom Atkins isn't so much a card-carrying member of the Maniac Cop fan club, disappointed with what happened to McRae in the screenplay and in what he sees as Bill Lustig's uninspired direction. I really dug the interview, though, since Atkins is overflowing with personality and says a lot of great things about the rest of the cast. Last up is a three minute chat with Danny Hicks as he laughs about roughing up Bruce Campbell and painting Lustig like a kid in a candy store shooting a flick like this.

  • Deleted Scenes (6 min.; SD): Apparently shot to pad out Maniac Cop for Japanese TV, this reel of additional scenes grabs the city's indifferent and uncaring leadership from the final cut and casts it in a more sinister, conspiratorial light. All of these scenes swirl around Mayor Killium (Ken Lerner) who quickly starts to clue in that he's in Cordell's crosshairs, and there's also a quick coda that follows the shocking last shot of the U.S. theatrical cut. Kind of terrible, yeah, but still very interesting to see.

  • Promotional Material (10 min.; mostly HD): First up here is a gallery of poster and video art from all across the globe. It automatically cycles through those pictures for three minutes, so you don't have to keep mashing the 'Enter' button or whatever to dig through it all. There are also two high-def domestic trailers, one HD trailer in French, a couple of standard-def TV spots, and a radio promo in Spanish.

The Final Word
Half a supernatural slasher and half an '80s cops-on-the-run action flick: two great tastes that taste great together, right? Yeah, kinda. Maniac Cop is still a hell of a lot of fun all these years later, although really, the most memorable thing about it is the '80s Cult Cinema All-Star cast headed up by Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Z'Dar. Start swapping out the leads and Maniac Cop would probably be a lot less memorable, but whatever. A few really great kills. Cranked-up-to-eleven climax. Between Bruce Campbell and Robert Z'Dar, two of the mightiest chins ever to make their way in front of a 35mm camera. Losing the DVD commentary is definitely a drag and keeps this release of Maniac Cop from being as definitive as it probably ought to be, but there are still plenty of extras on this Blu-ray disc -- most of 'em in high-def too -- and the whole thing looks and sounds kinda unreal. Recommended.
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