It's time! If you've seen Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the commercial theme tune is probably starting to surface in your brain just skimming this one. A cold sweat is probably coming over you realising it won't go away for days now. Sorry, not sorry. Looking at a couple of Tom Atkins releases here we'll also be covering Maniac Cop, but for now it's all about masks and secret Stonehenge plots that make about as much sense as the title of the movie.
Back in the day, the story goes that John Carpenter felt that Halloween should be an anthology series like Creepshow. Imagine it, a whole series of 80s horror movies set around October 31st but not being connected at all, the viewing marathons would have been glorious. Dr. Loomis blew himself up in Halloween II taking Michael Myers with him, so in a way it made sense to move on. Of course things went down rather differently because of audience expectations as everyone knows, and the Shatner mask killer came back for a slew of sequels about magic rocks and online reality shows.
But I digress, onto this unusual instalment. Tom Atkins plays Dr. Challis, who begins investigating a shady toy company after the murder of a shop owner in his hospital. It's an odd death, his head was squashed by the bare hands of a man who then burnt himself alive. He's not a detective, but whatever the rest doesn't follow much logic either. Looking into a mask the victim was clutching, he visits Dan O'Herlihy (the old man form RoboCop) who plays Cochran, the big boss of Silver Shamrock novelties. What goes down is a plot involving neolithic stones, robots, and TV broadcast signals that turn people's brains into a mass of insects and snakes.
In one scene Challis is captured, and like a 007 villain Cochran leaves him alone to die unsupervised, but not without having a good old rambling monologue about his plan. Except he doesn't explain anything, he just laughs and starts going ranting about ancient rituals, astrology and human sacrifice. It's by no means a great movie, but it's mostly weird and fun with John Carpenter on producing and music writing duty. You can read some kind of themes into it all regarding the commercial nature of Halloween, or the influence of TV on young minds. Maybe. But really it's just all so silly this probably isn't worth a lot of deep thought.
Onto the other story in this feature, Maniac Cop is not actually that wacky considering the title. It's surprisingly straightforward as a crime murder plot with Atkins as Detective McCrae, investigating a series of reports that a man in uniform (Robert Z'Dar) is killing random innocents on the streets of New York. I guess it's the moustache which lands him these kinds of authority figure parts? There are the standard kinds of mystery moments as the identity of the maniac is slowly revealed. He also discovers that the villain is being fed information from inside the police force, and soon Officer Forrest (Bruce Campbell) is framed for one of the deaths.
Amusingly this isn't the only Evil Dead link with some other familiar faces cropping up as bit parts along the way. It's well made for this kind of trashy premise, with a haunting theme tune adding plenty of atmosphere. As a horror picture things aren't particularly creative in terms of slasher deaths and the finale has a great stunt climax but is just a simple car chase in broad daylight. However the slow pace is effective, and the choice of lighting to disguise the antagonist is a neat idea, at least during the first two acts.
The sequel which adds Robert Davi to the cast has a lot more bizarre elements including a second serial killer and several other oddball characters, a chainsaw attack scene, and a whole lot of fire burn stunts during the climactic sequence. There's more over acting, and more vehicle mayhem. The plot which was fairly straightforward originally gets more convoluted, as the events which created the titular maniac are revisited and expanded on. Visually it's more interesting with more neon lighting and make-up effects, but overall it's not really an improvement in quality. Taken as a double bill these aren't classics but are probably worth the time of anyone into this period of schlock cinema. I doubt the inevitable remake will include a rap theme song.