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Film / Maniac Cop

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The wrong arm of the law.

"You have the right to remain silent... FOREVER!"
— A tagline so nice they ended up using it thrice.

A 1988 horror movie, directed by William Lustig and produced by Larry Cohen.

The film tells a story of Matt Cordell (Robert Z'Dar), a former NYPD officer who was sentenced to prison for his excessive Police Brutality. He suffered heavy abuse in jail from the scum whom he had arrested himself and was left heavily scarred and brain-damaged from their attacks. He is now presumed by most people to be long dead. Cordell starts wreaking havok in New York by dressing as a cop and murdering innocent civilians, which leads to city-wide panic. Detective Frank McRae (Tom Atkins) is set to work on the case and is later joined by Officer Forrest (Bruce Campbell) who is framed for the killings and must clear his name.

The film was followed by two sequels: Maniac Cop 2 in 1990 and Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence in 1993.

These films contain examples of:

  • Artistic License – Biology: The first movie's attempt to give a "realistic" explanation for how Cordell is Immune to Bullets backfired pretty badly: His simply being impervious to pain wouldn't make him invulnerable to gunshots, since bullets aren't lethal due to their "ouch" factor, but because they put holes in parts of the body that tend to stop working when you put holes in them. The sequels discarded this and just went with him being undead from the get-go.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Commissioner Pike and Lieutenant Ripley are implied to have helped frame Cordell, and are total Jerkasses and Obstructive Bureaucrats who are Too Dumb to Live to boot.
    • Heavily implied to be the fate of Killium.
    • Fowler, the officer assigned to guard Mallory, spends his brief screen time flirting with her and insulting her. Thus, it's hard to feel bad when Cordell kills him.
    • Sally Noland.
  • Axe Before Entering: Cordell mashes his way through an office door as he chases after Mallory in the police station.
  • Bald of Evil: Ripley isn’t evil per se, but he is a total Jerkass.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Cordell's prison stay at Sing Sing was pretty much this. Justified through the brain damage that he received from it.
  • Big Applesauce
  • Big Bad: Jerry Killium. Also counts as a Greater-Scope Villain for this entire trilogy, as he is the reason why Matt Cordell went insane to begin with.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Forrest cleared his name, the people who wrongfully jailed Cordell are dead, and he and Mallory are hailed as heroes, but many good cops and several innocents are dead and Cordell is still on the loose with no one the wiser.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: The very people you trust to protect you? They turn out to be the very people you need protection from.
  • Bring the Anchor Along: Theresa gets arrested and is handcuffed to a cop who is taking her to the cells. But Cordell kills the cop and Theresa is forced to drag the cop's body with her as she escapes, until she has time to find the key and uncuff herself.
  • Bungled Suicide: Cordell's girlfriend Sally Noland attempted to kill herself when he was sent to prison. She failed, and now she wears leg braces because of it.
  • The Cameo:
    • William Lustig's uncle Jake LaMotta (yes, THAT Jake LaMotta) appears as a detective.
    • Lustig himself reprises his role as a sleazy motel manager from Maniac! (1980).
    • Lustig's daughter is the woman killed in the opening.
    • Sam Raimi appears as the news reporter covering the St. Patrick's Day parade
  • Cane Fu: Sally catches McRae going through her purse and attacks him with her cane, very nearly knocking him out.
  • Car Cushion: Cordell throws Detective McRae through a window into a taxi cab.
  • Clear My Name: Jack Forrest is framed for Cordell's killings, and has to find evidence to prove himself innocent.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: Killium.
  • Cowboy Cop: Cordell before he was sent to prison. Officer Sullivan in the third film.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Cordell drowns one unfortunate guy in wet cement.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: McRae says this when he is questioned about his injured hand.
  • Death by Pragmatism: Bremmer is smart enough to call for backup before confronting Cordell while Mallory simply barges in guns blazing. Bremmer dies, while Mallory makes it out unscathed.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Frank McRae is the protagonist for most of the film before being murdered by Cordell towards the end of the movie.
    • At first, it seems like the film will focus on Ellen Forrest dealing with her husband Jack being the titular killer. It turns out that he is cheating on her, and she is murdered shortly after storming out of the No-Tell Motel he and Mallory were staying in by Cordell to frame Jack.
  • Defiant to the End: Ripley tries to fight Cordell hand to hand when he corners him. It doesn’t work.
  • Detective Mole: Sally Noland, who was Cordell's girlfriend before he was arrested, feeds him information from the inside.
  • Deus Ax Machina: After driving the police van into an old warehouse on the pier, Cordell grabs a fire axe off the wall and uses it to smash the lock off the rear doors.
  • Dirty Harriet: Theresa Mallory, Officer Forrest's girlfriend, works for Vice Squad, and she is seen working undercover as a prostitute before Cordell attacks her.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Cordell was already pretty badass, since he managed to single-handedly fight his attackers in the shower when they were armed and he... was in the shower. After coming back to life, not only is he immensely strong, but completely impervious to bullets and almost all weapons.
  • The End... Or Is It??: The film ends with Cordell ambushing Mayor Killium in his office.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Although she's complicit in Cordell's revenge, Sally is mortified by his targeting of innocent people and urges him to stop the senseless killing.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: Mallory describes Cordell's hands to be as cold as a corpse's after she is almost strangled by them.
  • The Faceless: Cordell's current face is usually obstructed by shadows and is not shown fully until the end.
  • Famed In-Story: We only get secondhand information from Cordell's hero cop days.
  • Frameup: Officer Forrest is framed for the killings by Cordell's ex-girlfriend.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Cordell's flashback shows him being shanked by Sing Sing inmates in the shower.
  • Glasgow Grin: One of the many scars that Cordell received from his prison stay was a slash on the right corner of his mouth.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: As mentioned above, Cordell was left horribly scarred from his prison stay.
  • Handbag of Hurt: In the opening scene, a waitress is attacked by two muggers as she walks home. She beats them off with her handbag and runs, before she has the misfortune to encounter the eponymous maniac cop.
  • He Knows Too Much: Cordell was a hero on all accounts, but his arrest was arranged by corrupt politicians for accidentally getting too close to certain organized criminal members, who had dealings with them.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: When Sally begs Cordell to stop murdering innocent people, he silently accepts her comfort and may even have considered it, but it goes out the window when a hidden McCrae gives away his position and he flees, believing Sally had set him up. He later kills her for her perceived betrayal.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The climax of the film takes place during St Patrick's Day.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: For being a brain-damaged walking corpse, Cordell is a crack shot on the few occasions he uses his revolver, getting six for six headshots at the start of his police station massacre (before he switches to a bigger gun and another trope kicks in) and throwing his first victim in the third film high into the air and plugging him repeatedly before he hits the ground.
  • Immune to Bullets:
    • Cordell is unfazed by McRae and Mallory shooting him repeatedly in the chest. The first film tried to explain this by claiming that Cordell was effectively bulletproof after getting attacked in prison, which left him impervious to pain. In the later movies, he's explicitly undead, doing away with the need for any other type of Hand Wave.
    • In the original script, Cordell was explicitly undead in the first film as well (it was noted that his wounds didn't bleed). This was altered in the finished product, but remnants of it, such as his unnaturally cold hands and his Made of Iron status, clearly remain.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Cordell accidentally impales himself whilst escaping in the first film's climax.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Cordell is a former police officer who was framed for Police Brutality and still dresses in his old uniform while he carries out his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Jerkass: Lieutenant Ripley and Commissioner Pike are total dicks to everyone, do absolutely nothing about Cordell, and are content to sit on their asses while the killings continue, and imply that McRae could be the killer when he suggests doing something about it.
    • Killium is an obnoxious asshole and a Dirty Coward, and is corrupt to boot and is the main reason Cordell became a killer.
  • Karma Houdini: Subverted. It seems Killium got away with his part in Cordell's wrongful imprisonment, but the ending has Cordell appear in Killium's office while Killium celebrates the news of Cordell's apparent death.
  • Killer Cop: Guess who.
  • Leitmotif: Cordell has a distinctive two-note whistling song, which expands into a full theme when we get to learn his backstory.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: The opening credits shows Cordell suiting himself up for his twisted duty.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Sally Noland uses her knowledge of Forrest’s affair with Mallory to lure his wife Ellen into being killed by Cordell, and frame him for it.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: it is left unclear exactly how Cordell comes back from the dead and why he is so strong and unkillable. Eventually the sequels would establish that he was resurrected by a voodoo priest.
  • Murder Into Malevolence: Subverted. The eponymous character was a genuinely good man before being framed, sent to jail, and subsequently attacked in prison. In this case, it's implied that he's a Revenant Zombie (which the sequel confirms and runs with), but his more brutal behavior is down to brain damage changing his personality rather than being undead.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: The character of Frank McRae shares his name with the actor of the same name.
  • Neck Lift: Cordell does this to his first victim, followed by a Neck Snap.
  • No Peripheral Vision: Detective Mallory leaves an interrogation room and talks to the man overseeing it, only to find him to be a corpse. Then Forrest exits the room and the camera pans to the left, revealing another corpse that should have been in the field of her vision.
  • No-Tell Motel: Forrest's wife follows him into a motel after he leaves their home, and finds him there in the embrace of another woman.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Pike and Ripley do absolutely nothing about Cordell, and seem to think that the best course of action is to ignore the problem until it goes away. When McRae suggests actually doing something about it, Ripley implicitly threatens to frame McRae as the killer.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: After Cordell unsuccessfully tries to kill Officer Mallory, she and McRae empty their revolvers at him. He disappears between cuts after this happens.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: The basis of Cordell's flashback theme.
  • Orphaned Punchline: "...and I said 'But Commissioner, that is my wife!'"
  • Recycled In Space: Magnum Force as a Slasher Movie.
  • Re-Cut: Some releases of the film include additional scenes involving the corrupt mayor, including a scene at the very end where Cordell gets him which were added to beef up the running time for television airings.
  • Red Shirt: Fowler and Bremmer.
  • Sanity Slippage: Ellen Forrest, thanks to constant harassment from Sally Noland and marital troubles, comes to believe her husband is the killer. It turns out that he’s cheating on her instead.
  • Selective Squeamishness Suppression: Along with the coroner, Detective McRae isn't bothered about the corpses in the morgue. The fellow detective with him, not so much.
  • Super Cop: Cordell was once considered to be a "supercop" by the media and his fellow officers in the NYPD, considering his merits. This carries over in later movies, both literally and figuratively.
  • Sword Cane: Cordell's weapon of choice is a blade hidden in a billy club.
  • Title Drop: After hearing from McRae that innocent people are being killed by an assailant dressed as a police officer, Ginny proclaims "Jesus, maniac cop?"
  • The Voiceless:
    • Cordell for most of the time, but he opens his mouth once during the second and third movie.
    • He also screams at the very end of the first film when he's impaled by a suspended pipe, which clashes a lot with the rest of the film.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The concept of a uniformed Killer Cop committing serial killings harkens back to the Dirty Harry installment Magnum Force, where the Big Bad ringleader of Killer Cops was played by Hal Holbrook, who co-starred with Tom Atkins, who plays Decoy Protagonist Frank McRae, in The Fog (1980) and Creepshow. Furthermore, the character of Jack Forrest during the first half is basically fulfilling the role of Charlie McCoy (who was played by Mitch Ryan, who co-starred with Atkins in Lethal Weapon a year earlier before this movie's release) as a troubled cop with marriage problems who is initially suspected for the killings.