(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Maniac Cop, Maniac Cop 2, Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence
Where You Can Stream It: Shudder
The Pitch: An undead cop rises up from the grave and starts murdering people in New York City, sending the Big Apple into panic.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: We’re currently in a long-overdue era that’s having to reckon with the unchecked power of the police, but Maniac Cop, released in 1988, knew the score. It knew the horror that could arise from the imagery of what would happen when someone we’re meant to believe is there to serve and protect did anything but.
Matt Cordell, the zombie lawman at the center of the Maniac Cop franchise, is a wet-dream for violent cops everywhere. He was sent to prison for police brutality, which is all the excuse he needs to exact bloody revenge. The implications aren’t subtle: in the world of Maniac Cop, if you dare to accuse a cop of wrongdoing, you deserve to die.
Cordell starts the franchise off as just a full-blown monster, murdering innocent New Yorkers left and right, and framing innocent cop Bruce Campbell in the process. But as the franchise goes on, Cordell – who decays more and more with each film – turns into an anti-hero. But the third film, Badge of Silence, he’s out there trying to clear the name of another cop accused of excessive force. He’s an avenging angel – for the police. Like a reverse boogeyman, the Maniac Cop seems to exist to give other cops comfort – if you’re a cop and you get into a jam with non-cops, maybe a murderous zombie will come and set things right.
Of course, the Maniac Cop films aren’t movies with a message. They only seem like they have a message here in 2020, where the world watches as law enforcement officers dress up like soldiers and smash the skulls of unarmed old men. But beyond that, they’re also just cheesy, schlocky fun. The first film is the most subdued of the bunch, but Maniac Cop 2 is an improvement in every sense.
Director William Lustig (who also directed Maniac, which can almost be seen as a spiritual cousin to this franchise) ups the ante and fills Maniac Cop 2 with some incredible action set-pieces. There’s a lengthy sequence where a character is handcuffed to the steering wheel of a car and hanging out of the door of that car as it speeds through New York traffic that’s just as thrilling and exciting as anything you might see in a modern-day John Wick or Fast and the Furious film. It’s also the one film in the franchise to end with a rap song about the Maniac Cop, with lyrics like “Set him on fire, I shoot him with an uzi, but he’ll show up in your jacuzzi,” and “They killed him once, but he came back! He’s the Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-maniac!”
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