Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blu-ray Review: MANIAC COP (1988)

MANIAC COP (1988) Blu-ray
LABEL: Synapse Films
STREET DATE: October 11th 2011
DURATION: 85 mins
VIDEO: MPEG-4 AVC 1080p 16x9 Widescreen 1.85:1
AUDIO: English: 6.1 DTS-HD MA, 4.0 DTS-HD MA, 2.0 DTS-HD MA
DIRECTOR: William Lustig
CAST: Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins, Robert Z'Dar, Lauren Landon, Richard Roundtree, Wiliam Smith
TAGLINE: You Have The Right To Remain Silent... Forever.

SYNOPSIS: In William Lustig's MANIAC COP a seven-foot tall disgraced cop named Cordell (Robert Z-Dar, TANGO AND CASH) has seemingly returned from the grave and is stalking the streets of New York City slaying not criminals but innocent folks which sets off a wave of panic and paranoia as everyday citizen's grow to fear the very men sworn to protect them.

FILM: Set to some chilling score from composer Jay Chattaway (MANIAC) a waitress walks home from work on a desolate NYC street. Two punks attack her but she's feisty and gets away but the punks give chase leading to a city park. At the far end of the park she spots the figure of a policeman, she calls for help and runs in his direction, it seems safety is within her grasp... nope. The cop grips her neck with over-sized hands lifting her off the ground, snapping her neck with ease and tossing her limp body aside like a child's toy as the punks stare on in disbelief. The punks are nabbed for the murder after being fingered by a witness who saw them hassle the young woman on the street but did little to prevent the attack, they're protests of a maniac cop on the loose fall on deaf ears.

Detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins, HALLOWEEN III, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS) is assigned the case and makes a great noir-ish entrance walking down the shadowy corridor of the coroner's office wrapped in a trench coat. McCrae is alone in thinking that the crimes are in fact being perpetrated by one of the NYPD's own, that the young punks just didn't possess the strength to inflict the severe injuries upon the woman. His instincts don't sit well with NYPD's Commissioner Pike (Richard Roundtree, SHAFT) or Captain Ripley (William Smith, CONAN THE BARBARIAN), the former insinuating that McCrae is unstable, suicidal and that he may be the killer himself. He also notes that he doesn't smile very often to which the veteran detective responds by cracking a bizarre awkward sliver of a grin, funny stuff. If you're a genre film fan I need only tell you once that Tom Atkins is THE fuckin' man with a list of genre film credits that include John Carpenter's THE FOG, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, CREEPSHOW, LETHAL WEAPON and NIGHT OF THE CREEPS. Does it get any more awesome than that? Nope.

It's not long before more citizen's fall prey to the maniac cop. Next up is a young couple making out in a parked car when they are interrupted by a strangely silent officer who puts the young man through a sobriety walk only to unsheathe a blade hidden within the hilt of his billy club then double-slashing the man's throat and tossing his body onto the windshield of the car. To me this had shades of the Son of Sam or Zodiac murders, great stuff. The killing spree grips the city with paranoia which escalates even further when the next victim, a musician, falls prey to the uniformed psycho killer. Handcuffed he escapes only to falls face first into a slab of freshly poured cement as the maniac cop presses his foot into the back of his skull pushing the man's face into the concrete suffocating him, the next scene is a forensics team excavating his corpse. 

When a little old lady blows away a well-meaning officer after she mistakes for the maniac cop the mayor lays the heat on the NYPD commissioner who presses Capt. Ridley to find the culprit. It's then that a philandering young beat cop named Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell, BUBBA HO-TEP) finds himself the main suspect when his unhinged wife Ellen (Victoria Catlin, GHOULIES) turns up dead with her throat in the very same hotel room she confronted him and his new lover Theresa Mallory (Lauren Landon, THE STUFF), a fellow officer, at the very night before. Pike and Ripley feel that he's definitely the guy, particularly when the wife's diary reveals clippings of the maniac cop killings and a journal entry indicating that she figured him for the killer. Campbell's mighty decent here and this is probably an overlooked performance coming just after what I think should have been a star-making turn in Sam Raimi's splatter classic EVIL DEAD II. Speaking of chins, actor Robert Z'Dar's chinly protuberance puts Campbell to shame by comparison, check out the mug on that man - that ain't no prosthetic.

McCrae dismisses Forrest as a suspect right away, perhaps a bit too quickly in my opinion, he figures it's a set-up to distract the authorities from the real killer. McCrae ends up working along side Forrest and Mallory and the trio come to realize the killings seem to be the work of a disgraced former police officer sent to prison for brutal acts of vigilante-style justice. The mystery thickens when it's revealed that Cordel apparently died in a shower room assault at the hands of the very criminals he sent to prison over the years. There's a great flashback to prison murder of Cordell in a steamy homo-erotic shower brawl that's right up there with Cronenberg's EASTERN PROMISES bathhouse brawl, it's well shot and thick with ropey tendrils of blood spewing from painfully broken mouths.

The films comes to a thrilling climax with a fantastic car chase with vehicles spinning wildly outta control, screeching sharp turns, a final showdown between Forest ad Cordel and a paddy wagon tearing up the warehouse district before taking a final plunge into the dirty waters of the Husdon River.

Of the film's I've seen from director William Lustig (MANIAC) this may well be my favorite, possibly inching out MANIAC. It's gritty, violent, stylish and co-written by a man who's a great director his own damn self, Larry Cohen (IT'S ALIVE, GOD TOLD ME TOO), and produced by James Glickenhaus who directed the 'Nam vet vigilante classic THE EXTERMINATOR which I would be remiss not to mention has just this week been released through Synapse Films. It has definite slasher vibe mixed-in with a rogue-cop grittiness and a unique anti-vigilante element, it's well paced and impressively action-packed. While the kills are most certainly  violent, brutal and bloody they do lack the visceral punch of Tom Savini's brilliant work in Lustig's MANIAC.

Not sure what the budget was on this production would be but I don't assume Lustig was working with a Spielberg-ian sum but the film looks fantastic with some great cinematography by James Lemmo (MS. 45, MADMAN) and the previously mentioned atmospheric and eerie score from Jay Chattaway (VIGILANTE).

BLU-RAY: Synapse follow up their meaty BD of James Glickenhaus's THE EXTERMINATOR with a single disc 50GB Blu-ray of William Lustig's MANIAC COP presented in it's original 16x9 enhanced 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a brand new 2K HD restoration of the film remastered from original vault elements. Having just watched Synapse's MANIAC COP DVD I can say it's a pretty definitive upgrade in image quality with finer detail, clearity and deeper blacklevels than I've previously seen. Quite pleased to see that the film's grain structure is wholly intact and free of any unwanted DNR scrubbing. Synapse's HD transfers are some of the best I've seen, right up there with Blue Underground and this is no exception, fantastic stuff. The print used is not pristine but nearly so with precious few instances of print damage. 

Not only a superior video upgraded but the audio gets a fidelity boost as well with a dynamic, newly created 6.1 DTS-HD MA surround sound track plus the 2.0 and 4.0 DTS-HS MA tracks. The 6.1 sounds mighty fine with great use of the directionals and atmospheric surrounds, it's an immersive track with some real depth to it plus Jay Chattaway's score sounds creepier than ever. Dialogue, score and effects are well balanced, crisp, clear and free of distortion. Overall a pretty fantastic presentation well worth the upgrade - but don't trade-in your Synapse DVD edition just yet.

Special features begins with Maniac Cop Memories a interview with Robert Z'Dar ported over from the previous DVD edition. Z'Dar reflects upon his early acting career in film and TV, Lustig bringing him onto the project, his fandom among NYPD police force (which is sorta scary) and working alongside Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbel and Laura Landon whom he hints he may have had a romantic relationship with. New bonus content created this release are the Out the Window featurette with Tom Atkins whom recalls working with Campbell and Sharee North, feeling that his character died too quickly, which I agree with, I definitely could have gone for some more Atkins here and in any film for that matter. Something else I could relate to is his recollection of watching the film for the first time on VHS with a huge "NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION" watermark imposed on the screen. I get a lot of DVD screeners with watermarks that are quite distracting, film is a visual medium so stop obscuring your films. The second new feature is Three Minutes with Danny Hicks which is exactly that, Hick's mostly recalling the joys of throwing pretty boy Bruce Campbell up against the paddy wagon during a scene in the film.

Other features carried over from the DVD are the French theatrical trailer, TV Spots, a Spanish radio spot and six scenes from the Japanese TV version of the film involving a subplot with Mayor Killium (Ken Lerner) that really aren't that interesting but are here for completest just the same.There's also an animated promotional art gallery of various posters, DVD, VHS and soundtrack artwork set to the main title. Earlier I mentioned not tossing the previous Synapse DVD to the wolves quite yet and here's why, that's because the one feature not ported over is the group commentary with director William Lustig, writer Larry Cohen, actor Bruce Campbell and composer Jay Chattaway. Not sure what the reasoning may be for this but I would speculate so as not to invalidate the DVD edition. A few of the Synapse Blu-ray editions have been Blu-ray/DVD combos, the exception seems to be titles that Synapse have released recently on DVD previously so it makes sense from a business perspective though I wish it were included just the same. What else could we want? Perhaps a Bruce Campbell interview but honestly is it worth hearing him promote BURN NOTICE every five minutes? Nah.

- MANIAC COP MEMORIES - Interview with Robert Z'Dar (12:12) 16x9 HD
- OUT THE WINDOW - Interview with Tom Atkins (10:56) 16x9 HD
- THREE MINUTES WITH DANNY HICKS Featurette (3:32) 16x9 HD
- Motion Still Gallery (3:07) HD
- French Theatrical Trailer (1:23) 16x9
- TV Spots (3:55) 4x3

- Additional Scenes Filmed for Japanese Television (5:43) 4x3
- Spanish Radio Spot (:31)

VERDICT: Definitely a film that gets a check mark in the must-own box. Is it worth the upgrade if you own the DVD? I say yes though it's unfortunate that the commentary is absent, so don't post it on SwapaDVD just yet. That said, Synapse continue to release top of the line genre-cinema Blu-rays well-worth your hard earned bucks. OWN IT!