Maniac Cop

Maniac Cop ★★★★

Cohen and Lustig's Maniac Cop remains an incendiary, vividly-drawn piece of work even 30 years after its release, and manages to expertly toe the line between real and overtly supernatural terror throughout.

It helps, of course, when you cast Tom Atkins (fresh off of Lethal Weapon) and Bruce Campbell (fresh off of Evil Dead II) in key roles, and to watch any early Bruce Campbell performance is to bemoan the lack of leading man roles he received throughout the rest of his career. But the truly genius stroke of casting in this film is Robert Z'Dar, whose unique appearance enhances the menace of his maniac cop character - frequently shown only in silhouette or drenched in shadow.

And just, overall, there's an air of sorrow to the whole thing. This isn't a film that's just goosing the audience, like, with the premise of "what if a cop tried to kill you instead of help you?" Although borne of exploitation impulses, the film cuts a lot deeper than even the bulk of Larry Cohen's other, more overtly-satirical works. There's a deep sadness in the idea of a member of law enforcement turning on the people they're ostensibly supposed to protect, and it speaks to an altruistic bent that's very rarely glimpsed in this kind of film. A killer police officer on the loose isn't just a novel premise for a horror film here, it's a moral outrage - a violation of the natural order of society.