Reviewer: rkellner Review Date: October 26, 2016 Released by: Arrow Video Release date: 2/16/2006 MSRP: $39.95 (Buy now at Amazon and help support the site) Region Free Progressive Scan Codec: AVC, 1080p Widescreen 1.85:1 1984 “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” I would like to start this review off with some reflection…I guarantee that it will go somewhere. How many slasher films were made in the 1980’s? Does anyone have an accurate count of the studio and independent/regional releases that came out from 1980-1989? (No seriously…post it below if anyone ever did this research). As a child of the 80’s who spent his formative years walking the aisles of Indiana mom and pop video stores ogling at the promises of forbidden pleasures on crazy VHS covers which usually overpromised and under delivered, I have often racked my brain for some of those rare titles that I passed over which have thus been lost to time (Alison’s Birthday for one). Fast forward to today. After watching hundreds of 80’s slasher films over the past couple decades, I can safely say that most of them would have been greatly disappointing if I revisited them now. Most seem to be a relic of the time, ultimately effective when watched late at night on VHS copies in the basement of someone’s house during a sleepover, and of course at the right impressionable age. (Damn, how I am envious of today’s young generation who may stumble upon dad’s 4k remastered Blu-ray of a classic Italian giallo and play it on their state of the art HD surround sound setup. I digress…) I have found some really sweet diamonds in the rough in the age of DVDs and modern Blu-ray remasters. Sadly, for every Pieces, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, Madman, and There’s Nothing Out There, I have seen weeks/months worth of duds by directors who had no idea what they were doing, no idea what made the movies that they are ripping off special in the first place, and no sense of what makes these classic horror movies effective to begin with. So here we have a shiny new remaster of The Mutilator, a film that can’t say that I have even heard of or seen back in the day on VHS. It has a groovy cover, nice title, a “killer” tagline (By sword, by pick, by axe, bye bye) but after being passed over for legitimate release on DVD after all of these years, is there a solid reason that it has stayed confined to VHS purgatory up until now? Normally I would say from experience that forgotten films are forgotten for a reason, but with the impeccable tastemakers of Arrow Video giving this title a nice HD remaster on a beautiful Blu-ray release with a heap of extras, is it time for rediscovery? Let’s find out. The Story Well this one starts off bizarre as heck. On his father’s birthday, his young son Ed decides to clean all of his guns as a present, writes him a happy birthday sign, and then for no rational reason, shoots a bullet though a door, blowing a hole in his mom who instantly dies, right as his dad comes home. His father does what any rational person would do upon finding his son with his dead mother. He backhands the kid, looks around for witnesses, and pulls the corpse up his dead wife up to the couch, pours himself a tall glass of Jack Daniels (it would have been J&B if this was Italian) and then one for her. Yup, it’s going to be one of those type of movies… Fast forward a decade or so and that boy has grown up to be a randy 20 something-year-old who is sitting around a bar with his friends deciding what to do on fall break. Coincidently his father who he hasn’t spoken to for years and SURELY holds no sort of a grudge for what happened in the first five minutes of the film, out of the blue needs someone to close up his lakeside condo for the winter. Before you can say horror-genre-stereotypes, the six college buddies throw a cooler of beer in the convertible, queue up the cheezy 80’s fall break theme song (the on screen title for this print is “Fall Break”) and hit the road for a weekend of sex (kinda, not really), booze (yes, some), and bloody dismemberment (oh, fo’ shizzle). After showing up in the condo, we are treated to many stories of how bizarre Ed’s dad and his buddies are. He has masks from African ritual sacrifices of virgins, a framed photograph of someone he accidently ran over with a ski boat, a bunch of animal heads that he killed, and of course his prized giant battle axe… which has recently gone missing! I am sure that fact won’t come back to haunt anyone, especially since we find out right away that someone is hiding downstairs with a trident, various sharp objects, and oh hey, that missing battle axe. That took five minutes of uncertainty. However, is all of this just lazy story telling, or just a red herring for another killer on the loose? The movie very quickly lets you know that it has no intention of being a serious horror film. The next murder takes place in a normal sized swimming pool where two skinny dipping lovers become separated from one another by a couple feet, which is apparently enough for our killer to somehow end up underwater, hold his breath forever, drown the nude female, carry her out of the pool, and be totally unnoticed by her boyfriend who is standing right there and looking around for her frantically. We then learn that what this movie lacks in common sense and practicality, it makes up for in gore and on screen deaths! In this case, that same boyfriend and his bad acting are soon hacked to pieces graphically with an out board boat motor. Ok, The Mutilator, I am willing to trade some logic for some creatively gory effects and ample body count. In fact, the movie may actually be trying to be clever for it’s place in the 80’s slasher cycle and provides some meta-commentary on the typical 80’s slashers through a lot of dialog that points fingers at horror genre conventions such as, “Say, how do you suppose he could sneak up behind somebody wearing all that hardware?” “Practice.” Although, considering that this film is simply a hybrid of Friday the 13th and your typical teen Spring Break movie, I will let you decide if it is wisely trying to play dumb, or if just these movies writing themselves on autopilot. Before we start calling this film a forgotten cult horror classic, let’s be honest, some parts of this movie don’t work at all. Besides the first death scene in the pool which doesn’t make an ounce of sense, there is a very long sequence near the middle where everyone is playing “Blind Man’s Bluff” which may seem clever on paper since it mirrors the movie itself with everyone drinking a lot of beer, wandering around in the dark until they find the killer and have to hide again… (read: every 80’d horror movie) but for someone watching this, it is so painfully dull and brightly lit that you just scratch your head and reach for the fast forward button. In addition, the last act scene where the “final girl” has the challenging task of STARTING A CAR is pure comic gold in all respects. Oh, how many times has someone in these films kinda-but-not-really mortally wounded the killer only to have their easy getaway failed by not knowing how to drive a car? Well this is one more to add to the list. The film is also interesting given that this is a hybrid of two types of films where everyone has sex especially since the movie starts off with telling us that everyone is already paired off: you have the horny teenagers on spring/fall break and the horny teenagers in a remote location which may have a hidden killer. However in this movie, even though there are the three couples drinking and hanging out all alone, no one decides to get it on. In fact, the women is this film oddly go out of their way to flatly reject the sexual advances of their respective boyfriends who obviously are not pleased about it. This just stands out as some odd “artistic choices”. So let’s talk about the goods. For all the rough edges that this forgotten slasher may have, I will give it some major props on delivering some inventive kills when it counts. The movie gleefully foreshadows many of the over the top deaths with weapons that are strewn around various locations. The giant fishing hook for example pays off in spectacular fashion and made even a “seen it all” horror fan like myself say “whoa!” out loud at the screen. I can only assume that this scene had to be cut down or censored at some point in its history. The out board motor death is also quite well done and shows an effects maestro who has been around the blook when it comes to this type of extreme genre film. The film’s gore effects were done by Mark Shostrum and they are spectacular on the cheap 80’s horror film scale. Heck, on ANY scale they are very effective. The decapitations, throat slitting, gun shots, pitchfork attacks, people cut in half, people’s legs cut off, etc. are all great looking, convincing in HD, and would have made Tom Savini proud! Looking at his resume it should come as no surprise. He did effects work on dozens and dozens of noteworthy movies and TV such as The X-Files, Buffy, Star Trek Voyager (winning three Emmy’s for those), From Beyond, Phantasm II, Evil Dead II… As a side note, the movie concludes with the cheesy “Fall Break” theme song again, but this time has the tune playing over a series of outtakes and goofed scenes as if to say that it has all been an illusion and none of it is to be taken serious. This is an interesting contrast to the obvious influence of the Friday the 13th films which took themselves fairly seriously and tried to end with a type of cliffhanger shock. While I like the light hearted tone that this movie starts off with, and the evolving body count and gore that then ensues, it seems like an odd misstep to circle back to the “everything is great” vibe by playing the credits over outtakes of the cast. This type of b-roll montage works for improvised comedies and Jackie Chan movies, but seems to be an unusual artistic choice here. Image Quality While it doesn’t exactly look like a Terrence Malick film, Arrow’s new 2k remaster of this is definitive in every regard, granted the bar wasn’t exactly set very high. This was taken from an uncut 35mm Master which was located in the Library of Congress of all places! The blacks look good on this 1080p MPEG-4 uncut print, the colors at night look strong with nice blue hues. There is subtle dirt and hairs and a couple vertical lines which come and go, but are fairly persistent if you are looking for them, and the print is a bit soft which doesn’t do favors to a movie that takes place mostly at night, but honestly how can one really complain about this? This is a great widescreen high definition transfer of a film that never had any respect. I can only imagine that anyone watching this after being familiar with bad VHS tapes and grey market DVD’s will think it is an utter revelation. Sound The lossless HD mono soundtrack on this film alternates between cheesy 80’s cues and songs, b-sides to the Cheers theme, and some halfway effective 80’s horror synth. Granted, the 80’s synth score here is not anything that will have soundtrack fans clamoring for a release (although I don’t put it past companies like Waxwork to have this earmarked for eventual vinyl pressing), but it does fit the movie like a glove. The minimal electronic soundtrack does an admirable job in creating atmosphere with the low, droning notes, but this movie was hardly the first (or tenth) to figure out that you could create a cheap soundtrack with the right notes and the right gear. Supplemental Material Here is where Arrow earns their “Criterion of Horror” credentials. Seriously, what is left to be said about this film after this exhaustive exercise in Mutilator total emersion? The package itself deserves some kudos with a reversible cover art and a nice 25 page book of liner notes, essays, and an old article from Fangoria. Introduction by writer director Buddy Cooper and assistant editor Edmund Ferrell. Commentary by Cooper/Ferrell/co-director John Douglass/star Matt Mitler. Commentary by Cooper/star Ruth Martinez Tutterow These are all nice to have with the intro talking about trying to find the uncut print of this. The commentary with Cooper and Ferrell is the most lively, but they do overlap some information with each other as well as what is on the full-length documentary. Fall Breakers: The Story of The Mutilator If you are going to watch one all encompassing feature on this disk, start here. This is a full length documentary on the making of the film with participation by Cooper, Douglass, Ferrell, Mitler, Bill Hitchcock, Jack Chatham, etc. Pretty much everything there is to talk about on this film is brought up here over the course of 75 minutes. They cover the director and co-director taking a three week screenwriting and filmmaking class to prepare for shooting this, getting involved with the film production, various aspects of the location, the shoot, humorous recollections, stories about the direction, the editing, getting it released into theaters, some of the controversy with the gore scenes, it’s second life on VHS and its notoriety as a “cult classic”. Filled with good behind the scenes video and photos, this is a quality making of documentary. Mutilator Memories In this extra, special effects artist Mark Shostrom reflects back on the film and the gory effects. Over 15 minutes, he talks pretty candidly about how he got involved, what worked for him, shows off some of the original prosthetics, talks about things that had to get changed at the last minute, and his feelings on the final product. Tunes for the Dunes In this 8 minute extra composer Michael Minard talks about the sound design of the score and his somewhat negative feelings about the opening tune. Behind the Scenes Reel This is about 16 minutes of the location shots and some of the gore scene set ups. Screen Tests Some early tests of the actors who would be in the movie. Man, some of these are unintentionally hilarious. Opening Scene Storyboards Here we review some of the storyboarding for the first scene and some early sketches. Alternate Opening Titles This is probably taken from an original Vestron Video VHS tape. Trailers and TV Spots Here we get an assortment of pretty different trailers for Fall Break, The Mutilator, as well as some vintage radio spots. Fans of the film will find this interesting how the marketing and the killer reveal differs from one to the other. Probably best to watch after viewing the film once. Fall Break theme song Did you find the theme song to this to be “your jam”? Here are the original and instrumental versions of it for your demented enjoyment. Motion Stills Gallery This is about nine minutes of production stills Original Screenplay I can’t say that I pulled this up to look at it. I have no notes on the differences between it and the final product. Feel free to comment below. Unlisted Easter Eggs! If you click on Special Features and then Music and press the right arrow on the remote, there is a longer version of the introduction by Cooper and Ferrell. If you click on Special Features and then Gallery and press the right arrow, there is a four minute clip of Ruth Martinez giving a line reading from the original script. Final Thoughts Ok, so how does the film compare to the litany of slasher films before and after it? Eh, somewhat upper-middle of the road, but I can totally see arguments for some minor-cult status. The plot of the film is lazy at best and is summarized in a sentence: three couples go to the beach and drink beer, and a maniac tries to kill them. The film pretty much tells you who the antagonist is in the first reel and never plays with any counter notions otherwise. The cinematography and direction are matter of fact and never try to be artsy beyond some killer’s POV shot. The acting is bad at best. Multiple scenes in this are laughable where victims foreshadow their own demise. But the gore effects are TOP NOTCH. Honestly without that, I am not quite sure if this movie would have persisted. It is an average Friday the 13th clone with great, over the top violence and gore. That is pretty much all you need to know. Rating Movie B- Image Quality - B+ Sound - B- Supplements - A Technical Info. Color 2 Disc LPCM Mono Supplements Introduction by writer director Buddy Cooper and assistant editor Edmund Ferrell Fall Breakers: The Story of The Mutilator Mutilator Memories Tunes for the Dunes Behind the Scenes Reel Screen Tests Opening Scene Storyboards Alternate Opening Titles Trailers and TV Spots Fall Break theme song Motion Stills Gallery Original Screenplay Unlisted Easter Eggs!