Release Date(s)1985 (February 16, 2016)
Studio(s)Ocean King Releasing (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A+
The Mutilator, released in 1985, is another forgotten and misplaced slasher from the era when the subgenre reigned supreme. With the constant low budget glut of horror movies being made every day, week, and month of the year throughout the 80s and 90s, many of them fell through the cracks and went largely unseen by generations of horror home video enthusiasts. Rescued finally by Arrow Video, The Mutilator is back, in all of its cheesy, axe-dicing, outboard motor-splicing, torso-splitting glory.
The movie was directed by one-time director Buddy Cooper, who sought to simply make a movie instead of going to film school, opting for production experience instead. Of what little story there is in the movie, it’s about a young man who accidentally shoots his mother with one of his father’s hunting rifles. After covering it up to protect him, his father becomes a vicious, murderous psychopath, slaughtering his teenage son’s friends when they go away for the weekend to close up his father’s beach condo for the winter. With a story like that, you’d probably expect several clichéd things to happen. It actually manages to subvert your expectations – not because it’s clever, but because it’s inept.
I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot about the movie. I enjoyed The Mutilator quite a bit, mostly for its gore effects, but it’s certainly no work of art, and I wasn’t expecting it to be one anyway. I also wasn’t expecting it to be some hidden masterpiece. After all, there are sometimes reasons why movies like this just disappear. That being said, it has a lot of problems, even for a cheap horror movie. The story, as I mentioned, doesn’t really play out in the way that you might expect it to. The father’s murderous tendencies are never really explained and he is just suddenly a serial killer later in his son’s life with no explanation as to why. It just sort of happens. One might argue that he’s always been a killer and that this is the first time his son has been witness to it, but if that’s the case, then it needed to be a little more clear. So you might call it a lack of story, where certain details are missing to make it make some sense. It’s also a slow and plodding kind of movie, mostly building up the gore effects, some of which are very effective, including one in particular that left my mouth agape (which I will not spoil for the uninitiated).
The Mutilator was also cast with relatively unknown and inexperienced actors, including many locals from the Atlantic Beach area in North Carolina where the movie was shot. As a consequence, there’s an abundance of horrible acting and dialogue, which comes hand in hand with slashers most of the time. It also doesn’t help that the movie is completely inconsistent tonally, which begins right during the main credits with odd situational comedy bits and a peppy theme song, as if it was a TV show or a silly 80’s comedy. It’s really got something for everybody if you’re into these kinds of movies at all, especially fans of good/bad movies, who will appreciate it for the unintentional comedy.
Although the movie was a crowd pleaser when it was originally released, The Mutilator was changed from its original title Fall Break with most of the extreme gore cut out in order to achieve an R rating. Despite that, it did relatively well with audiences, but soon disappeared thereafter. It was later released on home video with an incredibly murky appearance wherein you couldn’t tell much about what was happening on screen. That’s all been changed now, and like Arrow Video’s recent release of Blood Rage, I expect The Mutilator to develop a new following.
Unfortunately, the long-awaited Blu-ray release of the movie comes at a price. According to Arrow Video, all of the original camera negatives, intermediary elements, and sound elements are practically non-existent as they couldn’t be located. Not only that, but the only surviving elements that initially could be found were various 35mm R-rated release prints. Thankfully, they weren’t used for this transfer. Miraculously, an uncut 35mm print was unearthed in the Library of Congress and (astonishingly) given a 2K restoration. The print also carries the movie’s original title: Fall Break. While it isn’t the best that could be offered, when and if the original elements were to be found, it’s certainly better than nothing, and the transfer that’s been carried out is certainly nothing to balk at. It features a very high and solid grain structure with some decent detailing and some surprisingly good depth. There’s also some excellent color reproduction with accurate skin tones, as well as satisfactory contrast and brightness levels. Obviously, the print isn’t without its flaws. The frame is slightly unstable at times, black levels are inconsistent – sometimes deep and sometimes not (due to the high grain), shadow details are often lost, and lots of film artifacts are leftover, including speckling, scratching, staining, and weak edges of the frame (the latter most apparent during darker scenes). However, there are no signs of any digital enhancements to be found. The soundtrack, which is a single English 1.0 LPCM track, is also quite satisfactory, but with its share of drawbacks. The sound is pretty flat, obviously, but has some decent fidelity, making the overdubs stand out more than ever. Dialogue is always clear and discernible and sound effects are noticeably flat, but the score and music probably have more of a dynamic quality than everything else. There’s also some leftover hiss and obvious crackle from time to time. It’s a great presentation, all things considered. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
Like most of Arrow Video’s releases, this package is loaded with extra material to cull through. There’s an optional introduction to the movie by writer/director Buddy Cooper and assistant special make-up effects artist/assistant editor Edmund Ferrell; an audio commentary with Cooper, Ferrell, co-director John Douglass, and actor Matt Mitler; another audio commentary with Cooper and actress Ruth Martinez; Fall Breakers: The Story of The Mutilator, a documentary featuring most of the main cast and crew; Mutilator Memories with Mark Shostrom; strong>Tunes for the Dunes, an interview with composer Michael Minard; a behind the scenes reel; a set of screen tests; a set of storyboards for the movie’s opening scene; two theatrical trailers; three TV spots; two radio spots; a set of alternate opening titles with The Mutilator title card; audio tracks for the title song “Fall Break”, including its instrumental counterpart; a still gallery; two Easter eggs, including an outtake from the filming of the introduction, as well as an outtake of Ruth Martinez reading her lines directly from the script; a DVD copy of the movie; the movie’s original screenplay via BD/DVD-ROM; and a 26-page insert booklet with a piece on finding film elements for this release by Ewan Cant and an essay on the movie itself by Tim Ferrante.
To sum it all up, The Mutilator is another labor of love from the good folks at Arrow Video. It’s certainly nice to see these kinds of movies get this kind of deluxe treatment, especially when they’re as obscure as this one is. As far as other unseen slasher movies are concerned, keep ’em coming. If you’re a fan slasher movies, this is definitely one you’ll want to pick up. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons