Maniac Cop (1988)

directed by william lustig
shapiro-glickenhaus entertainment

One does not decide to watch a flick with a title like “Maniac Cop” thinking he or she is in for a deep, thought-provoking vehicle for highly skilled thespians featuring a trenchant, thinking-man’s script. And if one did, he or she would most likely be disappointed by this feature produced by the estimable Larry Cohen (and directed by the same guy behind the camera for Maniac, Lustig, a man clearly in need of a thesaurus). In all honesty, this feature is of a slightly higher quality than I’d expected, which probably does it a disfavor. With a sense of restraint belying its name, it never feels like anything more than what it is: a tossed-off cheapie thriller, made for off nights on off-brand cable channels. It’s dumb, occasionally amusing, and doesn’t care a whit about conveying any realism whatsoever – a picture drawn in such broad strokes it may as well involve fingerpaint. The ending is beyond banal.

why did i watch this movie?

After experiencing the previous couple Cohen productions, and having enjoyed my first exposure to Lustig’s work, and wondering why I’d never before bothered to watch this succinctly titled pic, it just seemed an obvious choice.

should you watch this movie?

Do you feel as though there’s a void in your life that can only be filled by the incisive philosophy that must buttress a filmic exploration entitled “Maniac Cop”?

highlight and low point

So, this production makes a point of focusing on Maniac Cop’s mutilated left hand, to identify the character and also reveal his … condition. In one such shot later in the film, the hand looks completely normal. Such utter disregard for continuity is always amusing. Tom Atkins plays Resolute Cop, Bruce Campbell plays Bruce Campbell Wrongfully Accused Patsy, and the script plays dead.

rating from outer space: C−

Venom (1981)

directed by piers haggard
morison film group/venom productions limited
based on the novel by alan scholefield

You know, sometimes I decide to watch a movie just because the totality of its promotional efforts entices me. That was definitely the case with this offering, as its poster makes promises and presents plaudits that one figures can’t possibly be true, and the cast includes not only our old friend Oliver Reed but Klaus Kinski. “Oh, man,” I enthused, “I can’t wait to watch that one!” Well, somewhat to my disappointment, Venom is but an above-average thriller that isn’t even spoiled by the fact that as far as scary screen monsters go, your average snake – or even the DEADLY MAMBA – isn’t all that threatening. (This is the second Oliver Reed movie I’ve watched that features a snake, though, which has to count for something.) Frankly, the plot is a bit nonsensical; this international fugitive just happens to have connections in the house of a wealthy banker whose asthmatic kid just happened to order a new imported snake, and …

It did fairly well at the box office.

why did i watch this movie?

Venom! A deadly snake! Oliver Reed! Oliver Reed and a deadly snake! Klaus Kinski! Oliver Reed, Klaus Kinski, and a deadly snake! Venom!

I didn’t realize this when I picked it out, but Haggard is the same director responsible for The Blood on Satan’s Claw, a fact which also would’ve weighed heavily in its favor.

should you watch this movie?

Sad to say, Oliver Reed doesn’t have much of a substantial role to play here, so the film lacks for his usual je ne sais quoi. For what seems as though it should be a fairly middle-of-the-road affair, however, it’s actually pretty interesting.

highlight and low point

Susan George has a pretty overwrought death scene as well.

rating from outer space: B+

Cronos (1993)

written and directed by guillermo del toro
producciones iguana/ventana films/consejo nacional para la cultura y las artes/instituto mexicano de cinematografÍa/universidad de guadalajara/calidad cinematogrÁfica

Del Toro’s more widely known productions often invoke the term “fantasy,” but as I usually avoid anything with that description, it’s a good thing for me that enough macabre elements comprise this film for it to pass muster. Essentially a tale of the attempt to subvert the natural order of things, its tone throughout matches most of its set pieces for darkness. Structured not unlike a classical tragedy, both its vision and theme are somewhat morbid and fatalistic. I’ll admit that I was skeptical at the outset, but overall it proved to be a captivating work. Alchemy, an antiquarian, magical Renaissance artifacts, vampirism, resurrection (of a character named Jesus, of course), attempts to cheat death, death, murder, attempted murder … and a little girl named “Aurora.” Which certainly couldn’t be symbolism.

why did i watch this movie?

I constructed a long list of ’90s movies to watch, and made sure to include this one because it was Del Toro’s debut feature.

should you watch this movie?

A wealthy dying man seeks a mystical device to prolong his existence, but someone else has already succumbed to its seductive powers. Struggles ensue. 94 minutes. Subtitled.

highlight and low point

It highly amused me that this flick contained elements or motifs of the only other Del Toro works I’d seen: insects and the insectile (1997’s Mimic), and Ron Perlman (2004’s Hellboy, which terrestrial television often used to show in the wee hours during a period when I was both chronically underemployed and overly intoxicated). More attention could have been paid to the history of the mysterious device, and how one of the parties got hold of its instruction manual. Indeed, character development is not this picture’s strength.

rating from outer space: b+