Maniac Cop(Synapse Films, 11.14.2006)
If nothing else, Maniac Cop has impeccable genre film credentials. Written by Larry Cohen, directed by William Lustig, and starring Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins, William Smith, and Richard Roundtree, this is the story of a corrupt, brain-damaged New York City cop on a brutal killing spree. And no, it's not based on a true story (not intentionally, anyway). In many ways, William Lustig is the perfect genre film director. He has just enough talent to tell a silly story in a coherent, respectable way and he has absolutely no shame about making aggressively low brow movies. Like Maniac, Vigilante, and Uncle Sam -- three equally enjoyable, but uninspired Lustig efforts -- Maniac Cop sets the bar extremely low and clears it gracefully.
Bearing all the trademarks of straight-to-video action-horror -- though it actually spent some time in theaters -- Maniac Cop is ultimately redeemed by Cohen's usual script flourishes and the general absence of any outright stupidity (okay, the score and Campbell's performance are unintentionally funny at times, but this never gets out-of-hand). Cohen and Lustig have always played with the conventions of old movies and Atkins's Frank McCrae could have walked out of any number of westerns or films noirs (he was used to similar effect in John Carpenter's The Fog and Escape From New York). Essentially, that's Cohen and Lustig's formula: classic filmmaking - class + gore = exploitation gold.
Boasting an "all-new high-definition transfer," this disc is largely a re-hash of Elite Entertainment's 1998 DVD, which was itself a re-hash of their 1995 laserdisc. In other words, the audio commentary -- featuring Lustig, Cohen, Campbell, and composer Jay Chattaway -- is eleven-years-old. But don't let that stop you. Not only is the excellent new anamorphic transfer free of dirt, grain or scratches, but the commentary is hugely entertaining. Bruce Campbell exhibits a spark and vitality he hasn't shown in recent years, Cohen always has plenty of surprising anecdotes, and Lustig shows his usual enthusiasm for all things exploitation-oriented (and watch out for that cameo by his cousin, Jake LaMotta).
Additional features include trailers, TV spots, and additional scenes that were shot for Japanese television after the film became an enormous success in Japan. Best of all, Synapse has included a new interview with Maniac Cop himself, Robert Z'Dar. This is one seriously odd and even somewhat sleazy interview -- there's some mysterious sexual innuendo that never gets explained -- but it's also quite entertaining. If you're a fan of the film or even just someone who's had a few ugly nights with the fuzz, you should find plenty to enjoy on this disc. -- Jonathan Doyle