Butcher Block is a weekly series celebrating horror’s most extreme films and the minds behind them. Dedicated to graphic gore and splatter, each week will explore the dark, the disturbed, and the depraved in horror, and the blood and guts involved. For the films that use special effects of gore as an art form, and the fans that revel in the carnage, this series is for you.
For fans of gory slashers, it’s hard not to fall for the quirky splatter charms of The Mutilator. The opening scene establishes the movie’s strange tonal blend of obtusely sweet and darkly violent, and essentially sets up the entire plot as well. It begins with a quaint depiction of a family celebrating the patriarch’s birthday; mom is in the kitchen baking a birthday cake and only child Ed Jr. is in the living room cleaning dad’s gun as a surprise. Except, young Ed Jr. didn’t realize the gun was still loaded and manages to kill poor mom. Cut to many years later, where a well adjusted though not so bright Ed Jr. is in college and in need of a vacation spot for his buddies over the fall break. His dad unwittingly offers up the beach condo, and the friends are off. Too bad, of course, there’s a killer on the loose.
Directed and co-written by Buddy Cooper, his only film credit, and a cast comprised of actors who also only ever worked on this film, The Mutilator doesn’t play by many of the slasher rules of its era. In short, it’s kind of a mess, and yet it’s endearing because of it. The film’s lead protagonist, Ed Jr. (Matt Mitler), and his friends might win the prize as the most oblivious characters in a slasher ever. They arrive at the condo and seem to take no notice of how strange the décor is; massive fishing gaffs and weapons adorn the walls, and then there’s the weird photo of Ed Sr.’s dead friend. As in, his corpse. When Ed Jr. comments, “That’s strange. My dad’s battleaxe is missing,” with a shrug and then continues about his day, well, it’s no surprise his group didn’t catch on to the killer despite it being no secret at all.
There’s even an oddly fit theme song, “Fall Break,” which was also the film’s original title. Its upbeat, catchy tune and lighthearted lyrics is more apropos of an after school special than one of the decade’s goriest slashers. And boy is it gory. The slasher announces its killer’s identity pretty much right away, leaving only the intended victims clueless that they’re in any danger until it’s too late. Lucky for us this killer has a serious grudge and a penchant for mixing up his weapons.
The deaths are slow and gloriously brutal. A disembowelment by chainsaw, decapitations, machetes to the face, pitchforks to the throat, fishing gaffs where no fishing gaff should ever go, are drawn out in excruciating detail and yet none of it holds a candle to the insanity that’s the finale. The kills are fun, but more than that they look good. That’s because Mark Shostrom was involved. The mega talented artist behind the special makeup effects of beloved classics like Evil Dead II, Phantasm II, and so much more elevated a plucky slasher into something the MPAA was afraid of. Shostrom and special effects makeup artist Anthony Showe (Chopping Mall) split up the kills when it came to designing them.
The excessive gore meant the MPAA wanted to give The Mutilator an X-rating. Releasing it unrated meant it was difficult to secure screenings, and eventually Cooper trimmed it down to an R-rating. From there it fell into obscurity on VHS for years, only recently getting a legitimate high def release. The Mutilator is an offbeat slasher that stands out because of its unique sense of fun and its excessive gore. It’s the rare film where its flaws actually work in its favor, and the special makeup effects work is stellar.