After circulating the rumor mill for years, it would appear that Nicolas Winding Refn’s long-awaited remake of William Lustig’s MANIAC COP is finally underway. Refn will serve as producer, with Paul Hyams – director of the outstanding UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING – set to the helm the project. William Lustig has also been confirmed as an executive producer, which ought to ease the minds of fans of the original series. That being said, the creative talent behind this particular remake is top notch, and solace can be found in knowing that this won’t be just another commercial cash grab like most remakes.
When a remake is announced, it makes us horror fans reflect on the beloved original films that inspired them – and MANIAC COP is a franchise worth remembering. Released in 1988, amidst the slasher boom that typified ‘80s horror, the first MANIAC COP is an emblem of genre cinemas heyday. To start with, it stars the cult icons Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead), Tom Atkins (Night of the Creeps), and the late, great Robert Z’Dar (Tango & Cash). In addition, the script was written by Larry Cohen, an unsung hero of horror and exploitation who gave us gems such as Q: THE WINGED SERPENT, THE STUFF, IT’S ALIVE, and the outlandishly brilliant GOD TOLD ME TO. Furthermore, directorial duties were handled by William Lustig, the man who gave us the original MANIAC and the underrated DEATH WISH knock-off VIGILANTE.
Set against the backdrop of New York, MANIAC COP is about an undead police officer on a killing spree in the city. Initially, the police department tries to cover up the crimes, but as the murders escalate, the situation proves to be impossible to keep a lid on – in turn leading to the citizens living in fear of the police. Officer Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) finds himself under arrest after finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is then up to his girlfriend Theresa (Laurene Landon) and McCrae (Tom Atkins) to get to the bottom of the mystery, prove his innocence, and put a stop to the psychotic police officer.
As a police procedural thriller-cum-slasher film, MANIAC COP delivers the goods. It’s just the right amount of campy and trashy and doesn’t take itself too seriously whatsoever, with an imposing hulking villain deserving of horror icon status from the get-go. But was the villain even the bad guy? What separated it from most other films of this ilk was its smart social commentary, which encapsulated a city’s fear of its own law enforcement. Following headlines at the time chronicling acts of brutality committed against innocent citizens by cops, New York was a city experiencing civil unrest. In a way, MANIAC COP was a catharsis – a violent, scathing attack against a corrupt institution.
In recent times, police brutality has been all over the news, with cases such as the Ferguson fiasco incurring the wrath of a nation. Therefore, a MANIAC COP reboot couldn’t have come along at a better time. If the filmmakers opt to go down that route, the social commentary will be as relevant today as it was back then.
Of course, MANIAC COP didn’t set out to force feed its politics at the expense of entertainment either. As a mindless piece of B movie mayhem, it ticks all the right boxes. MANIAC COP is a fun time to be had, but it’s a much smarter film than its given credit for as well.