The Mutilator (1984)

AKA Fall Break

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Poor Ed Jr. has a troubling past. When he was but a wee lad, a gun-cleaning mishap with his father’s rifle resulted in him accidentally shooting his mother in the back. After that his father, Big Ed, was never the same.

Fast forward a few years and Ed Jr. is now in college. He and his friends have nothing to do for their fall break (whenever the hell that is) until Ed’s dad calls and asks him to go to the families beach condo and close it up for the winter. How convenient! Unfortunately for the horny teens, there’s someone waiting for them at their weekend getaway. And that someone has more sinister plans in store for them beyond just drinking copious amounts of alcohol and making out.

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That’s not a weapon. It’s just his comfort battleaxe. I’m sure they’ll be fine.

Like many slashers, the star of The Mutilator is undoubtedly the gore. This is evident when you realize that the guy in charge of the make-up effects was Mark Shostrom, probably best known for his work on Evil Dead II, Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and 3 and a plethora of other 80s and 90s TV shows and movies. The Mutilator may be low-budget, but when it comes to gore, the films philosophy seems to have been “spare no expense.” Heads are chopped off, people are harpooned with suspiciously sharp planks of wood, and a giant fishing gaff is placed where no giant fishing gaff should ever go.

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I’ll just leave this here and let you use your own imagination.

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And honestly, that might be the only thing the film has going for it. Because let me tell you, the rest of it is rough. Cookie-cutter may be the best way to describe it. You know all those clichés Scream makes a big deal about pointing out? Yup, they’re here. And that would be all fine and dandy, if the film managed to build up any kind of fear or suspense. But while the film makes several attempts to do just that, it never manages to pull any of them off.

A prime example of this is when the kids decide to play a drunken game of Hide and See– I’m sorry, Blind Man’s Bluff. Clearly this scenario is just an attempt by the movie to have the killer stalk everyone with the aided cover of self-imposed darkness (it’s also the second time in the movie that they play such a game, but I digress). Sounds reasonable. But this is what we end up with–

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Oh no! She’s trapped in a moderately lit kitchen! However will she find her way?

I shit thee not, this is from the scene where one of the kids is wandering around ‘in the dark.’ It’s clear the filmmakers either didn’t have the funds, experience or equipment necessary to actually film this in low light, so they had to film with the lights on and edit it in post. Except they didn’t manage to darken it nearly enough, so the viewer is stuck watching the actors pretend to stumble around in perfectly well-lit rooms. The entire thing is laughable, thus killing any sense of tension the scene was going for.

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This may be the first time in my life I’ve ever complained about a B-movie being too well lit.

Much like the production, the acting is also rather amateurish. Other than Frances Raines, the other leads are first time actors, and of those six, only two of them have more than this movie to their credit. It’s really not hard to see why. The acting here is sketchy at best. Nobody here has any real screen presence (not even the killer), and they all lack the ability to invoke any sympathy or interest in the viewer. Lines are often stilted and delivered awkwardly and sometimes it feels as if some of the actors are physically trying to fight the script.

The most cringeworthy guy may be Ralph. He’s billed as the jokester of the group, but his idea of a joke is telling everyone that his girlfriend can’t come to the cottage with them because she failed a test, and then have him make an oopsie-face five seconds later when she walks out the door and says she’s ready to go. That’s the kind of stuff that passes for humor in this here movie. And to be fair, that’s not the best of material to work with, but if the delivery had been better, it might have had a better chance of succeeding.

Maybe.

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Probably not though.

One of the most perplexing thing about this movie is the relationship between Big Ed and Ed Jr. Big Ed’s motives for mayhem aren’t really all that deep or hard to decipher. It’s made very clear that he still holds a grudge towards his son for killing his wife, and at some point that grudge turned murderous and is now taking form. In that respect, he’s kind of a relatable villain. Not sympathetic, mind you, but relatable. Big Ed loved wifey. Son killed wifey. Big Ed wants revenge and anyone who gets in the way is collateral damage. We get you, Ed. You’re an asshole and you need extensive therapy, but we get you.

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I’d point out that if he’d been a responsible gun owner and locked his weapons in the cabinet none of this would have happened, but I don’t think Big Ed is that much of a deep thinker.

What makes the relationship perplexing, is that despite these villainous urges, father and son still seem to have a relationship. It’s stated by Ed Jr. that it’s a very strained relationship (You think?), basically due to being ignored for most of his life, thus implying that they don’t spend much time together. Yet at the same time Ed Jr. seems oddly well-informed and even proud of his father’s little nick-nacks and trophies he has littered around the condo. He’s even apologetic of the man when his friend points out a framed picture of a dead guy on the wall and he has to explain that Big Ed ran over the guy with a ski boat.

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It may be the one time in the film when everyone conveys a believable reaction.

Ed Jr. just tries to laugh it off as an accident, but the whole segment is disconcerting. Especially when you consider that Jr. never once wondered why his father would hang a picture of the man he accidentally killed on the wall….with all of his other trophies….of the things he killed….on purpose.

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Look Eddy, I know your past is traumatizing and all, but shouldn’t this have raised at least ONE red flag?
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Just in case you didn’t believe me.

The other perplexing thing about this movie is its theme song, and I feel that I would somehow be remiss in my write-up if I didn’t at least mention it. Because, yes, the movie has a theme song and, no, it’s not a very good one.

Lovingly entitled “Fall Break” (because these filmmakers had picked a theme and by god they were going to roll with it, possible name change be damned), the song is a jaunty little diddy that plays on-and-off throughout the entire movie in one form or another. It’s sounds like some doo wop ripped right out of the 50s, yet simultaneously feels very 80s. I don’t know. It’s very odd and it’s made even worse, because it doesn’t at all fit the film. It works fine in the opening credits if you pretend the kids are headed on an end-of-summer road trip filled with hijinks.

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Whoo Hoo! Horrific upcoming murder! Whooo!

Except this is a horror film and the hijinks are death, so it doesn’t really work. A head boppy pop-diddy doesn’t really aid you when your film is trying to build up suspense. Also, having it repeatedly pop up is yet another reminder of the films eventual name change…that and all the other mentions of Fall Break peppered throughout the film. I may have found it a smidge distracting, quite honestly.

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Seen here: A smidge

So yeah, The Mutilator has a lot working against it. It’s poorly acted and only funny when it’s trying not to be. On top of that, the characters are dull and the killer is completely uncharismatic (But I do get the feeling that everyone was having fun doing what they were doing, so there’s that.) While I may have enjoyed the change in location in typical slasher faire from empty woodland cottage to empty beach cottage, the lack of any tension stripps any of the good will that location change may have evoked. The one thing the film does have going for it are its gore effects. Even by today’s standards, they are pretty damn impressive and incrementally more and more gruesome. Though I’m not sure that one shining beacon of competence redeems what’s going on in the rest of the film.

All in all, I feel The Mutilator is probably best suited for gore hounds and those who are slasher completionists. Other than that, I’m not sure others would find too much to enjoy.

The Mutilator is currently streaming on Amazon.

It has also received a DVD and Bluray release.

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Michi

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