When six interchangeable college students spend the weekend at an abandoned mansion, strange things start to happen. First, the caretaker disappears. Then, the students start to disappear, one-by-one. “We should call the police!” Sarah (Linda West) says, once it becomes apparent that more than half of the cast has vanished without a trace.
However, there’s already a cop on the scene.
Unfortunately, that cop is Joe Vickers (Robert R. Shafer), an escapee from the local mental institution who subsequently became a member of the California Highway Patrol. He drives a squad car and sometimes a motorcycle. He wears a uniform. He carries handcuffs and he uses cop lingo. He’s a CHiP with an attitude and no one would ever mistake him for Ponch or Jon Baker. He’s also a Satanist, who likes to draw pentagrams in the dirt and kill anyone who comes across his path. We may see six interchangeable college students but Joe Vickers sees six blood sacrifices and, while the students search for each other, Vickers hunts them down.
Psycho Cop was one of the many, low-budget slashers to come out in the 80s. It attempts to mix the wilderness mayhem of Friday the 13th with the quippy villainy of A Nightmare on Elm Street but the movie never comes anywhere close to being as memorable as either one of those films. The main problem is that Joe Vickers is not a very interesting killer. His one-liners are forgettable and, in this film at least, Robert R. Shafer is one of the least intimidating killers in the history of the genre. He has the right build to be menacing but, whenever he speaks, his weak voice ruins whatever element of danger may have been present. Even his attempt at an evil smile comes across as being more goofy than creepy. As opposed to the Maniac Cop films, Psycho Cop also doesn’t do much with the idea of Vickers being a cop. It’s just a uniform that he happens to be wearing, much like the masks worn by Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. A film like this is only as strong as its villain and Vickers, to put it gently, is not Freddy Krueger.
Psycho Cop was followed by a sequel called Psycho Cop Returns, which not only made Vickers being a cop a key part of the film’s plot but which also featured Shafer returning in the lead role and giving a much stronger performance. (It helps that Vickers doesn’t speak much in Psycho Cop Returns.) Because the sequel had all of the nudity and the blood that was missing from the tame first film, it was frequently aired on Cinemax and Showtime in the 90s, developed a cult following, and was released on DVD and blu-ray by Vinegar Sydrome in 2017. The first film, on the other hand, has never been released on anything other than VHS and it’s so obscure that several reviewers assumed that the title of Psycho Cop Returns was meant as a joke, a play on how every slasher film released in the early 90s was a sequel.
No, it’s no joke. Psycho Cop does exist. It’s just not every good. If you’re dying to see a killer cop film, Maniac Cop is still the one to go with.