Ed. note– Cleaning out the backlog of reviews, and I came across this one. It’s PORKY’S meets MY BLOODY VALENTINE, with a weirdo verve and bonkers ending that actually work.– P.F.
THE MUTILATOR is one of those odd little 80s slashers that escaped my attention until a few months ago. I’d never seen it, and if I’d heard of it, that title is so generic for its time that I can’t recall. It’s definitely a product of its era, but it’s an oddball, with enough chutzpah from writer/ director Buddy Cooper that it stands out just enough from the mold to entertain.
It’s certainly got a catchy opening. Mom is making a cake, as Ed Jr. pulls a rifle from a case full of them. There’s a sign taped to the case stating he’s proudly cleaned them all for Dad’s birthday. Ed Jr. aims the gun and accidentally fires it. The bullet tears through the wall and blows straight through Mom’s torso. It’s shot so luridly, with its multiple cuts and weird angles, it drew me right in. If I stopped it right then, never watched another second, I’d always remember the flick.
Flash forward a number of years, and Ed Jr. and his friends are drinking their woes away at the college bar, complaining about how they don’t have plans for the upcoming semester break. A cryptic call from Ed Sr. compels them to do his will, and close up his seaside house.
It’s fitting these kids look like extras from MY BLOODY VALENTINE and PORKY’S. The film plays off its earlier scenes as a balance between slasher horror and rowdy sex romp, complete with Ed Sr.’s sleazy fantasies of slashing boyhood Ed Jr.’s throat and a catchy theme song “Fall Break” that plays over one of the crew taking a piss in a field. It’s an interesting take, as if the PORKY’S crowd wandered into a body count movie accidentally. These prank playing, sex obsessed goofballs now have to conform to the rules of an 80s slasher, which will leave most of them much worse than expelled at the end. I’d usually frown upon a flick for mixing tones like this, but here it’s so bizarre, it actually works.
If I found one negative in it, it’s that once it settles in it relies on all the clichés of the slasher film. Middle aged man of superhuman strength pops up all over the place; the kids find ways to isolate themselves, mainly for sexy reasons; occasional jump scares that were rote by 1984. And the scene in which Ed Sr. gets his comeuppance is absolutely bonkers. At times, it’s too content to follow the path of every other slasher, and that’s a shame, given how different its approach is in other areas.
Even within the slasher confines, it does okay in creating atmosphere. When the kids arrive at the seaside house, Ed Jr. regales them with his dad’s hunting history, and how hard dad and his buddies party. These tales paint an unbalanced man of grief who also has hunting skills, setting the unsettling stage for what’s to come. There are some great set pieces, such as a pool inside a giant tent, and the Carolina shoreline. The moonlight informs both, in what it shows and what it hides. There are also some inventive kills mixed in with the more standard ones, including that bonkers ending I mentioned above. I was never really scared by THE MUTILATOR, but I know Little Phillie back in the 80s would’ve been terrified, and lost a night’s sleep over it. Take that how you will.
THE MUTILATOR is such a weird mix of sex comedy and slasher that it stands out proudly from its peers. It’s an entertaining mix, and this is coming from a guy who doesn’t like slashers. It’s perfect fall break strangeness, and a cautionary tale that warns against cleaning dad’s rifles, even as a birthday present.