A killer dressed as a cop plagues New York, but only Lieutenant Frank McCrae (Atkins) believes the murderer is a real policeman. Meanwhile, patrolman Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) is being set up by the psycho (Robert ZDar) to take the rap.
Directed by William Lustig, the man who gave you such objectionable trash as Maniac and Vigilante, this isn't entirely free of the kind of formula violence you'd expect from such worthies. But it was written and produced by Larry Cohen, one of the most intriguing - if variable - creators in the low-budget exploitation field and bears many of his trade-marks, including the weird police background of Q and God Told Me To and a few of his favourite bit players.
The basic Halloween-style plot is complicated by the unusual milieu (almost everyone in the film is a cop) and Cohen works in a few almost subliminal bits about the attitudes of (and to) the police force. The killer, who may be back from the dead, is more impressive when glimpsed as a shadowy figure in police blues than when his not-too-scarred face is actually seen, and the intriguing set-up the character is given - which includes a bizarre performance from former starlet Sheree North as the psycho's crippled girlfriend - doesn't really pay off when the time comes for car chases and slugfests.
However, as straight, fast-paced, gutsy action movies go, this is a distinct cut above the rest. Cohen's sense of humour is well served by an offbeat cast of quirky performers, from Atkins' trade-marked fed-up look through heroine Laurene Landon's spunky determination to Campbell's amazing ability to take endless physical abuse. The same writer-director team turned out two sequels, pitting a returning Z’Dar against swarthy Robert Davi: Maniac Cop 2 and Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence.
A no-holds-barred assault on hollywood cop sensibilities that could have benefited from more comic diversions.