Bluray Review: THE MUTILATOR

SKdJTmLR_400x400Ah, The Mutilator, the memories of my teenage years  you bring back. I remember the exact moment I gazed upon your VHS box in the summer of 1987 at El Chaparral Supermarket and held you in my arms for the very first time. Your artwork sent chills down my spine and I knew right then and there at thirteen years old that I would never have the cojones to insert you into my VCR and enjoy you the way I wanted to. I wouldn’t muster the courage to view you until four years later in 1991 when my best friend’s brother brought it home from the video rental department of the supermarket he managed. I felt guilty for doing so since my parents forbade slasher films in our house but there was that wonderful curiosity that I would carry in me since the first time I saw that box (and every time thereafter). Once I did, I developed this strange attachment to it and rented it as often as I could until every copy in every video rental outlet where I lived disappeared into obscurity. Sadly, I wouldn’t watch it again until I found it at Video Castle in Warrensburg, Missouri in 2003 just as they were phasing out their entire plethora of 80’s horror on videocassette – along with everything else in their VHS library. I ended up purchasing my copy of the unrated Vestron Video off Ebay a year later and then getting the very rare unrated Pioneer/Vestron Laserdisc version into my collection just last winter.  I was thrilled that not only was it making its Blu-Ray debut courtesy of the amazing folks at Arrow Video, but it would be a fully restored special edition.

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THE MOVIE

 

The film begins with an on –camera introduction by Buddy Cooper and Ed Ferrell giving us the story of the original unrated negative being stolen and then lost as the two once shared an apartment in New York City whence it disappeared. They were able to put together what they could with what they could find to deliver The Mutilator exactly how the director intended for it and to give us the viewers, “what we wanted to see”.  In other words, yes, the full unrated version is all here just as planned scoring both Buddy and Ed major points!

 

The film itself borrows very similar plot lines and characteristics of most slasher films of that era and tweaks it here and there to make a completely different film.  The set up is quite simple: Young Ed, Jr. (played by Buddy Cooper’s real-life son), decides to do something nice for his father on his birthday and cleans the old man’s collection of rifles he keeps in the gun cabinet. In the process, though, he accidentally shoots and kills his mother (played by Buddy Cooper’s real-life wife). Never having been able to forgive him for taking the love of his life, Ed Jr. (Now played by Matt Mitler, who would go on to have roles in Deadtime Stories and Basket Case 2) and his father become estranged. One day, young Ed receives a call from his father to come out and close up the family beach-front condo for the winter. His friends, including his girlfriend, Pam, convince him to take the job, promising to help him finish the work quick so they can have more time to spend drinking and horsing around the property and on the beach. What they don’t know is that someone is waiting for them to pick them off one-by-one in bloody and creative ways. Sounds like a typical 80’s slasher? Well, it’s because it is. But what sets it apart and makes it stand out from the rest of cookie-cutter fodder that came out of that decade is that this one has a unique charm and atmosphere that comes from its unorthodox setting (a beach house), a family angle (father harboring resentment toward his son for the accidental death of his wife) the killer’s choice of weaponry used to dispose of his victims (fishing gear!) and the film’s surprisingly inventive kills (fishing gaffe through the hoo-ha!). The film itself as far as it’s script is pretty tame and bordering on mediocre and really doesn’t have much going on in the way of suspense and tension but it compensates for what it lacks in those departments with ambiance, tone, a spooky locale and ultimately, it’s gore effects that all combine into one to make a cohesive and memorable horror film. The acting on the other hand, isn’t anything at all to write home about and it can be quickly and easily filed under “so bad it’s good” (as most acting from films of that period fell prey to) but there’s something about everything I’ve just mentioned combined with the distinctive charm radiating from that group of kids that makes the film work as a whole.  Now, add the fantastic – and bloody – death sequences and exciting climax and  you’ll understand why this film is still highly regarded (and sought out) after so many years. it makes me smile to know that I am not the only horror fan who considers The Mutilator one of the most underrated slasher gems in the entire sub-genre.

 

THE BLU-RAY/SPECIAL FEATURES

 

Before anything else, let me affirm that this movie looks absolutely gorgeous and it’s never looked better. The picture in 2K restoration is clear and bright and the night scenes aren’t murky or indiscernible even though there are visible flaws from the damaged parts of the film that were brought in to make the complete version. Though those flaws are numerous (remember, the original negative they intended to use was stolen), it wasn’t enough to have me complaining. Aside from Vestron’s videocassette and laserdisc, this film hasn’t seen the light of day in this country (or in any other country in an authorized and director-approved release) since the late 80’s and horror fans like myself are overwhelmingly ecstatic that it’s finally getting the treatment it’s always deserved.  Arrow brings us this classic in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p resolution which is really impressive. The soundtrack is delivered in LPCM Mono (48kHz, 24-bit) and sounds fantastic.

 

But, what this Blu-Ray can boast more than anything is in its Special Features. And there are plenty of ‘em!

 

Fall Breakers – A fantastic and in-depth feature-length documentary (approximately 80 minutes) on the making of The Mutilator that anyone who is remotely a fan of this film needs to track down and watch. Starting off with a on-camera interview with director Buddy Cooper and co-director John Douglass talking about how they attended a three-week screenwriting and filmmaking class at American University in Washington, DC to prepare for filming what would become a favorite and highly regarded 80’s slasher film. There are on-camera interviews with assistant special makeup effects artist Ed Ferrell, cast members Jack Chatham (“Big Ed”), Ruth Martinez (“Pam”), Matt Mitler (“Ed Jr.”), Bill Hitchcock (“Ralph”),Buddy’s wife Pamela Cooper, (“Mother”), his son Trace Cooper (“Young Ed Jr.”) and other various extras all recalling fondly how they got their parts in the film and their memories being on set. We get to see the Oceanana Resort in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina owned at the time by Buddy Cooper’s father, where the entire cast and crew stayed during filming and get to hear stories about their time there. Salt-and-peppered with never-before-seen video footage and photographs of the cast and crew, this was the best of the special features set. It’s too bad there was no participation from Connie Rogers (“Sue”), Frances Raines (“Linda”) and Morley Lampley (“Mike”). With everyone else’s contributions, their absence was really felt. We get to hear how the community of Atlantic Beach, NC all were a part of the filming, how much they supported the project and how the film became sort of a symbol for the community’s pride. My favorite part was when Buddy, Ed, and Matt reminisce about seeing the film when it played the grindhouse circuit unrated on 42nd Street in New York City and what it was like to see it with an audience. It was interesting to hear how the film ran into problems once it started to receive a wider release and how the MPAA demanded cuts, taking away from how Buddy wanted audiences to see his labor of love. We also get to hear how the film got its name changed from Fall Break to The Mutilator and how the best poster tagline in all of 80’s horror history came to be. Seriously, this feature’s a winner.

 

Mutilator Memories – A fifteen and a half minute featurette/interview with special effects artist Mark Shostram who talks about how he stumbled upon The Mutilator and his involvement in the film. Here we get to see even more never-before-seen video footage of the prosthetics and set up for each murder sequence and more elaboration on the two death scenes that had to be scrapped and redone (Linda’s death by spear in the pool (as opposed to being drowned in the final version) and the original climax involving Big Ed being cut in half by a drawbridge).   Best of all, we get to actually witness the final shot of principal photography for the film and watch as the entire crew goes into a delightful uproar of applause and cheer.

 

Tunes For the Dunes – An eight-minute on-camera interview with composer Michael Minard on how the score for Fall Break came to be and how the theme of the film was supposed to have been a much slower tune per the request of Buddy Cooper himself.  Minard goes on to express regret that he’d left the song  as the fast-tempo piece once he sat down to screen the film with an audience.

 

Behind The Scenes Reel –A sixteen and a half minute video montage comprised of the now-infamous gore scenes in the making and shots of the cast and crew on location as the film is being made.

 

Screen Tests – We get a nice (and extremely entertaining) mix of different screen tests for all of the actors who would go on to play the characters horror fans have grown to know and love. Some of these are just plain comical and worth the watch.

 

Audio Commentary – Audio commentary with Buddy Cooper and Ruth Martinez moderated by Arrow Video. Pretty attention-grabbing (and entertaining) stuff!

 

Opening Scene Storyboards – Included here are the original storyboards that outline the first scene in the film that set the tone for everything that follows. It was pretty interesting to see how some of those sketches differ slightly in comparison to what finally made it onto the screen.

 

Trailers/TV Spots – The complete set of trailers and TV spots are presented here. The original full-length Fall Break Trailer is darker in nature than the ones that would later appear for The Mutilator, mainly due to the brooding, male voice-over, more use of the night scenes and for the classic 80’s ominous “Not intended for viewing by those under 17” warning and “No one under 17 will be admitted without an adult” card that follows. The bad thing about this trailer is that it knowingly gives away the film’s killer (Intruder would go on to fall victim to that same folly several years later), which was rather disappointing.

 

The Fall Break TV Spot plays it smart and doesn’t reveal the killer and is just slightly lighter in tone than its parent trailer as the male voice-over is only used at the end.  The original trailer for The Mutilator is structured a bit differently, giving us a set of different scenes than its Fall Break counterpart and using a different tagline but this trailer gives away the killer, as well. Yikes!

 

The Mutilator TV Spot version A gives us a male voice over with yet another different  tagline but this one goes the literal “Don’t say we didn’t warn you” route, giving it a completely different (and much darker) vibe.

 

The Mutilator TV Spot version B is the one that uses what I feel is the film’s greatest and strongest selling point: That bad-ass (and now famous) tagline! BUT, it’s written completely different from the one used on the film’s poster and videocassette box! What?  Here we get a gruff male voice over stating “By Axe, By Hook, By Blade, Bye Bye!” but I like that this spot KNOWS it’s got a fantastic tagline and uses it to its advantage. This is the spot I would have probably seen late at night during something like USA Up All Night and would go on to sell me completely into wanting to go out to the theater to watch the film.

 

The Radio Spots presented on this disc total less than minute but all use a completely different arrangement than the ones on television.  The spots make it sound more of a run-of-the-mill  (but fun) 80’s slasher, differently worded as, “They were friends vacationing at a beach house. This vacation, they got something they didn’t expect (insert scream here)…a knife (insert another scream here), an axe (insert yet another scream here), a hook, and worst of all…(insert loud, rusty saw sound here)”.  Fabulous! Along with the obligatory “No One Under 17” warning, I love these advertisements the most because they tell  us absolutely nothing about the film itself, just that it’s a slasher film, giving no sort of hint or clue at all at what the film is going to be about and making it sound like a totally different film altogether. Damn, I really miss the eighties!

 

Alternate Opening Titles – For all of us horror hounds who went out and rented everything that was in the horror section at the local mom-and-pop video shop at the height of the home video craze, the original title sequence from The Mutilator’s glorious VHS release is presented here to invoke nostalgia and remind us all of just how fiercely awesome the 80’s really were in terms of slasher films. I want to assume that this was taken from the unrated Vestron Video release that we all at one time or another laid eyes on during our curious blood-splattered youths.

 

Music – We are given the full version of the original (and now beloved) Fall Break theme along with its accompanying instrumental track. It sounds great here but I have to admit that by the time I reached this part of the Blu-Ray, I was already growing tired of the theme. It’s pretty much omnipresent on this release. Everywhere you click or wander, the theme is there. Main menu, Special Features menu, and it is even presented during the majority of the features themselves at some point, sometimes two or three times.

 

Gallery – Here we are treated to approximately 9 minutes of production stills from the film all supplied by Buddy Cooper himself as he also provided all of the behind-the-scenes video footage used in the other segments. I give him props for not only having held on to all of these memories for such a long time (including the light blue windbreaker that was worn by Morey Lampley in the saw scene, still stained with blood (!!) which Cooper brings out in the documentary), but for being gracious enough to lend them out so all of us can finally see the blood (no pun intended), sweat and tears that went into making this notorious and highly-regarded 80’s slasher-fest.

 

Easter Eggs – Yes! Not only one, but two!  If you click on “Special Features”, highlight “Music” and press the right arrow of your remote, you’ll come across a longer version of the introduction by Buddy Cooper and Edmund Ferrell that lasts about three and a half minutes.  If you click on “Special Features”, highlight “Gallery” and press the right arrow of your remote, you’ll get a four-minute clip of Ruth Martinez reading some lines from the original script.

 

This is the fourth Arrow Video release that I’ve gotten to look at and in my opinion, they have become the 80’s horror force to be reckoned with. They have taken the time to go beyond the extra mile and dig deep to give us the best scream-worthy special features that anyone has to offer. Along with Island of Death, Blood Rage, and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, this release is filled to the rim with interviews, outtakes, on-camera interviews, and behind the scenes footage. Serious props to these guys for not only putting time, effort and money into bringing us these releases, but putting in immeasurable amounts of love into preserving the 80’s horror classics we hold so dear. Believe me, it shows.  They are doing it as horror fans themselves and caring enough to go through every detail with a fine toothed comb. For years we’ve been hearing other companies bragging of their plans to put this release out and then back out with excuses of not having the proper elements or to find out that their planned release of this film was unauthorized.  I’m really glad that Arrow decided to market to us horror fans here in the U.S. and manufacture their Blu-Ray discs in Region 0 format. If these guys keep putting out quality products like this (and it looks like they will be), they’re going to sweep the competition away and end up on top. And that’s one thing I’m looking forward to. With the unrated version having been lost for so long, thanks, Arrow for not only finding The Mutilator and delivering the definitive version, but for wanting to in the first place.

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