The 80’s is widely considered the heyday of the slasher film and rightfully so. The decade, particularly the first half, produced a number of classics. Major franchises like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street launched during this period, both releasing multiple sequels before the 80’s came to an end. Pre-established franchises like Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre got in on the sequel action as well. And of course there were the Video Nasties with titles like The Burning and Don’t Go in the House.
I like all of the above mentioned slashers and really most slashers in general. It’s probably my favorite subgenre of horror and those films released in the 80’s will always hold a special place in my heart. For me there are three films that are cut above the rest. These are three films that are everything we know the slasher subgenre to be, but are at the same time completely different from anything else. These three films are The Mutilator, Pieces and Blood Rage and they make up what I like to call the Holy Trinity of Sleazy 80’s Slasher Trash!
Over the next few weeks I’m going to talk about all three of these titles here at Bloody Disgusting, starting today with The Mutilator.
The Mutilator opens up with what should be a very heartwarming scene. We have a woman who I’d say is in her mid-30’s (judging the age of people in the 80’s is difficult) decorating a lovely birthday cake in her family’s kitchen. Back in what appears to be the father’s study a young boy places a sweet note on his father’s gun case wishing him happy birthday and indicating that he has cleaned his guns. The small boy then proceeds to grab one of the guns to clean it. Unfortunately the gun is loaded and this poor boy pulls the trigger firing off a shot that explodes through the back of his mother, killing her instantly. Happy birthday, dad.
Flash forward and that little boy is all grown up and in college. We find out his name is Ed (Matt Mitler) and he’s hanging out at the local watering hole with his college pals – Pam (Ruth Martinez), Ralph (Bill Hitchcock), Sue (Connie Rogers), Linda (Frances Raines) and Mike (Morey Lampley). The friends are on fall break and haven’t a thing to do. That’s when Ed gets a call at the bar from his father, Big Ed (Jack Catham), asking him to swing by the beach condo a run a few errands. Ed doesn’t want to do this because his relationship with his father has been rocky since he killed his mother. His friends though, they see this as an opportunity!
They’re on fall break with nothing to do and now they’ve got a beach condo all to themselves? They jump at the chance to go! It takes Ed some convincing but he finally comes around and agrees. Of course he’s sure to let everyone know that even though he agrees he has a bad feeling about this. Ed actually looks at the camera during a close-up and says, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” all while looking unsure. It’s amazing.
When the gang arrives at the beachside condo they get a good look at just the type of man Ed’s father is. The condo is littered with hunting trophies and various weapons. Each item reminds Ed of a specific story about his dad. The weirdest item is a picture of Big Ed’s dead friend. The guy in this picture is ripped to shreds around his midsection. Ed explains it was a ski boating accident. Why Big Ed keeps a picture of this, I don’t know. Nobody questions it though, so I’m sure it’s fine.
Aside from all the weird keepsakes around the condo, there’s also an odd-vibe that suggests someone was recently in the house. When they arrived the front door was open and there are drinks on the counter that still have condensation. Ed brushes it off as no big deal. He thinks its likely Big Ed was at the condo earlier in the morning. Pam is a little more concerned; however, especially when she notices Big Ed’s battle axe is missing. She begs Ed to call the police to no avail.
As the friends get settled in for the night Linda and Mike decide to go for an evening walk on the beach. The remaining four gather around in the living room to play an exciting game of Monopoly. As it gets later into the night, Pam begins to worry about Mike and Linda. They decide to head out to find the couple and that’s when the kids begin getting picked off one-by-one by a lunatic killer on the loose.
The Mutilator contains all the classic slasher tropes. A group of horny, drunk college kids head out for a booze filled weekend of sex. Instead of a cabin in the woods they go to a condo on a beach. Despite this, the film has something very fresh and original to it. You could make a case for various aspects of the film factoring into this. This was writer/director Buddy Cooper first, and to date, only film. The film has a very sincere quality that could be the result of this being the first go-around for Cooper and the majority of the cast.
The cast is fascinating. Outside of this film, none of them have done much of anything. A few things here and there but nothing substantial, aside from Mitler who voiced multiple characters on Pokémon. In The Mutilator they all give interesting performances. I can’t say they’re good performances, but definitely interesting. They either have weird voices, like Hitchock and Lampley, or they read lines with the strangest deliveries. Re-watching this now and I couldn’t help but think if this movie was made today it would be done with the cast of New Girl plus Owen Wilson. I’m not going to say who I think would play who, but if you’re familiar with New Girl watch The Mutilator and see if you can figure out what I’m talking about. They even play a drinking game called Blind Man’s Bluff, which is very similar to something they do on New Girl.
Of course the main reason we all love The Mutilator is because of the gore and the kills. The effects in this movie are some of the best and most ambitious you’ll ever find in a low budget film. Cooper deserves some credit for writing these, but the bulk of that credit goes to the makeup supervisors, Mark Shostrom and Anthony Showe. Shostrom and Showe both have impressive makeup effects resumes, but this was the first time either served as supervisor. Being young artists they took the opportunity and ran with it leading to our benefit. The final kill is one of the most memorable in film, but the one that sticks with me comes at the halfway point. This is when an unsuspecting fellow takes a big wood stick straight through the face. It’s bloody glorious.
The best part about the effects in The Mutilator is that you can actually see them now. This is a movie that I have seen multiple times. I’d wager that almost every one of those viewings was from some crappy bootleg copy. To the best of my knowledge the film never received a proper home video release aside from a Betamax release in 1985. Thankfully Arrow Video just righted this terrible wrong by releasing a gorgeous Blu-ray. And it’s uncut because they managed to find a 35mm print of the film! This splatter masterpiece can finally be seen the way it was always meant to look!
This release is going to be the early frontrunner for my favorite Blu-ray release of 2016. In addition to the restored 2K transfer, the special features are overflowing. Here, check these out:
- Introduction to the film with writer-director Buddy Cooper and assistant special make-up effects artist/assistant editor Edmund Ferrell
- Audio Commentary with Cooper, Ferrell, co-director John Douglass and star Matt Mitler
- Audio Commentary with Buddy Cooper and star Ruth Martinez Tutterow
- Fall Breakers: The Story of The Mutilator – brand new feature-length documentary on the making of the splatter classic featuring interviews with Cooper, Douglass, Ferrell, Mitler, actors Bill Hitchcock, Jack Chatham and more
- Mutilator Memories – special make-up effects artist Mark Shostrom looks back at one of his earliest projects
- Tunes for the Dunes – composer Michael Minard reveals how The Mutilator’s unique score was created
- Behind-the-Scenes Reel
- Screen Tests
- Alternate Opening Titles
- Trailers and TV Spots
- ‘Fall Break’ Theme Song (Original and Instrumental Versions)
- Opening Sequence Storyboards
- Motion Stills Gallery
- Original Fall Break Screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM content)
- Reversible sleeve featuring two original artworks
That’s a lot of stuff! Information overload! I won’t go into great detail on every feature but I think they’re all worth checking out. A constant theme you’ll pick up once you start making your way through all the interviews and such is that virtually everyone that worked on The Mutilator reflects on it very fondly. Multiple people consider it to be the best experience of their career. That kind of blew my mind. This is a low budget film from a first time director. I kind of expected horror stories about things that went wrong. That’s not the case at all. Sounds like it was a professional run set and things flowed smoothly.
I will say ‘Mutilator Memories’ is my favorite bonus feature. Shostrom goes into great detail about the effects work on the film and actually talks about two effects that went wrong. One you can actually tell while watching the film because it’s ultimately a bit anticlimactic. The other one I would have never guessed because it still looks awesome.
Look, I’ve said enough about The Mutilator. It’s a great movie and one of the best slashers of all time. There is a reason it’s part of my Holy Trinity. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should rectify that very soon.
The Mutilator is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.