I first came across The Mutilator as a wee lad in the early 90’s. Back then it loomed from high on a video store shelf, fascinating me with its ominous cover depicting the silhouette of a sinister figure, axe aloft, and a blood-stained, screaming face. “By Pick.. By Axe.. By Chainsaw.. Bye Bye” boasted the lurid tagline, which intrigued me with the ideas of what horror lay within that box. Surely the most ruthless and terrifying sights of gore and depravity were hosted on that tape and I couldn’t wait to be old enough to experience it for myself.
Then I did years later and it was total shit.
Still, Arrow Video, working hard to restore many, many lost American horror movies have given The Mutilator their usual lavish, no expense spared treatment and have released it on Blu-Ray, for the first time in its fully uncut form from a 35mm print found in the Library of Congress, of all places. If there’s one company who have proven themselves masters of late, Arrow is a name to be trusted. But can even they take The Mutilator and prove to me, decades later, how very wrong my young opinion was? (Here’s a hint: No.)
The Mutilator is a typical slasher film from 1984, part of the huge wave of video horror that flooded the VHS market. It is the completely ridiculous story of Ed (Matt Mitler) who is irreparably estranged from his father (Jack Chatham) after accidentally causing his mother’s death as a child. Out of the blue, Ed Sr. calls his son and asks him to close up the family beachhouse for the season. Not at all perplexed by this bizarre request from a man he hasn’t spoken to in decades, Ed Jr. and his clichéd group of friends head out for a party, unbeknownst that dear old dad has planned on giving them all tool-assisted life-ectomies.
And that’s that. Ed and his friends show up at the house and are picked off one by one by one of the most generic mass murderers in recent memory. Ed Sr. looking like your school caretaker, slowly stalks and wipes out Ed’s buddies in slow and thoroughly uninteresting fashion. All the actors are universally amateur, carrying no screen presence or ability to evoke sympathy or even malicious glee. The film looks weak and tired, and is only shot with a standard competence, borrowing liberally from better slasher films that have come before it.
The film’s only true skill comes in its gore effects, which are impressive and suitably gruesome. Unfortunately, the editing is choppy and the actors are so truly inept, even by horror flick standards, then any actual sense of horror is impossible. Whilst some of the murders (one in particular) are pretty sick, the victims are incapable of selling fear and pain, and it just looks like, well, a jobbing actor wearing prosthetic effects.
There’s a real disconnection between viewer and movie and, a crucial slasher film staple, there’s zero charisma in the killer. When people trash flicks of this type, the defence is often: “Well, it’s a slasher movie, not Shakespeare” Sure, but Halloween, The Burning, Psycho II, Friday the 13th VI and many others are slasher movies, but are also excellent, well-shot, charismatic, scary and entertaining films. So that argument can stick it, brother.
Despite this, you can still rely on Arrow Video to deliver an awesome package. They have managed to make The Mutilator look as good as it possibly can, with a 2k transfer and a restored mono soundtrack. The disc is also loaded for bear with commentaries, a documentary, interviews with effects man Mark Shostrom and others, trailers and the original script, alongside other features and a reversible sleeve. A whole lot of effort to be sure, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from this company.
The Mutilator is terrible. It isn’t fun or scary and its one highlight, some fantastic effects work, is hindered by both technical and dramatic shortcomings. However, Arrow have still provided a complete package for the release, and as part of the archiving of 80’s horror, it remains a disc that would fit snugly in die-hard collections. The Mutilator as a film is the very epitome of “For horror completionists only” But Arrow should be commended for once again providing a package of excellent extras and a high quality transfer for a film that is beyond lucky to receive one.
Oh, and Ed Sr. never actually uses a chainsaw. Fuck you, 80’s marketing.
Film 1/5 Package 4/5
Dir: Buddy Cooper, John S. Douglass
Scr: Buddy Cooper
Starring: Matt Mitler, Jack Chatham, Bill Hitchcock, Ruth Martinez, Connie Rogers
Prd: Buddy Cooper
DOP: Peter Schnall
Music: Michael Minard
Run time: 86 mins
The Mutilator is now available on Blu-Ray/DVD dual format from Arrow Video.