A long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, a little kid named Ed Jr. decided that he’d clean out his father’s guns for him as a birthday surprise. Dad (Ed Sr., as you’ve probably already guessed) was a big game hunter, you see, and had a cabinet full of rifles and shotguns. One of which goes off accidentally when Ed Jr. is messing with it, blows a hole through the door, and, more crucially, blows a hole through mom. Ed Jr., shockingly, grows up to be a normal college kid. Ed Sr. grows into an old and bitter alcoholic serial killer bent on revenge. Their paths are about to cross.
Nope, there’s not much mystery as to “whodunnit” in one-and-done North Carolina-based writer/director Buddy Cooper’s (with a “co-director” credit going to John Douglass) 1984 slasher The Mutilator (also released under the considerably duller title of Fall Break), but what the hell, right? The early ’80s was a Golden Age for slasher fans, and as long as we get some bare boobs, inventive kills, and plenty of that good, gooey red stuff, well — we weren’t gonna complain, right? And once Ed Jr. (played by Matt Mitler) and his friends — a generally likable posse consisting of prudish virgin girlfriend Pam (Ruth Martinez), wise-ass practical joker Ralph (Bill Hitchcock), and “good-time girl” Sue (Connie Rogers) — show up at Ed Sr.’s beachfront condo to booze and fuck (at least as far as Ralph and Sue go) their titular fall break away and get a load of the old man’s big game trophies and his bizarre photo collection (including a shot of one of his hunting buddies who was “accidentally” killed on safari), it’s pretty obvious that things are bound to play out as we expect. And if that doesn’t give it away, the exotic weapons collection — minus a missing battle axe(!) — certainly does the job.
One big strike The Mutilator has going against it is that things take a long time to get going, but Cooper and company certainly make up for lost time once they do. There aren’t that many people for Ed Sr. to , well, mutilate in this flick (although you can add one with the local cop), especially considering that we get not one but two surviors here (no bonus points for figuring out who they are), but the early-days practical effects work from Mark Shostrom, who would go on to have a pretty good career for himself, is top-notch considering the budget, and Cooper reveals himself to have a grotesquely morbid imagination with scenes like the classic giant-fish-hook-tearing-through-a-vagina number. He may not have been one to deviate from the tried-and-true slasher formula in any appreciable way, but a deviant ? He’s got that base covered without question.
The come-uppance at the end is solid stuff, too, it must be said, and stretches the “why won’t this bastard just die already????” trope so far beyond it’s breaking point as to almost be considered — dare I say it — charming. As are some of the wretched “day-for-night” shooting errors, acting struggles among the principal cast (who are uniformly a half-decade or more too old for their roles), and curiously-chosen camera angles. Everybody here’s trying, but their reach exceeds their grasp a good portion of the time, and if you’ve got a problem with that, well — you’re probably not reading this site in the first place.
I’m not sure there was much of a clamor among anyone but the most hardened gore-hounds for The Mutilator to receive a truly deluxe Blu-ray release, but whaddya know — the fine folks at Arrow Video, who are busy setting a new standard of excellence for exploitation and horror on a shockingly consistent basis — have given us one anyway with last month’s unleashing of this regional low-budget rarity as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack featuring a stunning 2k widescreen restoration, crystal-clear (for the most part) mono sound, and more extras than you can shake a stolen battle axe at, including two full-length commentary tracks (one featuring Cooper and assistant make-up and sound man Edmund Ferrell, the other featuring Cooper and Martinez); a make-up and FX-centric featurette with Shostrom; a music-themed interview with score composer Michael Minard; a collection of various trailers for the film under both titles; an impressive stills gallery; the original screenplay in .PDF format; a very cool reversible sleeve; extensive liner notes; two versions of the film’s bizarrely bubbly theme song performed by Peter Yellen and the Breakers; a bunch of raw behind-the-scenes footage; outtakes from screen tests of the various actors; and, oh yeah, the centerpiece of it all, a 75-minute “making-of” documentary entitled Fall Breakers that re-unites almost all the principles involved in front of and behind the camera for the most exhaustive look at this production anyone has — or will — ever put together. Whew! This package is a doozy!
At the end of the day, The Mutilator is hardly a classic entry into the slasher canon, but considering that Buddy Cooper made this thing for the paltry sum of $86,000 (money that he got, he mysteriously says, “for something I sold”) and the folks at Arrow had to go all the way to the Library of Congress to finally track down a decent print, it’s fair to say that both the film itself and its restoration for this release are labors of true love. If that interests you as much as it does me, then the $25-30 you drop to purchase this will be money very well spent indeed.