Color, 1984, 86m.
Directed by Buddy Cooper
Starring Matt Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock, Connie Rogers, Frances Raines, Jack Chatham
Arrow Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK R0 HD/NTSC) / (1.85:1), Vipco (DVD) (UK R0 PAL)
One of the many indies churned out at the height of slasher mania in the '80s, The Mutilator barely made a blip on most movie screens but became a VHS favorite thanks to two things: tons of gore and one of the best taglines of its era ("By sword, by pick, by axe, bye bye"). Shot in North Carolina by first-time director Buddy Cooper under the title Fall Break, the film doesn't even try to break any new narrative or stylistic ground among its slasher peers. Instead you get a full-speed hackfest with a barrage of grisly makeup effects, particularly in the unrated version (versus the R-rated one, both released on VHS by Vestron). The film's disappearance from the home video market apart from an edited UK DVD from Vipco added to its mystique over the years, but with a loaded special edition of the unrated cut from Arrow Films in both the U.S. and the U.K., it should have no trouble picked up a new generation or two of fans.
College student Ed Jr. (Basket Case 2's Mitler) has a troubling past, to say the least. When he was a child, a gun-cleaning mishap resulted in the accidental shooting of his mother, and now years later his father (Chatham) might still harbor quite a grudge. At the end of summer, Ed gets a call from his dad asking him to come help close down the family condo for the winter, so the time seems right to invite along a bunch of fun-loving teen buddies for a weekend gateway since they don't have any plans for their October "Fall Break" (whatever that is). Upon arrival they're confronted by an empty house, a strange arsenal of weapons, a gory photo of a guy Ed Sr. ran over with a motorboat, and a mysterious stalker in the garage who might have some bloody plans in mind for everyone while they're distracted by guzzling beer and skinny dipping.
Boasting an absurd theme song and a host of unknowns providing the necessary bare skin and slasher fodder, The Mutilator seems tailor made for any late night slasher movie marathon. Anyone averse to the subgenre need not apply, but if teenagers spouting out inappropriate comic dialogue and getting hacked up sounds like your thing, this one delivers in spades. Heads and limbs fly off, throats are slashed, and in the most notorious and oft-censored scene, a female victim get fish hooked in the most twisted manner possible.
Anyone familiar with this film's video history knows what an eyesore it's been, with many of its darker scenes rendered completely incoherent by a dim, dull transfer. (Ditto for The Slayer, which needs a refurbished release just as badly.) Under those circumstances the Arrow dual-format release on Blu-ray and DVD (bearing the original Fall Break title) is quite a revelation, bringing out detail, color, and significant plot points lost entirely in past releases. It's unlikely this ever looked this good on a movie screen anywhere, which puts this up there with Blood Rage as one of their greatest restorations of a slasher title to date. Compared to other films this may not look overwhelmingly spectacular, but for this particular title it's quite impressive. The LPCM English mono sounds very good, with optional English subtitles provided. Cooper (who also wrote the script) is all over this disc, starting off with a new video intro accompanied by assistant makeup effects artist and assistant editor Edmund Ferrell explaining how they managed to find the missing unrated footage to reinstate in the main feature. Both are also present for an audio commentary moderated by the label's Ewan Cant along with Mitler and co-director John Douglass, with Cooper handling a second commentary with actress Ruth Martinez Tutterow. The first is the more dense as it goes way in depth about the execution of the impressive gore effects and finding actors and locations in North Carolina (this was recorded, in fact, very close to the beach house from the film), while the latter takes a more easygoing look at the film from a thespian's perspective. All the participants from the first commentary are joined by Chatham and actor Bill Hitchcock (and pretty much every other thespian major and minor including Pamela and Trace Cooper, who play the mother and son in the prologue) for the 75-minute doc, "Fall Breakers: The Story of The Mutilator," which was shot at the film's location. Cooper's hilariously frank about the film right from the start (explaining he'd have been better off investing his money in his other option, buying a vineyard in France), and the cast and crew have a blast reenacting lines of dialogue and swapping stories about putting this film together with limited experience and resources. There's a ton of fun VHS-sourced footage shot behind the scenes and great production stills, and even with the lengthy running time it never runs out its welcome. Their discussion of the original scripted ending is especially intriguing as it set up a sequel that was never meant to be.
Next we get to some shorter video extras starting with "Mutilator Memories," in which special make-up effects artist Mark Shostrom gets 16 minutes to talk about experimenting with some ambitious effects on this early project after being inspired by pivotal monster movies of the early '80s and doing starter films like Deadly Force. In the 8-minute "Tunes for the Dunes," composer Michael Minard goes into detail about working on his synthesizer to explore ideas with Cooper and coming up with the theme song, which was meant to emulate a traditional Carolina shag song but didn't quite come out that way. A 16-minute reel of raw production footage from VHS is a real treat for classic makeup fans as you get to see Shostrom at work on the many prosthetics and little Trace Cooper getting hoisted around the set. A 13-minute reel of screen tests provides some amusing glimpses of the actors before they really found their characters, and a 4-minute batch of storyboards shows how the opening scene was blocked out. On the promotional side you get trailers as both The Mutilator and Fall Break along with three TV spots and two radio spots, the alternate The Mutilator title sequence in more ragged condition, the vocal and instrumental versions of the "Fall Break" theme song (if its use over the menu and other extras hasn't drilled it into your head enough already!), and an 8-minute gallery of production photos (you'll never guess the music that plays over it). In a rare move for Arrow, this also has a couple of (very) hidden Easter eggs: a 3-minute interview outtake with Cooper and Ferrell sharing a funny story about getting into a Hell's Angels Forever party at Studio 54 and a 4-minute interview outtake with Martinez reading highlights from her original shooting script. If you pop either disc into your computer you can also access the screenplay with the original ending and other alternate bits that didn't make it to the screen, and sleeve comes with the usual reversible art options. To quote that omnipresent theme song, you're "gonna have a good time."
Reviewed on February 9, 2016.