Rob’s review published on Letterboxd:
Ah, Larry Cohen, you magnificent bastard. One day you tell the director of Maniac, "You should do Maniac again, only with a cop," and the next thing you know, you've got a satire about public distrust of the police, the dangers of the Thin Blue Line, and the old boy networks that protect any sufficiently large organization from allowing any outside influence to threaten their free ride and their good time... and we get via a 300 pound murderous monstrosity that looks like Bruce Campbell if he got caught in a Gamma Bomb blast, who likes to stretch the necks of passers-by. They don't make them the way Larry made them anymore.
Someone wearing a cop uniform is killing innocent people in New York City. The top brass of the department are happy to proceed as if it's an impostor in a costume, but detective Tom Atkins knows better, because of his years of experience and because otherwise, the movie's over.
Tom leaks the story to the press, and the public goes into full Son of Sam panic mode, avoiding cops at all costs, or at least avoiding them when they aren't shooting them whenever they approach. Ah, New Yorkers: the nicest people in the world, and you just keep right on walking, scumbag.
Anyhoo, while all this is going on, we meet officer Bruce Campbell, a good cop who happens to have a wandering wang for a fellow officer, and, purely by coincidence, a similar chin structure to the aforementioned maniac cop. Bruce gets pinched for the killings, and then? Then a bunch of plot happens.
Let's be frank here: I cannot, in good conscience, call a movie about a former Dirty Harry-ish, shoot first and never ask questions cop, who is murdered but not murdered, and yet still comes back as an alive but undead zombie with super strength, who wants revenge against random people and the top police brass who allowed him to be killed yet survive, you know, a good movie. This is a story where a dead cop who is also alive with crippling brain damage has somehow turned a nightstick into a hidden ninja bayonet weapon with no help at all, even though someone in that condition shouldn't be able to avoid pissing his pants without a team of care professionals and a laser aimer.
But you can call it better than its pedigree should allow it to be. There are some great scenes in here, like the news footage that showed New Yorkers reacting to cops, in the wake of Maniac Cop's attacks on civilians, almost exactly the same way people have been reacting to cops at least since Ferguson. Or the scene where an elderly white citizen panic-shoots a cop during a traffic stop, and yet nobody kills her or makes her take a paddy wagon roller coaster ride, for some unknown reason.
The point is that there's some actual social commentary and satire going on here, and that ain't nothing for a movie about a hulking dead / alive zombie cop who loves a gimp and stabbing dudes, not necessarily in that order.
And that's why Larry Cohen was a damn national treasure. He knew that it didn't matter how much money you had, or if you had filming permits or even a starting point as simple as, "Maniac, only with a cop." You could take the resources you had, and still make a movie with some real viewpoints and commentary going on. Or at least you could so long as, every ten to twelve minutes, you showed someone getting killed so violently that their blood required windshield wipers to remove it.
Maniac Cop isn't really good, but it's a hell of a lot better than it oughta be.