Color, 1988, 85m.
Directed by William Lustig
Starring Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith, Robert Z'Dar, Sheree North
Synapse (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Elite (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1), Legacy (US R1 NTSC), Optimum, Synergy (UK R2 PAL), UGC (France R2 PAL)

Two of New York City's savviest exploitation veterans, director William Lustig (Maniac) and writer/director Larry Cohen (It's Alive), finally joined forces in 1988 for Maniac Cop, one of the first and most successful video hits for the beloved trash movie outfit Shapiro-Glickenhaus (which went on to disreputable favorites like Black Roses, Frankenhooker, and Death Spa). After the X-rated levels of gore in Maniac, Lustig had been gradually sliding towards more mainstream drive-in fare like Vigilante, and this time he had a can't-miss central gimmick courtesy of Cohen's script. The idea of a big city cop killing off innocent residents on the streets is an irresistible one, and coupled with a solid cast of B-movie veterns, it still stands out from the slasher movie pack.

When someone in a police uniform starts bumping off random New Yorkers, suspicion soon falls on an officer named Jack Forrest (The Evil Dead's Campbell), whose estranged wife was murdered by the psycho. Jack was actually having an affair with his blonde colleague, Theresa (Hundra's Landon), and both of them have to join forces with more seasoned cop Frank McCrae (Night of the Creeps' Atkins) to discover the truth behind this unstoppable and possibly supernatural menace.Le Beau Serge

As with many of his other films, Lustig peppers this one with lots of familiar faces including Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree (as the no-nonsense commissioner, of course), along with tough guy William Smith (Red Dawn), smoky-voiced Sheree North (Charley Varrick), and as the maniac cop himself with a deadly secret, the still-prolific Robert Z'Dar (who reprised the role in two Lustig-helmed sequels, including the surprisingly superior Maniac Cop 2). Also on board here is regular Lustig/Cohen composer Jay Chattaway, whose electronic-infused compositions later became a major part of several Star Trek series.

Le Beau SergeManiac Cop first made the transition from standard VHS to laserdisc and then DVD courtesy of Elite Entertainment with a grayish but decent transfer for the time that looked date within a few years. In 2006, Synapse rescued the film from a string of subpar releases (including an interim budget one from Legacy and some halfhearted import versions) courtesy of an improved anamorphic transfer that carried over the excellent audio commentary originally recorded for the laserdisc with Lustig, Campbell, Chattaway, and Cohen talking in amiable detail about how the project came together on an limited budget. Campbell is great as always (though this film doesn't give him as much to do in the wiseguy hero department as some of his later work), and Lustig and Cohen prove they're a good team (later carried over in another satirical slasher film, Uncle Sam). The Synapse DVD also adds plenty of new extras including six superfluous additional scenes for the longer Japanese version, an 11-minute Z'Dar interview ("Maniac Cop Memories") about headling one of the more popular late-period slasher video franchies.

However, advances in technology over five years allowed for an even better version of Maniac Cop to hit the market courtesy of Synapse's Blu-Ray edition. As expected given their track record, the transfer is an appreciable leap up again in quality with an admirable level of detail throughout. The film will always have a fairly cheap look with those odd late '80s black levels, but given the source material, it's a pretty great-looking release. Skin and hair textures, fabrics, and those damp, dark streets all look terrific. You also get three audio options, all in DTS-HD: a 6.1 surround version (mostly for Chattaway's music, but you get a few nice FX separation gags as well), regular four-channel surround, and the old, beloved two-channel stereo mix. None of them sound overly artificial, so if you're equipped, go for the 6.1 option. The two video extras from the Synapse DVD are carried over here, though inexplicably, the commentary isn't. (So hang on to your old DVD!) On the other hand, you do get two new video featurettes, one of which is defintiely essential. "Out the Window" spends over ten minutes with genre staple Atkins, one of the unsung heroes of '80s cult films thanks to his work in Creepshow and several John Carpenter projects, among others. He goes into a fair amount of depth about getting the job and working with Lustig, and it's a shame that his character couldn't have been brought back for the sequels. (You did get Robert Davi, though, which is a really peculiar trade-off.) Actor Danny Hicks also appears for the much shorter "Three Minutes with Danny Hicks" featurette, which talks mainly about his big violent scene in the film. Two US trailers, a French trailer, two TV spots, a Spanish radio spot, and a gallery of poster and video art and stills round out the disc, which puts us one step closer to having the complete Lustig ouevre available on Blu-Ray.

Order from Diabolik DVD.

Reviewed on September 18, 2011.