When the respective writing talents of Larry Cohen ("It's Alive", "The Stuff") and director William Lustig ("Vigilante", "Maniac"), team up with actors like Bruce Campbell and Richard Roundtree, you'd expect some fireworks. Unfortunately these reliable ingredients for enjoyable exploitation just don't rise to the occasion.
The premise is quite simple and potentially very effective. A vengeful cop starts murdering seemingly random victims in New York. The public doesn't know his identity and soon can't trust the police. And with this cop murdering his own the force are left in disarray.
Unfortunately the potential themes for civic disorder, the spread of vigilantism and mistrust are all sacrificed for a slaughter-fest. Fair enough, it was a popular theme in the 80s and a big hit on video spawning two sequels.
But director William Lustig never allows the film to build up any momentum and fails to exploit the script's main characters. Investigating cop Tom Atkins has a very ineffective role and suspect cop Bruce Campbell disappears from the screen for yawning periods of time.
Even when the movie reverts to the normally reliable stalk-and-slash formula it lacks the necessary pace needed to paper over the gaping plot holes.
Nevertheless there are some trashy set pieces for the gore hounds to enjoy. The scene with a canoodling couple in a car meeting a nasty fate and a sequence in the police station as Maniac Cop dispenses his justice are both quite effective. But the super-nasty prison flashback where we learn the tortured past of Mr Maniac has been severely cut in the UK. Still, anyone who remembers with affection renting the piles of trashy videos available in the 80s may be tempted for a trip down memory lane. It's also available on DVD.