• Maniac Cop (Blu-ray)

    Released By:
    Synapse Films
    Released on: October 10, 2011.

    Director: William Lustig

    Cast: Richard Roundtree, Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins, Robert Z’Dar, Laurene Landon

    Year: 1987

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    The Movie:

    A hulking man in a police uniform (Robert Z’Dar) is killing people on the streets of New York City – not criminals a la Dirty Harry, but innocent people and seemingly at random. The NYPD are obviously not too happy about this and Lieutenant Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins of Lethal Weapon and Night Of The Creeps) starts snooping around to see if he can figure out who or what is behind this rash of brutal murders. Commissioner Pike (Richard Roundtree of Shaft) thinks that it’s someone from outside the force but McCrae feels differently as it seems like whoever is responsible has access to insider information.

    When the wife of a cop named Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead) is found in a fleabag motel with her throat slit, the cops figure he’s the one responsible. After all, he admits to having been at that very hotel that night and he’s not been doing a very good job of hiding the fact that he and his wife have been having some serious marital problems. When the cops find his wife’s diary full of clippings about the killer and an entry where she states that she thinks her husband was responsible, Jack winds up in some very hot water indeed. The reality of the situation, however, is that Jack was at that hotel because he was having an affair with a foxy lady copy named Theresa (Laurene Landon who recently showed up in Pick Me Up – Larry Cohen’s Masters Of Horror entry and who also starred in the masterpiece that is Armed Response) and that the killer is someone else entirely.

    Theresa and Jack start working alongside McCrae to figure out the real story behind the murders but along the way they start to encounter some resistance from various factions inside the precinct. When Theresa is attacked while out working an undercover job one night, and other cops and victims start turning up it soon becomes obvious that Jack is innocent but strangely enough all the signs point towards a cop who was arrested for vigilante style justice and who was killed by the inmates during his stint in Sing-Sing - but how could a cop who died years ago be running around New York killing people off at random?

    Lustig and Cohen’s semi-kinda-sorta follow up to the notorious Maniac tried to cash in on the popularity of films like Robocop that were big box office at the time (the film’s famous tagline “You have the right to remain silent… forever!” probably helped get people into theaters) and it was successful enough to spawn two sequels. It’s a pretty effective take on the standard slasher film and throwing in the police element does make for a really interesting premise – after all, we’re taught to respect and trust cops from a young age, so the idea of one running around killing innocent people at random is definitely a good one to base a horror movie around. A lot of what makes Maniac Cop so much fun is the great cast of B-movie regulars. It’s not often you see John Shaft, Ash, and Hunsaker in the same movie and when you throw in the always recognizable Laurene Landon and William Smith with feature roles, it’s trash movie heaven. Robert Z’Dar is the icing on the cake as the killer, he brings a really imposing persona to the screen and does a fine job playing the part without any dialogue whatsoever. Look for cameos from Sam Raimi as a TV news reporter and Lustig himself as a hotel desk attendant while boxer Jake LaMotta also shows up in a small cameo role.

    The film moves along at a really good pace and considering the fairly low budget of the movie it’s packed with some impressive stunts and a few really impressive kill scenes and the finale works really well as the tension builds and the action explodes. The cinematography is quite good (Sam Raimi shot some of the St. Patrick’s Day parade footage) and the film looks like it cost considerably more to make than it really did which is a tribute to the people who made it. It’s not exactly a masterpiece, but as far as solid, low budget entertainment goes, the film definitely delivers.


    Synapse offers up Maniac Cop in its Blu-ray debut in a very impressive AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer that is an instantly (literally, as in you’ll see it right in the first shot of the police uniform being put on) noticeable improvement over past DVD releases. Detail is considerably stronger and you’ll notice this not just in facial close ups but in other shots as well where background details and textures become more apparent and therefore more impressive. Black levels are strong and consistent without ever getting muddy or ruining shadow detail while color reproduction looks accurate throughout, never oversaturated. Skin tones look perfectly natural, there’s no evidence of any noise reduction, edge enhancement or digital manipulation of the picture, though the transfer is clean and devoid of all but the minutest instances of print damage (you’ll spot the odd speck here and there but that’s about it). Grain levels look natural and overall this is quite a film like transfer that offers up the movie in the best looking option so far in its home video history.

    Audio options are offered up in three different flavors, each in DTS-HD Master Audio – English 6.1 Surround, English 4.0 Surround and English 2.0 Stereo. No alternate language options or subtitles are provided. Again, what’s here improves on the DVD – if you opt for the 6.1 track you’ll find a fairly strong surround sound experience with good use of the rear channels and some solid directional effects. You’ll notice this during the opening credits sequence where the score is spread around nicely, but also in the opening pool hall scene, where the crack of some pool balls resonates really nicely and where outdoors we hear some thunder roll. The 4.0 track is obviously not quite as immersive while the 2.0 Stereo track is… a stereo track, both options likely truer to the original theatrical experience (it was released in ‘Ultra Stereo’) – but regardless, all three options sound very good and offer strong bass, properly balanced levels and crisp, clear dialogue. There are no problems to report here, and when compared to the DVD releases, there’s a noticeable bit more depth and power to the audio.

    Carried over from the previous release are the six scenes that were shot for the Japanese television broadcast of the film. These don’t add much of anything to the movie and they more or less feel like they’re there to pad out the film more than anything else but it’s nice to have them included here for the sake of completion.

    Also carried over from the last release is an eleven and a half minute interview with the Maniac Cop himself, Robert Z’Dar, from Red Shirt Picture entitled Maniac Cop Memories. Z’Dar has got some interesting stories as he starts by telling us how he got into acting and started by doing bit parts and small roles in comedies before moving on to action and horror. He talks about how Lustig and Cohen gave him the part without wanting an audition and about how much he enjoyed working with Bruce Campbell and Tom Atkins. He dodges some questions about Laurene Landon, inferring that they had a relationship and admitting to owing her ‘seven hundred bucks.’ Z’Dar periodically breaks into character voices and seems in, shall we say, ‘good spirits’ for the duration but he’s got some interesting stories and it’s fun to hear him talk about his involvement in the film. Tom Atkins also gets his time in front of the camera in a new eleven minute interview called Out The Window. Here he talks about how Lustig called and offered him the part in the film and what it was like on set, working with the different actors in the film and more. He talks about being disappointed that his character dies the way he does in the movie, being recognized by cops while trying to eat gyros, and what it was like shooting most of the film in downtown Los Angeles. Atkins comes off as a nice, down to Earth guy and his interview is a fun one. Three Minutes With Danny Hicks is, as the title implies a three minute interview, also new to this release, with the actor who talks about how much fun it is to beat Bruce Campbell up and how Bill Lustig was ‘interesting.’

    Rounding out the trailers are two American theatrical trailers, a French theatrical trailer, a still gallery of promotional art, two televisions spots and a Spanish radio spot – and of course, menus and chapter selection for the feature. Missing from this release, though present on the last Synapse DVD issue of the title, is the commentary track from William Lustig, Bruce Campbell, Larry Cohen and Jay Chattaway. All of the extras on this disc are in HD except for the footage shot for the Japanese TV broadcast.

    The Final Word:

    While it’s a shame that the commentary from the DVD release didn’t get ported over, the new extras are nice to have and the improvement in terms of the audio and video presentation for the feature itself is a substantial one. As to the film itself? Maniac Cop holds up, a fun thriller with some great performances from a fun cast of cult movie regulars and Synapse’s Blu-ray release is the one to beat as it really does look and sound amazing.

    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps!