Maniac Cop

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While director William Lustig’s Maniac is a horror film for the ages, grounded in steely realism, Maniac Cop suffers from uber-supernaturalism.

And that’s a shame, as a much better film could’ve been made exploiting people’s natural antipathy toward police — by making the badged antagonistan Everyman nonpareil rather than the Quagmire-jawed visage of the late, hulking Robert Z’Dar.

The opener gives us a little taste of the kind of expectation upturn we might’ve had in a better movie: two Puerto Rican thugs are chasing a server outside a Greenwich Village bar, then through a park. When she spots a cop in the distance, the would-be muggers stop dead in their tracks, only to watch the girl get throttled by the very long arms of the law.

But NYPD investigators look askance at the thugs’ testimony — after all, they’re two-bit Latino hoods. No thorough Benson & Stabler (or even Ice-T) investigation here.

That scene, now there’s the crux of where an interesting (and timeless) Maniac Cop film could’ve been made, especially given the tumult of the Black Lives Matter movement today. As the Master himself Alfred Hitchcock once said, “”I’m not against the police; I’m just afraid of them.”

Instead, we get increasingly cartoonish kills as the city is put on edge: one of its own, meant to serve and protect, is attacking New Yorkers and there’s not a damn thing anybody can do about it. Anybody, that is, except the suspicious Lieutenant McCrae (the always dynamite John Carpenter regular, Tom Atkins).

maniac-copHe starts poking around the scene, after the wife of philandering cop Jack (Bruce Campbell) is found dead.

Now, the supernatural aspects of the film alluded to earlier, are in full, ahem…force…when the NYPD try and take out the killer. He’s impervious to bullets and has a strange, convoluted backstory about doing time at Sing Sing (although the prison shower scene is pretty intense).

It’s all rather ridiculous, as are the palm trees, as Lustig decamped from The Big Apple to shoot most of this in LA’s Culver City (of course, Maniac itself was remade in La-La Land).

That being said, the performances are top-drawer; we get genre legend Richard Roundtree as the Commish, Z’Dar as the Maniac Cop, Bruce Campbell as put-upon flatfoot Jack, Laurene Landon as his mistress. Plus, eagle-eyed viewers will spot Lustig as a hotel manager and Sam Raimi as a reporter. Even boxing legend Jake LaMotta pops up in a very brief cameo as a detective.

*** (out of 5)

[CHECK OUT OUR MANIAC COP PODCAST AND INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM LUSTIG HERE]

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Brute Corps

Brute_Corps“Men like us can’t make it in a 9-to-5 world.” That colossal understatement is a reference to Brute Corps, a bunch of, well…”brutish” drunken mercenaries causing havoc in the Mexican desert, abusing staff at the local cantina while the sweating, ineffectual Latino stereotype of a police chief turns a blind eye.

The soldiers-of-misfortune are under the command of The Colonel, who takes a casual indifference to the unit’s various transgressions, which includes the above, as well as urinating out the back of moving vehicles.

They all camp out on the outskirts of town, engaging in macho feats of strength bravado while they await instructions to venture down to Central America and take part in some coup (some nebulous mission that isn’t really adequately addressed).

Draft dodger Kevin and his blonde paramour Terry, whom he’s recently met and instantly become better acquainted with if you catch our drift, are hitchhiking through the same territory. Their paths cross with the soldiers, and to their peril, the couple accepts an offer of dinner with the rowdy troops.

Everything’s convivial at first, with play fighting, jocularity and judo demonstrations. That is until alpha second-in-command Wicks takes charge. Wicks is the same guy who’s pushed the limits of propriety with his drunken cantina antics, threatening to assault the waitress, the bar owner’s daughter.

Mid-martial arts demo, he gropes young Terry in front of the assembled. When her beau Kevin intercedes, he’s beaten down, threatened and forced to flee into the brush. It should be mentioned that Wicks is played by Alex Rocco (pictured below), the man who got it through the peeper in The Godfather as Moe Greene.

brutecorps_movieThe troops organize a two-person search party to go find Kevin, including taciturn Ross, a reluctant mercenary played by Paul Carr, who seemingly appeared in every TV show ever produced in the 1970s.

Ross spies the man cowering in the bushes but fails to turn him in, finally indulging his moral conscience.

Meanwhile, back in camp, the warriors and co-conspirator colonel are laying out the ground rules of a round-robin combat tournament to see who gets to ravage Terry.

Because we’re in grindhouse revenge world, eventually hippie Kevin mans up and goes in to rescue his girlfriend, assisted by Ross.

Brute Corps is a flawed yet interesting vetsploitation, making great use of its desert setting and genre stalwarts like Roy Jensen (Soylent Green) and Felton Perry (Robocop and Magnum Force).

*** (out of 5)

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