85 min., 1988
Written by Larry Cohen
Directed by William Lustig
My rating: ★★★★
Badges?! We don’t need no stinking badges!
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So we have another 80’s film franchise that has a plot that isn’t full of coeds and bad decisions! What are the odds? I can’t even say exactly how bad-ass this is as a film. First off, let’s talk cast. You have Officer Jack Forest (Bruce Campbell), Mr. Richard “Shaft” Roundtree and a stellar performance by the Maniac Cop himself-Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar).
Make no mistake this is truly an 80’s film. Even though it came out in 1988, it has more cars that are late 70’s to mid 80’s models, and the clothes date the film terribly, but despite those things it keeps a steady pace so you don’t really have time to care. The performances are delivered straight but have a comedic edge to them that make the characters likeable if not memorable at the very least. It’s a no nonsense delivery from almost every cast member, even though most of the victims and the two Puerto Rican muggers give some of the film’s cheesiest and most predictably stereotypical performances.
For instance, when accused of murdering a woman they tried to rob, the same two Puerto Ricans plead their case with the officers claiming “It wasn’t me man, it was a cop man! A really big cop!” They are of course correct and one of the officers investigating the case, Detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins), believes them whole heartedly and without a moment’s hesitation. He also has no evidence or reason to suspect any of the cops he works with, so rather than follow any rational sense of doubt, he brings this idea to Commissioner Pike (played by Shaft). As if answering questions viewers were thinking out loud, Pike asks why the officer couldn’t have been a crazy person wearing a cop costume or uniform rather than a real cop. No real reason is given, but McCrae suggests the cops in the department should all get psych evaluations. Pike then reminds Frank that after his partner died, McCrae was ready to eat his own gun. Bearing this in mind, it’s pretty clear his judgment isn’t something to take as the gospel truth.
From the opening until this point two people have been killed. One with her neck snapped like a chicken, and the second a guy slashed across the throat with a Billy club that has a blade stashed inside. It seems like the mayor just wants this to go away, so what’s Officer McCrae to do? Well he leaks the story to the press in the interest of public safety. This leads to an officer being shot by a freaked out motorist hoping not to be this maniac cop’s next victim. Additionally strange phone calls are being made to Officer Jack Forest’s wife in the night. These calls are telling her that her husband is the cop that’s murdering all these people, and even though he tries to half-heartedly put her mind at ease before he leaves, she isn’t hearing it. She follows him to a motel and discovers his dark secret… a female officer that he has been having an affair with. After seeing this, she threatens to shoot them both with a gun she produces from her robed pocket, but instead runs off into the night. The next morning she is found with her throat slit in the room Forest and his mistress shared the night before.
This gives them a viable suspect and all the streets seem to be safer as a result, but yet again McCrae isn’t buying it. He knows Forest must be protecting someone. Where these right on the money psychic detective skills come from is a mystery to us all, but after a chat in Forest’s cell, he finds out the name of the mistress and goes to seek her out. Enter Officer Theresa Mallory (Lauren Landon), working undercover as a prostitute on a down town city street. When McCrae finds her, she’s about to be throttled and stabbed by the real killer in an alley. They both put like 10 rounds in him before he walks away Jason Voorhees style. With Theresa’s help, he tracks down who she told about their affair, which leads him back to a female officer in the records room, Sally Noland. He follows Sally into the night once she is told that Forest’s main squeeze is still alive and kicking after the failed attempt on her life by the maniac cop.
Of course she meets up with the unstoppable psycho that’s been committing these murders, and pleads with him to only kill those involved in the conspiracy that had him put away and left clinging to life in a prison infirmary. That list includes the chief of police and the mayor. This nutjob was once Officer Matt Cordell, decorated police officer that put down scum bags with extreme prejudice, but he stumbled upon a scandal involving the mob and political payoffs so the mayor had him railroaded and sent up river with the criminals he had put away. It was only a matter of time before they were all chomping at the bit to put a shiv in him, and that’s exactly what they did. Not, however before he tossed them around like rag dolls and cracked a few skulls that is. In the end they cut up his face and put more holes in him than a colander. Somehow the coroner found he was barely clinging to life. He thought if he turned him over to his girlfriend, and signed the death certificate (since he was for all intents and purposes a vegetable) it would be the best thing. Oh how wrong he was.
Cordell ends up killing his girlfriend, half the precinct, and Detective McCrae before Forest escapes custody with Theresa to go after him. Of course they think that Forest is still responsible for the mounting body count, but in the end they get another cop as a witness. In a high speed chase ending with a paddy wagon being driven off a pier, Cordell is finally stopped… or so it seems. With the mayor feeling safe since Cordell is thought to be dead, he lets his guard down just long enough to be Cordell’s last victim and leave us with hope for another sequel.
A few things stand out as awesome reasons to view this film in my mind. First off, Cordell’s victims until after this chat with his girlfriend are all random. There’s no reason to kill them at all, so when you have a good old fashioned indiscriminate psycho on the loose no one is safe. It isn’t until the last third of the film that his killings have a purpose. The relentless pursuit of the truth by Officer McCrae is entertaining as hell and the performance by Bruce Campbell is top notch with the arrogant swagger he puts off in waves. Lastly the casting couldn’t have been better for the main character of Cordell. He is physically imposing and has a literal square jaw with the patience and strength in hi strides that make him an unstoppable force. The icing on the cake though is an awesome cameo by Sam Rami as a reporter covering the St Patrick’s Day Parade. As a fan boy it was a treat to see him doing his thing.
I will be back with reviews for the 2nd and 3rd installments of this trilogy, so try to find somewhere to pick this up. Until then, sit tight, be well and may all your films bring you fright.Have You Read...?