Maniac Cop

Maniac Cop ★★★

If I were a Maniac Cop—and who says I'm not?—I'd probably spend most of my free time shooting people in the face who drive slow in the passing lane or fail to use a turn signal. Not Robert Z'Dar though, whose rationale for snapping the particular necks that he does eludes me. Maybe it's an itch that just needs scratching. Maybe being semi-undead precludes motive. (I wasn't clear on this point: Is the Maniac Cop actually dead or just running on fumes?)

This movie reminds me of being young. The soundtrack, the actors, the mood, that certain je ne sais quoi that vivifies a 1980s genre film... It's like I'm sixteen again, sitting in biology lab, accidentally killing all my fruit flies, feeling thoroughly miserable in my teenage body but somehow remaining unaware that I'm miserable. Y'know, if you don't realize how unhappy you are, you're actually happy in a sorta-kinda way. Watching Maniac Cop reminded me what it felt like to be a teenager in the 1980s. It's weird how art can connect you with old sense-memories you've lost track of over time. I could almost smell the skunky high school hallways.

Before I ascend into the clouds in some kind of Proustian reverie, I'll reign myself in and talk about this little Merchant-Ivory production known as Maniac Cop, in which three non-maniacal cops (Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, and Laurene Landon) try to stop the eponymous Maniac Cop (Z'Dar). As movie plots go, this ain't exactly Zodiac. Shockingly few dots need to be connected to arrive at the conclusion that a supposedly dead police officer is out slashing motorists with his bladed nightstick and tossing them into windshields, but if you're here for the detective work, you're dipping your toes in the wrong genre. This movie works because of its mood and style, on one hand, but also because it passionately embraces the absurdity of its premise without giving in to self-parody. (Wellllll... maybe except for Bruce Campbell, who veers dangerously toward cornball on occasion—and maybe that's just his default—but he seems less like a man whose wife just got brutally murdered than Fred from Scooby-Doo.)

Can we talk about Bruce Campbell's wife in this for a quick second? Talk about insult to injury. She's getting anonymous calls telling her that her husband's the Maniac Cop. She follows him and discovers he's boning a coworker in a sleazy motel. Then she gets murdered. Nice life.

Speaking of which, watching Maniac Cop was like a marathon round of Wait! Who is this actor?? I couldn't place Victoria Catlin who plays Campbell's missus. Thank god for Google. She was Blackie, the madam at One Eyed Jack's in Twin Peaks! Campbell's bonee in the motel room is meanwhile played by Laurene Landon who appeared as a tag team wrestler in Robert Aldrich's (underrated) final film ...All the Marbles! And the young woman in the car who sees her boyfriend get chucked into the windshield by the Maniac Cop? This one weirded me out because just about a week ago I watched Killer Workout (a.k.a. Aerobicide) and thought to myself how Rhonda the fitness club owner looked like 40% Gina Gershon and 60% Nancy McKeon from waning years of The Facts of Life. (Yes, I actually do think things like this.) But then I was like, This girl in Maniac Cop looks like 30% Gina Gershon and 70% Nancy McKeon. Of course, it's the same person: Marcia Karr! And then there was Sally Noland (played by Sheree North). I knew RIGHT AWAY who she was: She played Blanche Devereaux's sister Virginia on The Golden Girls—you remember, the one who needed a kidney transplant! (She was also 20th Century Fox's intended successor to Marilyn Monroe back in the day, but that fizzled out when Jayne Mansfield showed up.) (By the way, I think Sally Noland is a great fucking character. I wish she were in the movie more.)

David liked this review