The Mutilator 1984 Review
The Mutilator 1984
aka Fall Break
Directed by: Buddy Cooper
Starring: Matt Mitler, Ruth Martínez, Frances Raines.
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When it comes to reviews and rankings, Horror is a style of film like no other. If you are a genre enthusiast and you are reading this then I doubt that you can honestly say that you have always taken critical negativity as a sure fire sign that a scary movie is rubbish and have therefore avoided watching it. It’s the only type of cinema where authors can write a plethora of negative comments and some people (me in particular) will still purchase enough copies to make the flick a minor success.
Because of the amount of plop that’s littering the category, these features are always at risk of having a negative reception and it doesn’t look ‘intelligent’ or ‘sophisticated’ to give credit to a slasher flick. No matter how bad a review that I read, I never really take it for granted, because – well you know my fellow slasher aficionados, they just don’t understand… It’s us against the world!!!
Keeping this in mind, The Mutilator is an exceptionally unfortunate flick because not only does it get a pasting from the usual mob, but even most slasher websites don’t like it. It’s very hard to find any positivity anywhere related to this one, which I really can’t comprehend. It actually boasts something that not many others do, but I’ll get to that in a bit…
In the opening, a young child accidentally murders his mother whilst trying to clean his father’s rifles. Daddy returns home and wants to kill the youngster, but he escapes away before the grieving father has the chance. This scene ends with a grimly efficient shot of the dad drinking whisky and pouring in to his dead wife’s mouth.
Many years later, Ed invites his now adult son away to their beach house, because he wants him to clear the place up in time for winter. Little does Ed Junior know that his pa has violent plans for the youngsters and before long they are being stalked and viciously slaughtered one by one.
There are so many versions of this flick floating about that whether you enjoy it or not is dependent on the cut that you view. I saw a heavily edited print many years ago and didn’t find anything of note, but watching it in its uncut glory last night was a totally different perspective. As I said earlier, Buddy Cooper’s slasher is quite different from the multitude, because it delivers relentless gloom on a major scale and the killer is exceptionally merciless and cruel. His film is successful in developing a credibly macabre feel to its runtime that excels in its morbid atmosphere. The scenes in which the father dreams of cutting his infant son’s throat with a battleaxe or when he impales the heads of his victims on spikes (like trophies) on a wall are genuinely disturbing. Keeping in mind that most of his intended prey are innocent of any prior wrongdoing makes it seem all the more ruthless.
Mark Shostrom’s gore effects are the most distinguished thing about the feature and they are pretty damn good in all their full unedited glory. One guy gets a chainsaw through the stomach, there’s a decent decapitation and the conclusion sees someone literally ripped in half by a car. By far the most notorious of the kill scenes is when a girl is gutted by a fishing gaff through the crutch. This sequence alone got the movie in trouble with various censors and it is still tough to track down the complete uncut copy. The general consensus on the easiest available versions to buy is that the lighting is awful throughout most of the runtime so it’s tough to make out what’s going on. The Spanish VHS under the title of El Mutilador is much lighter for some reason and it was nice to finally get a clearer viewing experience. It’s also completely un-tampered with, so all the gooey parts are intact.
Cooper’s initial idea was to have a gory effect for every single murder, which is something that not many slasher films have achieved. You could mention Linda’s as being the one where there was no real splatter, but this was no fault of the director who had initially planned that she be shot with a spear gun and then dragged to the bottom of the pool by the force of the impact. In the end, the effects team finally came to the conclusion that they couldn’t make it work. Cooper later said that he was first and foremost a gore fan and he wanted to make his movie accessible to those that had similar tastes. He is honest enough to admit that his synopsis was inspired by Halloween and Friday the 13th and the references are numerous (heavy breath POVS, Virgin final girl etc). I always hate it when directors that flagrantly copied Carpenter’s classic attempt to deny it by saying that they had never even seen a genre piece and weren’t big fans of horror blah blah. Please stop it guys, you’re not kidding anyone. We all know who you ripped off…
The performances here are very poor and the whole production, aside from the special effects, looks overwhelmingly amateur. Frances Raines, previously from slasher Disconnected, provides the T&A, but the rest of the cast were total amateurs or first timers. The guy who gets slashed with a chainsaw is a REALLY bad actor and it made it all the more satisfying when he met with an especially grisly end. Funnily enough, Matt Mitler, who played the Bruce Campbell-lookalike lead, went on to an exciting career thereafter and made a name for himself by doing voice work for the Pokémon series and directing his own feature, which was well received by critics.
Ruth Marínez as the final girl was overloaded with cliché. Much like Laurie Strode, she was shy, loyal, put up a great fight with the killer and was much calmer under pressure than her panic-stricken boyfriend. Put it this way, if she could act a bit, she would have been one of the most memorable heroines of the cycle. In my Slasher Trappings ratings below, I gave her three ticks, just for the effort. I liked the chemistry between the kids, even if they weren’t particularly convincing and it’s easy to see that they all had a great time making The Mutilator.
There’s not much suspense here, which is probably what the feature lacks most. It’s worth noting that musical accompaniment is more used as a sound effect than as a score and one has to wonder if it would have looked different with an operatic piece playing over some of the stalking scenes. The first studio that were shown John Carpenter’s Halloween without the soundtrack said that it just wasn’t scary, so look at the difference that his notorious theme made. Buddy Cooper had decided on calling his début movie Fall Break; but at the insistence of producers when it secured distribution, it was marketed under this perhaps more fitting title.
The Mutilator is a tad underrated and undeserving of its poor reputation. It does start slowly, but after 30 or so minutes of tedium, the film really comes alive with some gruesome gore effects and macabre tone. I can’t think of many slashers that manage such an unsettling and dark atmosphere, but also credibly mix it with some jaw dropping eighties campiness. – Oh yes the campiness, I’ll let you discover that for yourself, but trust me, the opening ten minutes are a cheese buffet.
Make sure that you get the uncut version… Well, just make sure that you get it…
Final Girl √√√