Maniac Cop (1988)

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There’s far too much plot development and far too little action in Maniac Cop. 

It is Maniac Cop’s amusing title that attracted me to the film, its tagline ‘You have the right to remain silent… forever’ also made me laugh, however William Lustig’s Maniac Cop is a classic example of all concept and no substance. A sixty-second trailer may draw you in, but the feature length production is pitifully executed.

The film opens with three murder sequences, all of which are amateurish and underwhelming. I wasn’t concerned, the film had only just begun, I was confident that it would soon shift a gear into gore hound territory; after all, the Blu-ray copy I watched was an Arrow Films release. This gear change unfortunately never happens, the filmmakers instead develop a dull, nonsensical thriller-mystery narrative rather than prove their ingenuity with corn syrup and gore. A Cormanesque producer should have economically stripped the script of generic narrative filler, emphasised its core high concept and employed Tom Savini, the highly talented and twisted SFX man responsible for the gore in films such as Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Friday the 13th (1980) and William Lustig’s earlier film Maniac (1980).

I can’t really be bothered to name characters or summarise plot, but I’ll try. The film opens with a young woman being chased by two hoodlums, she escapes the pair and approaches an ominous looking police officer, who, rather than serving and protecting her, strangles her to death. The film then follows Detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins), who believes the hoodlums’ claims that a police officer committed the crime, his evidence-bereft belief turning very quickly into adamancy based solely on his venerable cop’s instinct – this is of course all completely stupid. Bruce Campbell then turns up as Jack Forrest, a cop who is framed for the murders of the tabloid press dubbed ‘Maniac Cop’. The best performance of the film is delivered by Robert Z’Dar’s enormous jaw, it lends a palpable strength and menace to his character Matt Cordell. I am now too bored to continue writing this.

Believe it or not, William Lustig and Larry Cohen should have taken a leaf out of Troma’s book. I recently watched The Toxic Avenger, a film that, like the rest of Troma’s catalogue, tried its utmost to be completely camp and awful. Unlike the majority of Troma’s catalogue however, there are enough laughs and torrents of gore in The Toxic Avenger to make it something of a success. Maniac Cop on the other hand has no sense of humour, no excessive violence and no lashings of crass sexuality; it’s an utterly stillborn slasher film that leads its viewers through a grindingly banal narrative to a denouement that’s seriously amateurish. When the credits roll, you’ll be left wondering ‘…is that it?’

38%

Drive (2011)

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Gosling stomps his ‘Notebook’ past in the face.

Seldom has my opinion on a film changed so drastically.

I first saw the film in Romford on the way back from picking up my new car in Enfield, North London. Getting there had been hell. I was on the M25 and running late, but I decided to commit to seeing it, so I left the motorway and began to penetrate the Essex town. To my intense frustration, the roads were full of road works and were subsequently jammed, but by then it was too late to turn back, I had to see it through. Once the road works finally ended, the sat-nav kindly took me straight through the middle of the Romford shopping area, which was a cobbled street full of people, a place where I’m pretty sure cars weren’t allowed – I must have looked a right berk.

After much embarrassment and stress, I finally found the cinema and arrived at the screening just seconds before it began. The timing was great; however I was now in no mood to be watching a film.

‘Drive’ has a very simple premise. Ryan Gosling is ‘The Driver’, a quiet, enigmatic mechanic and stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for the underworld. His lonely existence changes when he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan), a sweet young mother who lives down the corridor from him. There is a clear connection between them, however her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns from prison before their not-so-platonic friendship comes to fruition. Standard is being stalked and threatened by criminals, to whom he owes a mounting debt, a debt which can only be paid through a pawn shop heist. For the sake of Irene and Benicio’s safety, The Driver conscientiously lends his getaway skills to the job, which of course goes horribly awry.

Gosling’s performance is good, he has a steely aura about him that is cold and convincing. However, I don’t think one should get carried away when steeping him in praise, I felt it wasn’t a particularly demanding role. While it is clear that he fits the mould of the laconic anti-hero, I was slightly bothered by the extent of his utter lack of conversational skills, particularly when he’s speaking to Irene. There are moments that are so painfully awkward that it could test the plausibility of their relationship. Gosling is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s iconic ‘Man with no name’ roles, but I also made a connection with Dustin Hoffman’s performance in ‘Rain Main’.

I was very ambivalent about the film. I liked the exciting car chase in the introduction, I liked Cliff Martinez’s stylish, haunting soundtrack; I also liked the visuals and the film’s unforgiving, visceral nature. The film is spattered with torrents of claret, stark shankings and devastating gunshot wounds – there’s also a spot of stomping. The film’s violence is ugly and nasty, it adds a brutal energy to the film. However, I had reservations with the lead character and particularly with its thin plot and meagre ending; I left the cinema feeling hollow and thinking it was all rather vapid.

Despite all of this, the film had definitely got under my skin, I was thinking about it regularly. Eventually, I had to give it a second viewing.

Being at home without the aforementioned stresses and knowing the framework of the film, I was able to enjoy it a whole lot more. I was engrossed from the start, relishing the style and edginess of it all. My past reservations took a back seat; it had gone up in my estimations two-fold. It was on my second viewing that I was able to appreciate the innate coolness of its leading actor. How on earth did he possibly make a white padded jacket with a yellow scorpion on the back cool? Oh and the driving gloves, they just reek of cool, and that black roaring Ford Mustang – I am so impressionable. It really got my heart pumping; I couldn’t believe how the film had grown on me.

Ultimately, though, like so many films, especially those that fall into the revenge/retribution format (think Death Wish/Taxi Driver), they’re good until the last stanza, they’re hard to wrap up. However, I even preferred the ending on second viewing – out of the ways they could’ve ended it, this was probably the most appropriate choice. While it is indeed a trifle shallow, if you watch ‘Drive’ on a massive television with an equally massive sound system, it is guaranteed to be a visual and aural treat.

84%

Switchblade Romance (2003)

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Though it descends into total implausibility, ‘Switchblade Romance’ is a gripping, visceral horror film that manages to keep one step ahead of the viewer.

‘Switchblade Romance’ is a violent, cruel horror film that adopts the conventions from slasher films such as ‘Halloween’ and adds a psychological twist. Without giving anything away, I would politely say the twist can only be interpreted and explained in somewhat woolly terms; I could also say that it’s completely stupid. However, given that ‘Switchblade Romance’ is merely exploitation cinema, it didn’t particularly bother me.

I felt the film, though predominantly clichéd, did manage to avoid becoming tired, its suspense was taut and relatively unpredictable. However, it only just managed it, it was a close call, those familiar with the slasher films of the 70s and 80s may feel ‘Switchblade Romance’ is just a bundle of rehashed themes. The film departs from its slasher relatives in respect to cruelty and realism; it has a gritty, unpleasant quality that is similar to modern horror films like ‘Wolf Creek’, the grisly Australian affair that appeared in 2005.

Much like ‘Wolf Creek’, after it had finished I found myself asking ‘Why? What’s the point?’ These overly sadistic, one track films leave me feeling rather hollow; they’re a dose of visceral thrills so relentlessly bleak and potent that they leave me questioning their status as ‘entertainment’. I wondered why someone would want to make such one- dimensionally cruel films. The only purpose I could think of was how both films place the viewer in a ‘What would you do if you were being stalked by a murderer?’ situation, which indeed makes them a thoroughly engrossing, if life-sapping ordeal to watch.

Ultimately, ‘Switchblade Romance’ is a straight-forward endurance test that provides an ample amount of tension and gore, but its overreaching, illogical ending and general vapidity may leave you feeling slightly hollow by the end credits.

65%