Color, 2019, 76 mins. 13 secs.
Directed by Jeff Beltzner
Starring Brick Bronsky, Jeff Sibbach, Doug Yasinsky, Glenn Hetrick, Christine Appino, Heidi Shelhamer, Chet Cole, Tom Taylor, James DeBello, Jennifer Jones
Intervision ( Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

The Masked Mutilatorseemingly endless history of Masked Mutilatorunreleased and abandoned indie horror projects dating back to the '80s (and even earlier in some cases) has been turning up some real oddities from the vaults in recent years, and to that list you can definitely add Masked Mutilator. Left incomplete twice after it began shooting as a 16mm slasher film in 1994, it was eventually revisited and brought to completion in 2019, outfitted with with new wraparound bits (shot on HD video) and narration tying it all together courtesy of a framing device about a podcast devoted to true crimes. The main hook here is the presence of real professional wrestlers from the Pennsylvania area, though apart from a short early segment and a few tussles in a TV room, the actual wrestling content is quite low. Instead you get a typical throwback slasher vehicle with a respectably high level of nudity and stage blood, even if the end result still bears all the signs of a bumpy production that may have never seen the light of day at all.

That aforementioned podcast interview sets up the involvement of a witness to a notorious murder rampage that occurred in '94 at a home for wayward kids, which is taken over by wrestler Vic (Sibbach) after he zealously kills an opponent in the ring. The kids and staff (who all look about the same age) tend to be rebellious, mouthy, and horny, though not all necessarily at the same time, Masked Mutilatorwith the oddball characters including bodybuilder bookworm Steve (wrestler Bronsky, a.k.a. director Jeff Beltzner) and hot-tempered music Masked Mutilatorfan Rocker (Hetrick). When someone wearing a wrestling mask starts bumping off the kids, it seems Vic's hot temper may have exploded into a full-on state of homicidal psychosis -- or could there be something else going on inside these troubled walls?

Thanks to the presence of its masked killer, this film is basically a whodunit with the clues pointing at Vic screaming "red herring" left and right. (The framing device makes it even more obvious that something's off, too.) Fans of films like Blood and Lace and Friday the 13th: A New Beginning should get a kick out of seeing another variation on the whole halfway house of death formula, this time with a much lower budget and more tussles to fill up the brief running time.

Given the history of the film and the fact that some of the elements were no longer available, it's a bit remarkable that this exists on disc in any form. The Intervision release (as separate Blu-ray or DVD editions) looks about as good as you could expect for a film combining gritty 16mm, 2019 video, and a few necessary inserts from an old tape source; the 1994 footage was obviously composed for 1.33:1 given how many people's heads clip past the top of the frame, but it's all still legible and framed well enough to get by. Masked MutilatorLikewise, the DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track is good for what it is with the pounding music score coming through the strongest. The film can also be played with a new audio commentary Masked Mutilatorfeaturing co-writer and co-executive producer Dale Schneck, actor and co-executive producer Tom Taylor, actor and special effects artist Paul Sutt, actor Steve Mittman, and Jim "The Tank" Dorsey, which sheds quite a bit of light on how so many people ended up pulling double (or triple) duty, dissatisfaction with the ending played a part in the film's fate, the locations ended up being secured for the group home setting, and the modern podcast angle ended up being envisioned to bring the project to completion.

"You See Me Sweatin'?" (6m45s) with Taylor (who's part of the new wraparound as well) covers how he got involved after doing the show Acapulco Heat and channeled his martial arts enthusiasm into his role, complete with some fun VHS production footage. Then Sutt turns up for "Slice the Pretty Boy!" (6m30s) to explain the influence of Crispin Glover and Dick Smith on his work, the other roles he was up for, while "Scissors, Tape & Paste" (7m34s) with co-writer and co-executive producer Ed Polgardy goes more into the conception of the film as a wrestling-horror fusion with athletic moves integrated into the kill scenes. Finally, "Don't Believe That, Folks!" (5m47s) with Schneck goes more into the general history about the financial challenges of the original shoot and the fate of the film when it wound up being stashed away in his home for years until he got the ball rolling to revive it in 2016. Also included are an audition tape reel (5m7s) and a brief Taylor interview with wrestling journalist "Mean" Gene Okerlund (3m3s).

Reviewed on June 1, 2019.