Presented in the right context, The Mutilator (also known as Fall Break, a title Arrow Video preserves in its transfer) can resemble a teen comedy popular at the time of the film’s release; in 1984, the slasher genre was in full swing, but so were raunchy comedies like Porky‘s, Revenge of the Nerds, and Spring Break. With its catchy theme song “Fall Break” from Peter Yellen and the Breakers and the way the title credits hint at a Weekend at Bernie‘s-style vacation, The Mutilator could easily be mistaken for a much more lighthearted affair, one where a shadowy killer doesn‘t stalk and murder our protagonists with very large and inventive fishing gear.
That’s kind of the point, too, or at least it unintentionally works in the film’s favor. Writer/director Buddy Cooper focuses on the playful humor of six kids at the beginning of the film, all of them gearing up for what seems to be a fun jaunt to a beach house to close up Ed Jr.’s (Matt Mitler) father’s cottage, and Cooper makes the most of his comedic cast members – like Bill Hitchcock as the jokester Ralph – to get the fun started. The Mutilator is, for much of its opening arc besides the initial accidental murder of Ed’s mother, an entertaining romp full of drinking and driving while enjoying the freedom of the open air in a convertible.
But Cooper slowly infuses the film with a pervasive sense of dread after the kids get to the beach house. The film makes no attempts to hide its serial killer from the audience; instead, Cooper quickly establishes Ed’s father (Jack Chatham) as the killer with shadowy shots of him hiding in the beach house’s basement, silhouetted by light filtering in through the slats. And just like its slasher predecessors before it, The Mutilator establishes virginity and chastity as its main themes, consistently drawing attention to the lack of sexuality between Ed Jr. and his girlfriend Pam (Ruth Martinez) while the others hump in the bushes like rabbits.
It’s easy to see the similarities between other slasher films of the time, but The Mutilator consistently manages to feel fresh despite the cliches Cooper includes in his script. The formula itself doesn’t really change – we’ve got kids drinking and sexing, and a killer that slowly kills them off one by one while presenting their bodies for a final gallery of horrors. But Cooper’s risky tonal shifts – from wacky to scary – often leave The Mutilator feeling like an off-kilter ride, a roller coaster of emotions that feels uncomfortable once the brutality and ultraviolence seeps into the plot. The film is most well-known because of its censorship and the excision of a particularly horrible scene of genital mutilation, but The Mutilator keeps its killings well-concealed until they actually occur.
In truth, this is probably not an intentional choice – the use of “Fall Break” as a theme song is probably due to the proliferation of these upbeat songs in this style of movie. The Mutilator in particular, though, offers a surprisingly duplicitous juxtaposition; its characters, doing little harm besides the sinful act of engaging in intercourse out of wedlock, are likable and funny, and their murders are so horrifyingly displayed that the film becomes even more disturbing.
With that said, The Mutilator is not a particularly good film – its acting is mediocre at best, and the writing often borders on humorous unintentionally. Detractors of the slasher genre will probably not find anything here to interest them besides an amusing scene where the kids play Blind Man’s Bluff – a drinking game version of hide-and-seek, I guess – where they stumble through a clearly well-lit house as though the rooms are pitch black. The violence has some good effects, but for contemporary audiences, the gore probably won’t impress or offend as it did at the time of the release even with the censored scene added.
But for fans of slasher film, The Mutilator is undoubtedly intriguing. Intentional or not, Cooper plays up the irony of the film’s happy-go-lucky characters in a way that’s more effective than some of the other, lesser-known films in the genre. There’s a reason that The Mutilator has become a cult classic of sorts, and it’s not just because of its cut fish hook sequence; the way that Cooper switches back and forth between teen comedy humor and intense horror provides a viscerally manipulative experience.[/wptab] [wptab name=’Special Features’]
For starters, it’s great to have The Mutilator on Blu-Ray. I had seen it once before, but it was a poor-quality VHS rip; Arrow Video’s transfer looks fantastic save for a couple of small film flaws and the presence of a red light on the left side of the screen at times. The dark lighting loses a little of its definition, but other than that this is a great-looking release restored from original vault elements – along with the cut scenes including the infamous fish hook murder. The audio is presented as uncompressed PCM on the Blu-Ray version, and sounds fairly clear. The dialogue is a little flat at times, but “Fall Break” never sounded so good.
The bonus features is where this disc really excels, though. The Mutilator menu features footage from the film cut to look like a party comedy rather than a horror film, with “Fall Break” playing overtop of it. There’s a full-length series of interviews with Buddy Cooper, John Douglass, Matt Mitler, Edmund Ferrell, Bill Hitchcock, Jack Chatham, and Ruth Martinez called “Fall Breakers” that really gets to some in-depth information about the making of the film; this is about an hour and 15 minutes long, and it’s a well-made production from Arrow Video that drives up the value of this collection. Along with that are two audio commentaries – one from Cooper, Ferrell, Douglass, and Mitler, and one from Cooper and Martinez.
Also included is an interview with special effects artist Mark Shostrom, about 15 minutes long, where he goes into great detail about the effects in the film, most notably the blood-filled condoms that help create the fish hook scene. An interview with composer Michael Minard – about 8 minutes long – tells of how “Fall Break” made it into the film. We also get an instrumental and full version of “Fall Break.”
A half-hour behind-the-scenes reel is included, not vital viewing but a nice addition. And screen tests, alternate opening title sequence (with The Mutilator in the credits instead of Fall Break), a gallery, opening sequence storyboards, the full screenplay, and trailers round out this massive package, a true collector’s dream. There are hours of features to browse, and Arrow Video has really given this the works – even with reversible cover art.
Any fan of The Mutilator will definitely want to pick up this 2-disc set from Arrow Video – it’s great to have the flick on Blu-Ray, but with all of the extras included, you really can’t go wrong. If you miss this, you deserve an outboard motor to the chest.[/wptab][end]