In the wake of John Carpenter’s legendary Halloween and Sean S. Cunningham’s equally legendary Friday the 13th, film studios everywhere in the early eighties rushed to get their own psycho killer movies into theaters. The era that has come to be known as the Golden Age of the Slasher saw dozens, if not hundreds, of splatter flicks released, each bloodier than the last, and many with exploitative names like The Prowler, Madman, and Maniac. Fitting right in with the most stereotypically titled of the Golden Age Slashers is the 1984 schlock flick The Mutilator.
The Mutilator is about a college student named Ed (Matt Mitler from Deadtime Stories and Breeders) who receives a call from his father, Big Ed (Rockin’ Road Trip’s Jack Chatham), asking him to close up the family’s beach condo for the winter. While his friends are thrilled about the unexpected vacation, Ed senses that something is not right. As a child, Ed accidentally killed his mother while cleaning his father’s gun, and Big Ed has never forgiven him for it. Sure enough, as soon as the co-eds arrive at the condo, Big Ed starts stalking and killing them, one by one, systematically taking out his revenge on Ed Jr. and his friends.
Released into theaters initially under the title Fall Break, The Mutilator is the only feature film from writer/director Buddy Cooper and co-director John Douglass. Overall, the film moves slowly, with only a half-dozen potential victims in the house, and there is very little mystery to it, as Big Ed is revealed to be the killer before he slays a single victim. However, The Mutilator makes up for its lack of originality in sheer blood and guts; the over-the-top gore is only interrupted by a few awkward attempts at comedy. In other words, The Mutilator is a classic Golden Age Slasher.
Although they may not have been commonplace when it was released, The Mutilator is full of slasher tropes and stereotypes. The victims are all attractive young college students. They’re away at a coastal vacation spot. They’re picked off one-by-one in horrible-yet-creative ways by a psychotic killer. And, of course, there’s a shocking, jump-scare ending to the movie. There’s even a cop who states “it’s like a graveyard around here” when asked about how peaceful his night has been. The Mutilator is the type of movie that is parodied in modern-day pop culture, just because of how slasherific it really is.
As mentioned earlier, The Mutilator is the first and only movie from filmmakers Buddy Cooper and John Douglass, but they weren’t the only people involved with the production who had a lack of experience in the industry. With the exception of Mitler’s Ed Jr. and Francis Raines (from Breeders and Disconnected), who plays one of the cannon fodder co-eds, the entire cast of the film was comprised of unknowns who had never been in a movie before, and for the most part, none of them have since. The fresh faces give The Mutilator a low-budget, almost student film vibe, whether it was seen for the first time in 1984 or 2016.
One aspect of The Mutilator that does not look low-budget is the special makeup effects. Well, they do look low-budget, but in the most awesome way possible. The effects in The Mutilator were done by Mark Shostrom (Videodrome, The Slumber Party Massacre) and Anthony Showe (Chopping Mall, From a Whisper to a Scream), and they are easily the most thought-out element in the film. The Mutilator makes the most of its low body count, featuring kills by many different kinds of weapons, from the typical guns and knives to the more innovative battle axes and fishing gaffes – there’s even an outboard motor kill. All of the gore is practically done with latex and prosthetics, and covered with buckets of blood – squirting, spraying, splattering blood. The effects work in The Mutilator is the stuff that slasher legends are made of.
Composed by Michael Minard (A Return to Salem’s Lot), the score for The Mutilator is pretty typical of an eighties horror movie, full of haunting piano pieces, eerie synthesizer melodies and pulsing electronic rhythm programming. But the real earworm in the movie is a classic rock groove, also penned by Minard with some help from iconic pop songwriter Artie Resnick, called “Fall Break.” The theme, performed by Peter Yellen and the Breakers (a group made up of Buddy Cooper and bunch of his pals), is silly and repetitive, but it sure is catchy, and after hearing it pop up repeatedly in the movie, the audience is hard pressed to not have the tune stuck in its head long after the final credits have finished rolling.
While a handful of the Golden Age Slashers became cinematic landmarks, most were lucky to rise above the saturated mass to become cult favorites. The Mutilator is one if these lucky ones: a bona-fide cult classic.