Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Maniac Cop.”
The Movie: “Maniac Cop”
Starring: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Robert Z’Dar
Director: William Lustig
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A killer dressed in a police uniform begins murdering innocent people on the streets of New York City.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 53 percent
Froemming: Brown, you have the right to remain silent — forever!
We are kicking off Halloween Month with a movie that involves a zombie cop, Bruce Campbell, Robert Z’Dar, Shaft, Babs Kramer, the drunk doctor from “Halloween 3” and a strange cameo from Sam Raimi. That list just proves the late 1980s indie horror genre was wild.
I picked the cult classic “Maniac Cop,” one of the few times the title of a movie tells you all you will need to know going in. I came across this franchise through “The Last Drive-In” on Shudder and, well, I felt more people should know about these movies. Because they are (REDACTED) bizarre.
Brown, as I frame a trigger-happy cop to be murdered in prison by the very people he put there, why don’t you give us your first thoughts?
Brown: I appreciate when a movie tells you what it is in the title. There’s a maniac. And he’s a cop.
Did I see a cane in “Citizen Kane?” No. Did I actually see someone flying in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?” No.
… That may be the only time those two movies and “Maniac Cop” have ever been in proximity of one another.
Froemming: Let’s not forget your biggest complaint about “There Will Be Blood.”
Brown: Oh, I know there was blood at the end of that movie. Still. That movie should be called “There Will Be Boredom.”
Before I piss off a bunch of Daniel Day-Lewis fanboys, let’s get back to “Maniac Cop.”
I had never heard of this movie before. As stated every Halloween, I’m not big on scary movies. My anxiety is high enough; I don’t need jump scares and gore making me as tense as Marge Simpson.
Knowing what I know now about this movie, I’m glad I saw it. Only because I spent about 80 minutes of this movie wondering if the titular maniac cop was two kids in a cop uniform like Vincent Adultman from “Bojack Horseman.”
Froemming, get us started while I go comb my finest ‘80s cop mustache.
Froemming: The movie begins like proper horror movies do: The first kill and the introduction to our monster. We watch a waitress walking home from work when she is attacked by two of the worst muggers New York City has to offer. She literally kicks their ass and they follow her. Take your beating and learn from it. Also, a gut taking out his garbage sees all this and chooses to ignore it, because that is the New York thing to do.
So, these two bozos chase this woman and she finds a cop just standing around. A giant cop, well over six-feet tall. And, the two muggers watch as this cop picks the woman up by her neck and kills her.
Brown: Maybe the cop did it because of this waitress’ racism. She told her the mugger was some Puerto Rican guy like Butters’ parents in “South Park.”
Froemming: I am pretty sure you are not allowed to say “Puerto Rican,” Brown.
Brown: Like Jack Donaghy, I felt weird saying it.
As someone older than me, Froemming, I need to ask this: Was New York City ever livable before the 2000s? Because every movie made in that city until the 2000s just makes it look grimey and unpleasant. The way the city looks in “Maniac Cop” fits in with “Taxi Driver.”
Froemming: Believe it or not, but Rudy Giuliani had cleaned up the city when he went to war with the illicit frozen yogurt places that claimed to be fat free, but in fact, were not.
Brown: Also, even if you’re being hunted by muggers, don’t approach any adult, even a cop, standing alone at a playground at night. The Waitress learns this the hard way. Thought if she survived, she was probably going back to her apartment to bang a mannequin of Dennis Reynolds.
Froemming: So, we have our first murder of the movie. And because the killer is dressed like a cop, the suits downtown and whatnot do not want this sort of thing leaked to the press. Unfortunately, the guy they put on the case is the same drunk who couldn’t keep his yap shut about the Silver Shamrock Halloween masks and jingle killing people.
After a couple more murders with witnesses saying the killer is dressed like a cop, Lieutenant McCrae has to get a warning out to the people that they should be not so trusting around cops. McCrae was ahead of this curve by a couple of decades.
Brown: First, McCrae goes to the police Commissioner, who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks!
But John Shaft… err, Commissioner Pike, he won’t listen to McCrae. He doesn’t think these are murders of a maniac cop. He actually gets into McCrae’s own troubles after his partner died some time ago.
Then, Pike tells McCrae that he should smile more…
Froemming: Well, that crap comes to bite old Shaft in the keister because McCrae then does what he does best: Go to a bar to get shitfaced.
Though, this time he goes to the bar to meet with a reporter to leak this story about a guy dressed as a cop running around killing people like a maniac!
Movies sure did love painting cops and reporters (even TV reporters) as drunkards in their off-time. McCrae even hands this woman a big envelope full of backup evidence that he stole from the precinct.
He also says, I am not making this up, that she needs to sensationalize this and make it bigger than AIDS.
And what happens when the public is told to not the boys in blue? Well, one trigger-happy lady getting pulled over pulls out a gun on a cop and blows his brains out. One could say she committed a harsh crime. One could also say she was just honoring her Second Amendment Right. I will leave it to the suits in Washington to figure out.
I will say that the gunshot scene was pretty brutal. Wasn’t expecting that out of this movie which, to this point, had been pretty silly.
Now, the glimpses we’ve gotten of the maniac cop in the shadows has made him look like one of the costumes from Primus’ video for “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver.”
So when casting someone with that look, “Maniac Cop” went with the best choice possible: Bruce goddamn Campbell!
Froemming: This movie pits the two biggest chins in Hollywood against one another: Bruce Campbell and Robert Z’Dar. And yes, due to a childhood illness, that is how Robert Z’Dar actually looked.
Brown: And we get to see legend of cinema Bruce Campbell for the first time in this movie as he *checks notes* is emotionally abusive to his wife?
Then as Officer Jack Forrest (Campbell) goes out for his shift, his wife gets a cryptic phone call, suggesting that he’s the maniac cop.
Froemming: We see her cutting out newspaper clippings (remember those? Oof, I made myself sad with that one) of the killings. She also wants him to stay when he clearly has to work. We catch a glimpse that their marriage is failing and therapy did not work. Unfortunately, his wife’s next line of work would not be idealistic either, running a prostitution ring up near the Twin Peaks, Washington/Canada border:
Brown: Jack’s wife follows him all the way to a no-tell motel and finds Jack cheating on her.
And after being dealt that blow, the wife is abducted by our maniac cop in your typical sketchy white-panel van.
The next day, housekeeping goes into the hotel room that Jack and his mistress were at and finds the wife’s bloody corpse.
Ash Williams Jack Forrest is now the prime suspect in the maniac cop murders.
Froemming: Well, I would suspect him too, as he is also known as:
Brown: But, after talking to Jack, Officer McCrae thinks Jack is innocent, even if he’s not being forthright about his alibi. Finally, Jack admits that the blonde he was in bed with was another officer, Theresa.
Thinking that Theresa may be in danger now to wrap up loose ends, McCrae goes to where she’s working undercover as a hooker.
But hiding once again in the shadows is the maniac cop. And he’s ready to slice Theresa, like Jack’s wife, from ear to ear.
McCrae shows up just at the right time to pump the maniac cop full of lead to no avail.
Yeah, maniac cop is pretty much Michael Myers in a cop uniform. Also carries around a blade because those were standard issue for cops in the late ‘80s?
Froemming: Well, McCrae and Theresa both shot the bejesus out of our Maniac Cop, and he then just vanishes so the story can continue.
McCrae brings Theresa to the best, most safe place he knows: A bar. Here, he orders — at last call — two drinks for himself with double the shots. I get being nervous after shooting a man point-blank and nothing happens, but this feels more like alcoholism than calming the nerves.
Brown: Maybe McCrae was having the John Bonham breakfast: four quadruple vodkas and a ham sandwich.
Froemming: That is called “alcoholism,” Brown.
Anyway, he gives Theresa the key to his apartment and calls her a cab to get there…
SHE WAS JUST ATTACKED! Maybe bring her to your place, make sure it is safe and then go on your quest for answers, pal.
Brown: Here’s a quest for an answer I want. Say that Jack is acquitted of all the charges levied against him. … He’s still getting fired for not disclosing a relationship with a coworker, right? I know this was the ‘80s and HR departments were laughably ineffective. But this would sure as shit get him fired nowadays.
Froemming: Yeah, nowadays, but not in George H. W. Bush’s America.
Theresa also lets slip that the one person she told about her affair was Officer Sally Noland, who has a bum leg and is, in fact, the mother of Cosmo Kramer.
This comes into play as McCrae starts looking into who might be this maniac cop and comes across information leading him to one Matt Cordell. Cordell certainly fits the description of a giant man with an even more giant chin, but he is dead. He was pissing off the wrong people back in the day, so the higher ups conspired to frame him (which, given we are told he was trigger happy, why the need to frame him?) and send him to prison, where he would be killed by the inmates he put away. I’m sorry, I am pretty sure the union would have fought tooth and nail to make sure this psychopath would continue to patrol the streets.
Brown: There’s some throwaway line about Cordell not wanting to appear to look scared around all these felons. Still, there’s no goddamn way any cop is getting put with the general population in prison.
Also, apparently all the prisoners at Sing Sing are dressed in Canadian tuxedos.
Froemming: Look, that prison was populated by the world’s largest Brian Adams fan base known to man.
Brown: During his time in Sing Sing, Cordell allegedly met his grizzly end when a group of prisoners attacked him in the shower and gave him Joker scars.
Seriously, Heath Ledger’s Joker had the same scars.
Well, I should say that when we do get a good look at Cordell later, it’s less a scar and more like a bad case of eczema.
Because yeah, our working theory is that Cordell was never actually dead. McCrae is set to meet with the medical examiner at Sing Sing to check on this theory.
Only, he’s not going to make it, because he gets attacked by a cane-wielding Sally.
We also forgot to mention that McCrae knows Sally is working with Cordell. She was in love with him prior to his prison sentence. And nowadays, she meets with him at a pier that legit looks like it only stores wooden ladders. It’s the most specific pier in NYC.
Froemming: Does this mean Cordell is the father of Cosmo Kramer? Because that would make sense.
Froemming: Anyway, McCrae brings Theresa to visit Forrest in jail. It seems like Crodell is framing Forrest for reasons? And, while these two love birds chat, McCrae goes upstairs to look into stuff, only to be attacked by Babs Kramer and the Maniac Cop, and thrown to his death.
Theresa and Forrest hear the noise and when she tries buzzing to be let out, nobody shows up. When she does get out of this room, it is a damn massacre of cops all over. Not since “The Terminator” has a police station been this jacked up.
Brown: Around this point in the movie, where it’s basically down to Jack and Theresa, it dawned on me: Yeah, there’s large stakes here, but did Jack ever give a shit that his wife died?
Like, the dude isn’t even shook by it. It was a quick “what?,” followed by spending the rest of his time claiming his innocence.
Froemming: Love? Commitment? Vows? That was just pillow talk, baby.
Brown: I dunno. That bugs me more than it does Jack, apparently. Because now, he and Theresa are off to Sing Sing to take McCrae’s place at the meeting to see what really happened to Cordell. Did Cordell survive his attack? Is he the Maniac Cop?
… Yeah, apparently he did. And the medical examiner wanted to keep Cordell out of gen pop (which they SHOULD HAVE DONE IN THE FIRST (REDACTED) PLACE), so he claimed Cordell was dead and left him with Sally. But the examiner didn’t think it would matter because apparently Cordell was brain dead after the attack.
So yeah, this is pretty much “Friday the 13th,” with Cordell as Jason Voorhees and Sally as Mrs. Voorhees.
There’s apparently sequels to this movie. Think Cordell carries around Sally’s severed head in those flicks, Froemming?
Froemming: He does not. I mean, he kills her in this so I doubt he was very attached to her. Also, the medical examiner is drinking on the job, so I doubt his judgment on Cordell being brain dead. He just let some woman take a brain dead man home from prison. No paperwork, no funeral, what kind of operation is this place running?
Brown: If my Netflix binging has taught me anything, this was an era of law enforcement that let Jeffrey Dahmer run amok. So all of this holds up.
Froemming: So now the assumption is Cordell is planning on killing those who did that to him, as well as innocent people because what-the-hell, he is already killing people. Why not throw some others in? And Theresa and Jack have to warn Shaft that he is probably on that shit list.
Brown: Look, I made the “Dark Knight” joke earlier about Cordell’s scars. But now, offing all these major political players, at a parade no less?
The second act of “The Dark Knight” ripped off “Maniac Cop.”
Froemming: You got that straight!
Seeing as Jack is a wanted man, Theresa goes up to the office to warn Shaft about all this. But she is laughed at because, well, they killed Cordell and people just do not come back to life.
So they arrest her, and the cop in charge of that is 1. The worst actor in this movie. 2. Thinks she will bang him in this office because reasons?
Shaft has the 50th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade to attend. And this part of the movie is hilarious because the director had to steal these shots in New York because shooting there was expensive, staging a parade would be expensive and all the permits involved would be a pain in the ass. So, this is a real parade, and the shot of the cop being scolded for drinking a beer while in uniform? That was very much real.
And the TV news reporter talking about the parade? Why that is Sam Raimi, the acclaimed director of “Spider-Man 3!”
Brown: You are a gaslighting son of a bitch, Froemming.
Brown: Following Theresa’s warning, Cordell offs Shaft and another old-time copper via NYC-issued bayonet?
Theresa encounters Cordell, who chases her onto a fire escape. As Jack sees her fling running for her life, he is accosted by seemingly every NYC officer that did survive the previous Cordell massacre.
Jack gets put in a paddy wagon (that absolutely looks like an ice cream truck). And who’s there to drive the paddy wagon? It’s Cordell. All that was missing was Cordell turning around and telling Jack to buckle up like he was the Undertaker.
Cordell decides to take Jack to the ladder haven known as Pier 14. He even hits a security guard with the paddy wagon and the dude flew off like Samm Guevara getting hit by a golf cart.
Yeah, I’m happy to shoehorn two pro wrestling bits within a paragraph. This is the JOE-DOWN; it’s either wrestling, Simpsons or Seinfeld.
Froemming: You got that (REDACTED) straight!
At the pier, Cordell beats the bejesus out of everyone because, well, he’s da Maniac Cop. And, since I used the Roddy Piper clip, because I watched this I found out Robert Z’Dar played Sam Hell in a sequel to “Hell Comes To Frogtown” that I was unaware existed.
The world is a twisted place.
Well, Cordell decides it is time to 23-skidoo and take off. He gets in the truck, but Jack chases him and hangs from the side. And, I am guessing because he is a zombie, he might not be the best driver because he plows right into a pipe that impales him while he is behind the wheel.
Brown: But in true slasher movie fashion, that’s not the end of Cordell. Because right before the closing credits, we see a white-gloved hand pop out from under the pier.
… Doesn’t have the same effect of Carrie White’s hand coming out of the grave or child Jason Vorhees jumping out of Crystal Lake…
But, that may be because Froemming and I didn’t see the extended version. According to Wikipedia, Cordell makes it all the way to the mayor’s office and kills him.
Hope the mayor enjoyed that Spin Doctors mix!
Froemming: Brown, we should crash our ice cream trucks down to recommendations!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Yeah. The second movie is more fun, but this was wild. It is a fun, dumb, 80s horror movie.
Brown: It’s a movie with Bruce Campbell. I’m recommending it. Even without that, it’s a fun, stupid B movie. This would be fun to watch with some beers and some friends.
Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN:
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