By far the biggest cinematic phenomenon of the early eighties, in terms of screen horror at least, was the birth of the slasher movie cycle. Inspired by the massive commercial success of both John Carpenter's Halloween and Sean Cunningham's Friday The 13th, both major studio's and low level independent producers quickly began pumping out a succession of similar films which leaned upon the same basic formula of unfortunate teenagers getting stalked and killed by a psychotic killer. Largely interchangeable, the first and most successful wave of slasher movies had burned out within a few years.
However, one particularly notable belated entry to the eighties slasher movie cycle would be the 1985 cult favourite The Mutilator. Written, produced and directed by one time filmmaker Buddy Cooper and shot under the (rubbish) working title Fall Break on location at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, The Mutilator, by Cooper's own admission, was a film made with gore fans squarely in mind and is one of several efforts which upped the ante on most of the slasher films made earlier in the decade in terms of its graphic killings. Unfortunately by 1985 the slasher movie cycle had lost its commercial sparkle and as a result The Mutilator was released directly to video in its native US. However, over the years The Mutilator has still succeeded in becoming a solid favourite amongst gore hounds, particularly here in the UK where Cooper's film ran afoul of the British Board Of Film Classification and has still never been legally released in its original uncut form.
The plot of The Mutilator begins with a tragic accident which sees young Ed Jr inadvertently shooting his mother dead whilst cleaning a shotgun which belongs to his father Big Ed, an obsessive and proficient trophy hunter. When Big Ed arrives home shortly after he is shocked and enraged to find his beloved wife has been killed by his own son and so begins his gradual descent into alcoholism and psychosis.
Years later Ed Jr has grown up into a pleasant and surprisingly well adjusted teenager. Much to his surprise Ed Jr is contacted out of the blue by his estranged father Big Ed who wants Ed Jr to carry out some important household maintenance work at his beach side condo before winter sets in. Despite Ed Jr's initial reluctance he is persuaded to go by his friends who see the task as an excuse to spend their Fall Break frolicking around at the beach.
However, upon their arrival it soon becomes clear that the psychotic Big Ed is determined to take revenge upon his son for the death of his wife all those years earlier. Using an array of fearsome weapons Big Ed begins to slaughter Ed Jr's friends one by one en route to a brutal final confrontation between father and son.
The Mutilator is that rare thing. Namely a film which seems to be really and truly in touch with what its target audience expects from it. Indeed, Buddy Cooper seems to grasp the fact that, for the most part, what your average horror fan wants from a slasher picture is seldom anything more than plenty of gruesome splatter and maybe a touch of gratuitous female nudity. With that in mind horror fans will be relieved to hear that The Mutilator pretty much delivers, especially on the first count.
While The Mutilator is no virtuoso classic of the horror genre, Cooper handles the ever so slightly cliched and familiar action capably, keeping things moving along at a decent pace and maintaining the viewers interest between the numerous grisly bits. The Mutilator succeeds in grabbing the viewers interest right from the outset, Cooper opening things up with a pleasingly tasteless pre-credits prologue in which a young Ed Jr accidentally blows a great big bloody crater in his mother with the family shotgun.
Of course the films setup of Ed Jr's father "Big Ed" embarking on a gory massacre in revenge for the accidental killing of his wife by his own son years earlier is pretty implausible and has, rather unfairly I feel, been the source of mockery and criticism in many previous fan reviews of The Mutilator from horror fans and critics alike. However, its ultimately no more ridiculous than say a vengeful mother murdering a string of teenage summer camp councillors in revenge for the drowning of her deformed son years earlier. Or for that matter an evil summer camp caretaker who was horrifically burned in a teenage prank gone wrong returning to the camp years later to embark on a brutal killing spree armed with a pair of garden shears. You get the idea...
The fact that there is never a shred of mystery over the identity of the killer does hamstring The Mutilator somewhat in terms of suspense. However, this is largely compensated for by Big Ed himself, played with pleasing intensity by heavy breathing Cameron Mitchell look alike Jack Chatham, who whilst a rather atypical slasher movie killer nevertheless registers an intimidating and sinister presence. If nothing else its a refreshing change to see the role of slasher movie killer filled by a reclusive, vengeful middle aged drunk as opposed to some random indestructible psycho in a hockey mask. Granted Big Ed is no Mrs Voorhees, but he's a welcome break from the norm nonetheless.
On the other side of the coin it also has to be said that the films teenage protagonists are actually quite an likeable bunch compared to most of their teenage slasher movie brethren. Indeed, unlike the obnoxious, irritating types seen in most slasher films of the period, these are actually a fairly decent bunch into drinking, teasing one another, fooling about and doing generally teenage things. The only one who ever really irritated this viewer was actually Ed Jr. While top billed Matt Mitler is personable enough in the role I found Ed Jr to be quite dislikable especially whenever the subject turned to his psycho father. He seems genuinely unable to grasp why having his wife killed - albeit accidentally - by his own son has driven his old man ever so lightly bonkers. In another scene it also seems to be strangely implied that Ed Jr might be on the way to becoming as nutty as his dad. The moment in question comes early on when Ed Jr enthusiastically shows his friends his father collection of hunting implements in a scene which is nothing more than a blatant teasing come on considering the gory carnage set to come later in the film. Of course it goes without saying that the rest of the young cast are all pretty amateurish, but their obvious enthusiasm for what they're doing makes that easy to overlook. Meanwhile horror and exploitation buffs may want to keep their eyes peeled for Francis Raines as one of Ed Jr's ill-fated teenage friends. The sexy niece of screen legend Claude Raines would appear in several other eighties horror and trash pictures including Tim Kincaid's sleazy cult favourite Breeders (1986) and furnishes The Mutilator with its sole female topless scene.
However, all other discussion aside, the real calling card of The Mutilator is its proliferation of brutal slayings and in this regard Cooper's film delivers. Indeed, if you were to grade all the eighties slasher pictures in terms of their sheer graphic nastiness The Mutilator would be right up there with The Burning and The Prowler, even if its make-up effects are obviously greatly inferior to those orchestrated by the legendary Tom Savini in the two aforementioned films.
Following the films bloody pre-credits sequence, The Mutilator does admittedly take a good further 35 minutes to get to the good stuff. However, gore hounds are sure to find the mayhem worth sticking around for. Indeed, in its original uncut form The Mutilator is the type of film which used to give the BBFC and the MPAA palpitations. Big Ed's gory rampage begins in memorable style with an unlucky young lad getting bloodily gored through the chest with an outboard motor in a scene which is sure to make hardened horror fans laugh out loud thanks to the hammy and ridiculously protracted death throes of the actor playing the victim in question. Cooper soon follows this up with more mayhem as a helpful police officer is gorily hacked in the face then decapitated with a machete and another unlucky youngster gets impaled through his neck with a garden fork. The undoubted highlight however, is a jaw-droppingly nasty sequence in which Big Ed slaughters one attractive young lady by puncturing her nether regions with the hook of a gigantic fishing gaff in the kind of scene spoilsport feminists have in mind when they bleat about misogyny in horror films. Seriously however, Cooper, much to his credit, also manages to orchestrate the potentially tedious scenes of the teens splitting up and wandering about which separate each gore scene with surprising panache. Meanwhile in the interest of balance the psychotic Big Ed certainly gets an outrageously grisly and OTT comeuppance during the films exciting final confrontation between father and son.
Finally no discussion about The Mutilator could ever be truly complete if I did not mention its hilariously cheesy theme song Fall Break (the films original working title) performed by Peter Yellen and his backing group "The Breakers". As cringe inducingly awful as this song is, you'll still find yourself humming it for hours after the film has finished. You have been warned!
Overall I think it's fair to say that even the more jaded horror fan who's seen the same basic formula done at least a few dozen times before, will still get a kick out of The Mutilator. Meanwhile younger and more impressionable viewers will learn vital life lessons such as never accidentally fill your own mother whilst cleaning the family shotgun, especially if your dad happens to be a brooding, alcoholic psychopath who claims to have "hunted everything except man". Seriously though, although The Mutilator arrived a couple of years too late to capitalise on the box office thunder of Friday The 13th and its ilk, I can confidently state that it is still one of the more engaging, amusing and, perhaps most importantly of all, brutally nasty films that the eighties slasher movie cycle has to offer. For gore hounds in a relatively undemanding mood The Mutilator is sure to satiate their bloodthirsty cravings!
The only halfway worthwhile DVD release of The Mutilator issued thus far is the German DVD from Dragon Film Entertainment which was released back in 2001 and is quite hard to come across now. Whilst the full screen transfer used for the Dragon release is a little bit too dark in places, overall it's of a passable quality and is at least fully uncut. The same unfortunately cannot be said of the UK R2 DVD from the dreaded Vipco, which despite being misleadingly billed as an "Extreme Version" is actually cut by 7 seconds courtesy of the BBFC and uses the same low quality full screen print Vipco used for its 1993 VHS release of the film. So all in all its the usual cynical, sub-standard bollocks we've all come to expect from Vipco, although I'm sure no -one will be particularly surprised by that. Apparently Stateside horror and exploitation specialists Code Red are planning to release an uncut special edition DVD of The Mutilator at some point, which is obviously great news.